Wednesday, August 16, 2006

NPAs (terrorist?) burn ex-comrades’ cargo truck / THE HISTORY OF ALTER TRADE

By Carla Gomez
Last updated 05:34am (Mla time) 08/16/2006

Published on Page A17 of the August 16, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

BACOLOD CITY—New People’s Army rebels set fire on Sunday to a truck loaded with bananas and owned by a company managed by their former comrades in Barangay Tabun-ak, Toboso, Negros Occidental, 144.5 km north of here.

The Toyota Commando truck is owned by Alter Trade Corp. (ATC), which is managed by former members of the NPA who went into the business of exporting muscovado sugar and bananas, police said.

ATC president Norma Mugar said the attack paralyzed company operations as the vehicle served as its “concrete link” to poor banana growers. “It is a symbol of the growers’ hope for a better life from their farming activities,” she said.

ATC buys bananas worth P25,000 from Toboso and Calatrava growers. The fruits are picked up twice a month, she said.

The truck, driven by Noel Bautista, was on its way to Sitio Bato-Bato, Barangay Tabun-ak, Toboso, when it was flagged down by three unidentified men armed with handguns, according to Lt. Col. Jess Manangquil, head of the Army’s 11th Infantry Battalion based in Negros Occidental.

Manangquil said the truck was driven to an isolated area where the three were joined by about 20 of their comrades. The rebels poured gasoline on the truck and set it on fire, Manangquil said. Senior Insp. Romeo Leyte, Toboso police chief, said Bautista and his helper, identified as Ondo Tejones, were unharmed.

In an appeal to priest-turned-rebel Frank Fernandez, alleged head of the Communist Party of the Philippines in Negros, Mugar said, “Please have pity on them (banana growers), especially in these times of economic crisis.”
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ALTER TRADE CORPORATION is an alternative business enterprise committed to uphold the principles of fair trade and sustainable agriculture. As such, the company places great value on its partners—the farmers and agricultural workers as well as the consumers, and its own staff and employees.

Alter Trade started as a response to the widespread hunger that gripped Negros Occidental when prices of sugar—the single commodity the province’s economy highly depended on— plummeted in the world market in 1984. That same year a series of natural calamities also hit the province, further triggering the famine. Due to the sugar crisis, one out of every four workers employed in the haciendas lost their jobs. Starvation spread among the rural population, severely hitting the children.

Initial action by domestic and international non-government organizations and aid agencies to alleviate the situation in Negros was to provide emergency food and medical relief and dole-out aid to cooperatives and other people’s organizations. Their aim was to provide resources that people can use to develop their livelihood and generate income to feed the hungry, especially in the countryside.

One of the overseas NGOs which responded to the call for humanitarian aid to Negros was the Japan Committee for Philippine Concerns (JCPC). It established a network called the Japan Committee for Negros Campaigns (JCNC) which, in partnership with the Negros Rehabilitation and Relief Center (NRRC), provided financial grants for livelihood projects to a number of communities in the island.

Discussion among Japanese groups supporting the Negros people clarified that the help they will be extending should support a long-term rehabilitation and development plan for self-reliant agriculture in Negros. They believed that the starvation in Negros was basically man-made. They wanted to respond to the crisis by addressing its root cause: social inequity as reflected in the structure of the ownership of land and other means of production. They wanted to help change this exploitative social relation, step by step.

The Japanese began by providing immediate relief to the hungry. Then they helped in their rehabilitation by providing tools and agricultural inputs to make the farm lots that the sugar workers had won in their struggle, productive. And to make them more economically self-reliant the Japanese suggested the setting up of an alternative trading system so that what can be produced from the land by the workers can be marketed efficiently and fairly.

The idea of an alternative trading system, or what the Japanese call people-to-people trade, was first broached in 1986 during a conference in Japan sponsored by Kyoseisha Coop, a large consumers cooperative in Kyushu, the Tokushima Association for the Betterment of Life, a consumers group in Tokushima Prefecture in Shikoku Island, and the Chubu Recycling Citizens’ Group, an influential citizens’ organization in Nagoya concerned with the environment and direct producer-consumer linkages. The conference was held aboard a boat that visited Tokunoshima, one of the Amani Islands south of Kyushu, where local farmers had started to grow bananas of an indigenous variety on a trial basis. Thus, the meeting was called the “banana boat conference.” Invited by the organizers to the conference were consumers’ cooperatives, environmental activists and organic agriculture movements, including the JCNC, who in turn, invited the NRRC. It was here that the trading of muscovado sugar was decided.

In the following months after the banana boat conference, the JCNC, NRRC and some Japanese consumers’ cooperatives worked out an outline of the alternative trading system they envisioned. Leading these discussions were, on the one hand, Mr. Masahiko Hotta, Mr. Yukioka and other members of the JCNC, and on the other hand, Ms. Norma Mugar and Mr. Allan Sy of the NRRC. Their discussions led to the establishment of Alter Trade Corporation (ATC) in 1987.

The company was registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with five original incorporators to engage in both domestic and international trading. It has paid-up capital of P12,500. The company borrowed P50,000 from its Japanese partners to start operations. The five original stockholders also became the initial staff. The number of stockholders later expanded to 13.

The first commodity that was traded by ATC was muscovado sugar. Muscovado, largely seen as a “poor man’s sugar,” was viewed by Alter Trade as an apt statement of its vision to help the poor of Negros. It adopted the brand name Mascobado, “mas” meaning the masses—the ordinary people. Thus, Mascobado means “people’s sugar” to contrast with the sugar produced by the hacienderos and the big multinational milling companies. It was first shipped to Japan in 1987, its initial market were the cooperatives in that country. A year later, trading firms from Switzerland and Germany, and then Italy, that espoused the principles of fair trade, began buying ATC’s sugar.

In 1988, the Green Coop Consumers’ Cooperative Union (a merger of Kyoseisha and another large consumer cooperative also based in Kyushu called Chikuren) led by its managing director Kaneshige Masatsugu, wanted to bring the trading relations between Japan and Negros a notch higher by offering a commodity that can have a wider Japanese market. Mascobado had a limited market in Japan then, thus, it cannot be the symbolic commodity to effectively promote solidarity between Japan and Negros peoples. Green Coop had banana in mind.

Balangon and Mascobado trading have impacted significantly in the development of an alternative trading system that seeks to change the socio-economic system prevailing in the country, especially in Negros. The commodities have truly become a symbol of solidarity between Filipinos and Japanese, as well as other peoples, who are concerned with the environment and in changing the exploitative social relations prevailing in the Philippines. The demand for non-plantation bananas in Japan has grown continuously since the beginning. Demand has always exceeded supply. Mascobado demand has also been growing steadily in Japan and Europe.

In Mascobado and Balangon the Japanese introduced the concept of the Self Reliance Fund (SRF) to embody the spirit of solidarity within the people-to-people trade system. The SRF, a surcharge of a few yens per kilogram of Mascobado or per 13 kilogram box of Balangon that was added on to the regular price of the commodity, was a conscious contribution by Japanese consumers to finance social development projects in Negros. The SRF was slowly phased out as Alter Trade business and social development work started taking roots in the communities.

The SRF are managed by different groups, namely, the Negros Council for Peace and Development (NCPD); the People’s Agricultural Agenda for the 21st Century (PAP 21), a Negros NGO; Panay Banana Growers; Bohol Banana Growers; and the Northern Luzon Banana Growers.

In 1992, ATC established the Alter Trade Manufacturing Corporation (ATMC) to handle sourcing of raw materials, milling as well as its packing operations. Five years later, in 1997, ATC established another subsidiary, the Diversified Organic Enterprises, Inc. (DOEI) to handle the production of organic fertilizer. In that same year, the Alter Trade Foundation, Inc. was established to provide credit to small farmers engaged in the production of organically-grown Balangon and Masbobado.

In all, the Alter Trade Group employs 376 full-time staff and provides services to more than 5,000 farmer-beneficiaries nationwide.


August 15, 2006

Dear Friends,

We write you once again to ask for your help.

Last Sunday, August 13, 2006, some 20 armed men belonging to the New People’s Army torched one of our trucks loaded with Balangon that we had just purchased from our partner-beneficiaries. The incident happened in Sitio Bato-bato, Barangay Tabun-ak, Toboso, Negros Occidental. The reason is that we refused to give in to their demand for so-called revolutionary tax.

Five years ago, we sought your help on the same problem. That time we received a letter from the Communist Party of the Philippines-Negros Island Regional Party Committee demanding that “P30 million [be] turned over to the Party treasury.” The said letter urged us to “take positive response to the will of the Party” and reminded us that “whatever action [we] take will be dealt with accordingly by the Party.”

We brought the matter up to Philippine authorities, foreign governments who are involved the GRP-NDF peace process, and to you our partners in the fair trade movement. Because of your intervention, the CPP-NPA-NDF did not pursue their demand but warned us that the problem is not over yet because they will get back at us “as soon as the situation allows.” Maybe the situation now has allowed them to get back at us, with the breakdown of the peace talks.

ATC's profits from its operations are used to provide production assistance to its growers, set-up alternative livelihood to the communities. It is therefore impossible for ATC to accede to the CPP's demand for payment of P30 million (which is more than US$600,000) because there simply is no budget for such. Acceding to this demand would mean depriving the thousands of farmer-beneficiaries of the support they expect from the company. We just could not sacrifice the farmers’ welfare, thus, we have decided not to give in to the demand of the CPP.

We could not of course fight these armed groups the way they fight—through armed violence. What we could only do is ask them to drop their demands, to show them that what they are asking and doing will not only harm the Alter Trade Corporation but also the poor farmers we are serving. However, as in the previous encounter, we believe that the voice of Alter Trade alone will not be loud enough for them to listen. We again need all the support we can muster so that together we can convince their leaders to reconsider their demand. We need you to write the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and ask them to help us. The GRP is now trying to revive the peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF and we believe that the problem we have stated is an important issue that should be tackled in the peace talks.

Too, we need you to write the CPP-NPA-NDF leaders to try to convince them that what they are doing to us is not right. We also need you to write the Royal Norwegian Government, who is involved in the talks as a neutral third party, to bring up the matter with both the GRP and the CPP-NPA-NDF.

Please send them e-mails, letters, fax and telegrams. Below are their e-mail and slow mail addresses, telephone and fax numbers:

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
President of the Republic of the Philippines
New Executive Building
Malacañang Palace Compound,
J.P. Laurel St., San Miguel, Manila
Phone: +63 2 564-1451 to 80; +63 2 735 8005
Fax: +63 2 736 1010; +63 2 929 3968

Hon. Jesus Dureza
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
2404 Tektite Tower, Exchange Road
Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Phone: +63 2 636 4765
+63 917 793 0086
Fax: +63 2 929 8149

Mr. Luis Jalandoni
Chairman, NDF Panel
NDF International Office
P.O. Box 19195
3501 DD Utrecht, The Netherlands
Phone: +31 30 23 10 431
Fax: +31 30 23 22 989

The Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
7. Juniplas 1, P.O. Box 8144 Dep, 0032
Oslo, Norway

The Embassy of the Royal Norwegian Government
21F Petron Mega Plaza Bldg.
358 Sen. Gil Puyat Ave.
Makati City, Philippines
Phone: +63 2 886 3245 to 49
Fax: +63 2 886 3244

We urgently need your support. Please help us.

Sincerely yours,

Norma G. Mugar

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