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We are not extorted, say banana growers

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 20 July) – None of the 27 members of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) had experienced extortion nor paid grease money to the Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI)-Quarantine Service here, its executive said.

In an interview on Tuesday evening at his office located along Rizal Avenue, PBGEA executive director Stephen Antig said he had not received any complaints pertaining to the extortion allegations of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol against BPI-QS officer-in-charge Andres Alemania and his staff.

He said that big banana companies pay P75 meal allowance and P12 per kilometer transportation allowance as stated in the administrative order issued in 2001 by then Agriculture Secretary and also former Senator Edgardo Angara to the BPI-QS inspectors who visit the packing sites to ensure that the phytosanitary standards are met before the issuance of phytosanitary certificates.

Antig said that they also used to pay overtime for the inspectors if they work beyond office hours, but the practice had been stopped eventually.

“I really don’t know. My question is, why do you still have to pay grease money – if it’s true or not – if the only reason you’re paying such is if there’s wrong with your shipment. If all your documents are intact, your farm, your packing houses are accredited, then you have your export license. Why the need to grease the palm of these people?” he said.

Last Sunday, Piñol posted on Facebook that he asked BPI acting director Vivencio Mamaril to relieve Alemania and the whole staff of BPI-QS based in the Sasa Port and replace them with a new set of quarantine officers.

Piñol said the grease money was at P8,000 per container or P40,000 per exporter’s transaction.

He added that that there would be due process for the BPI-QS officers and that he would send an investigation team anytime this week to validate the complaints while at the same time subject them to a lifestyle check.

But Antig challenged the complainants to show evidence that the quarantine officers are mulcting the large banana exporters, whose plantations cover at least 40,000 hectares of the 83,000 hectares planted to bananas in Mindanao.

“Personally, I feel that it’s not also fair with Alemania if he will not be given his time in court, and all other officers in the PQS (the growers’ shortened term for BPI-QS) accused of allegedly mulcting the exporters. They should be given their time in court to explain their side, defend themselves whether it is true or not… For me, I pity the PQS staff if they will just be relieved and dismissed without due process. These people are just doing their job, working for a living,” he said.

Members of the PBGEA and Mindanao Banana Farmers and Exporters Association Inc. (MBFEA) met on Tuesday in the city and none complained of being extorted, Antig said.

He said that the exporters’ operations have not been affected but he is hoping Piñol would be able to appoint immediately new officials. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)

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