Aid funds 'benefit terrorists'
by Martin Whitlock A BRITISH Government agency is proposing to invest funds in a Philippine palm oil plantation where members of a paramilitary terrorist group are employed as security guards, a Catholic group has claimed this week.
The allegation is contained in a report published on Sunday by the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR), a group engaged in education and research into matters relating to the Third World.
The report concerns a plantation in the Agusan region of the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, which is owned by NDC-Guthrie Plantations Inc., a joint venture of the Guthrie Corporation and the National Development Company, a Philippine government agency. The Commonwealth Development Corporation, an agency of the British Government's Overseas Development Administration, is close to concluding an agreement with NDC-Guthrie to provide further finance for the development of the Agusan plantation.
According to the report NDCGuthrie are employing as security guards on the estate members of the Lost Command, a notorious group of irregulars which was set up by Colonel Carlos Lademore originally to fight' left-wing Muslim insurgents in western Mindanao. The group, which is said to contain a high proportion of exconvicts, rapidly acquired a reputation for brutality which caused it to be disowned by the Philippine Government during the 1970s.
The Lost Command continues to operate under the command
of Col Lademore, and now centres its activities on San Francisco, in Agusan del Sur. Here, according to the report, they are involved in racketeering and gold-smuggling and have been responsible for a number of murders. Most recently nine people were reported killed by the Lost Command following union elections at the NDCGuthrie plantation in which the candidate sponsored by the Lost Command came last in the poll.
A spokesman for the Philippines Embassy in London said that the Lost Command was now an illegal organisation and that the government was trying to curb its operations. Other reports, however, suggest that the Lost Command currently enjoys the sanction of the highest level of the security forces of Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos.
There are still rebel Muslim forces operating on the island of Mindanao, and the predominantly Christian New People's Army is also increasingly active there. In the face of this concentration of opposition forces, the government of President Marcos seems to be prepared to tolerate the Lost Command's criminal activities in exchange for its counter insurgency activities.
This may also account for the lengths to which the government has been prepared to go to encourage multi-national investment in plantations in Mindanao. President Marcos has been personally involved in the wooing of companies, and the laws protecting the land ownership rights of the small holders in the Agusan area are reported to have been widely overridden. The presence of powerful multi-nationals in the area may assist the interests of internal security.
In any case there is no doubt that NDC-Guthrie Plantations Inc. are employing members of the Lost Command as security guards. In an interview last September with Tom Fawthrop of the Irish Times Mr Bruce Clew, the local NDC-Guthrie manager at Agusan, freely admitted that this was the case, and according to the CIIR report this has also been admitted by a board member of the Guthrie Corporation.
The Commonwealth Development Corporation was considering the CIIR report this week, and is awaiting the result of inquiries both with Guthries and its own staff in the Philippines. However the conclusion of its financing deal with NDC-Guthrie, which also involves the International Finance Corporation, an affiliate of the World Bank, is understood to be imminent, although the corporation say that there is still time to give the report full consideration before contractual obligations are entered into.
The corporation exists to administer British Government aid funds in the developing world, but is expected to produce a profitable return on
them. This statutory requirement is intended to ensure that funds are applied in a way that is effective in the long term, and do not merely disappear down the "aid drain" that has become a feature of many developing economies.
The corporation says that it will not involve itself with projects that do not enjoy the support of the local community. According to CIIR, however, the development of the NDCGuthrie plantation has already caused several thousand small holders to be dispossessed of their land.