Coffee Plantation Pushes Tbolis to the Fringe

May. 30, 2006

What was once a farming village of indigenous peoples is now a vast coffee plantation that straddles six towns in three provinces. The plantation prevents the Tboli villagers from expanding their own farmland.

By Keith Bacongco

LAKE SEBU, South Cotabato — Nestled on top of the rugged mountains of Daguma Mountain Range, sitio Datal Bonlangon of barangay Ned in Lake Sebu, South Cotabato, is a home to Tboli villagers who have been robbed of their rights to their ancestral land and deprived of livelihood.

What was once a farming village of indigenous peoples is now a vast coffee plantation that straddles six towns in three provinces. The plantation prevents the Tboli villagers from expanding their own farmland.

In 1991, the Department of Environment Natural Resources (DENR) issued an Industrial Tree Plantation License Agreement (ITPLA) to Silvicultural Industries Inc. (SII) but a year later it was converted into Industrial Forest Plantation Management Agreement (IFMA). The agreement, which will expire on December 2016, covers 11,862 hectares.

The IFMA was introduced by the DENR in 1991 as a key component of its Industrial Forest Plantation (IFP) scheme. The IFMA was designed as an integrative approach to forestry, replacing the controversial and forest-extractive Timber License Agreement (TLA) system.

But IFMA is unfavorable for the Lumads living around the plantation, as it drives them away from their ancestral lands and hampered their cultivation of their lands.

In 2004, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples reported that: In 1991 the company representatives informed them that their land was part of a logging concession area but that this would be a positive development because of the building of new roads to transport their produce. Company representatives made no reference to the planting of coffee, much less the conversion of the area into a large coffee plantation.

Within seven months, trees were felled until the area was completely logged over, it added.

Soon after, bulldozers and other heavy machinery arrived and cleared the entire area of bananas, fruit trees, native coffee and other locally grown plants including rattan to make way for a coffee plantation. Only when the mechanized and massive clearing was in full swing did the people realize that their land had been taken away from them.

The report added: Thereafter, they were prevented from tilling their farms and those who attempted to do so were harassed by company guards armed with carbines, Armalites and rifles. Those who tried to work on the companys clearings were fired at. Before long, the cleared areas were planted to arabica and robusta coffee.

Fearing for their lives, especially the youth, 37 Tboli families (about 100 persons) fled in the night and without lamps, groped in the dark and reached Blugsanay, the next sitio at the dawn the next day. Without their sources of livelihood, the people had no choice but to evacuate and develop new settlements, enduring harsh conditions in breaking new ground, the report read.

Tribal chieftain Datu Victor Danyan said up to now some of the displaced villagers have yet to return to their villages. Some are still in the nearby villages because they are farming there and they will only return here if the problem will be resolved, he said.

Datu Danyan said they are dismayed that they cannot really expand their farm areas because they are afraid of the company guards who might harm them when they will cultivate so near the coffee plantation.

For their subsistence, villagers are planting corn, root crops and vegetables in the slopes surrounding their village.

In 2005, the villagers engaged in potato farming. Local traders from Isulan and Bagumbayan finance the potato farming. However, they ended up in debt and some farmlands were forfeited by the traders after they failed to settle their debts.

But there are at least two families who are still engaged in potato farming just to be able to reclaim their land. Some 30 families are now living in the sitio.

Datu Danyan said that before there were around 300 families lived in Sitio Datal Bonlangon until the SII started its operation in 1991.

Now, there are at least 120 persons living in Datal Bonlangon, at least 40 of them are children. There are around 26 structures, including their church, in the village but only 18 are occupied. Usually, the houses are occupied by two families.

Datu Danyan, on the other hand, relayed that the Justice Peace of Marbel discouraged them from planting potatoes because it requires pesticide and other chemicals to maintain its growth.

Those who still owe the financiers, they will just finish the three croppings so that they can pay their debt and reclaim their land, Datu Danyan said.

For over a year now, Hesed Foundation, which is run by the Oblates of Notre Dame (OND) Sisters, has been extending its adult literacy program and sustainable agriculture in Datal Bonlangon. Arnold Magpon, agriculture technician of Hesed Foundation assigned in the village, said they replaced the potatoes with peanuts. On the first week of May this year, Magpon said their trial cropping yielded 91 cans or approximately 35-40 sacks. By June, they will plant peanuts in the former potato area.

Currently, the community, with the assistance from Legal Rights Center- Kasama sa Kalikasan/ Friends of the Earth Philippines (LRC-KsK/FOE) and Tri-Peoples Concern for Peace, Progress and Development of Mindanao, is still preparing for an application for Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT).

The villagers believe that if they can secure CADT, they can expand and cultivate their farmlands. We can plant more crops if we can finally secure our own land, they said.

Of the 11,862 hectares under the IFMA, the Tboli villagers claim at least 6,000 hectares as their ancestral domain. (

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