From MNLF enclave to rubber plantation

Philippine Star | MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - Former guerillas of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that fought the government for more than three decades have ventured into large-scale rubber tree seedling production as a more profitable livelihood.

Some 500 MNLF members based in their once impregnable 5,000-hectare enclave at Bago Inged in Datu Odin Sinsuat town now boast of a rubber tree seedling production facility, built for them as a joint initiative of the Department of Agriculture in Region 12 and the office of Maguindanao First District Rep. Sandra Sema.

MNLF leaders, along with Sema and DA-12’s regional director, Amalia Datucan, showed to reporters on Tuesday the newly-established facility, touted as Central Mindanao’s most modern and largest.

Muslim and Christian farmers in Maguindanao have lately been planting rubber trees in lands with rolling terrains owing to the high demand of processed rubber in the local and international markets.

High  demand

"There is a continuously increasing demand for rubber – for tires and other engineering purposes, for construction needs, and for shoes and other products, such as kitchen utensils and vehicle parts,” Datucan said.

The MNLF stronghold in Bago Inged now have corn fields, coconut and African oil palm trees, orchard and coffee plantations, that were established after the group signed on September 2, 1996 a final peace pact with the government during the presidency of Fidel Ramos.

The setting up of the fenced 2.8-hectare rubber tree nursery was supervised by the DA-12 and the Central Mindanao Agricultural Research Center (CEMIARC).

“There are new, imported varieties of rubber trees in this facility that are not found yet in other nurseries,” said the 58-year-old Zaidee Taup, a senior MNLF commander in Bago Inged.

Sema said by propagating rubber trees, farmers can also help reforest barren lands in the province.

Arms to farms

Datucan said she is touched by the scene of former MNLF fighters now plowing fields, tilling lands in Bago Inged.

Some MNLF members here still carry assault rifles, but only for securing their farms and to ward off wild animals that destroy their crops.

Farmers in Maguindanao buy rubber tree planting materials in Kidapawan City and North Cotabato’s Makilala town, which are both too far from the province.

“Some seedlings get damaged while being hauled from there to Maguindanao,” Sema said.

A seedling costs more than P10 each.

The MNLF’s newly-established seedling farm is expected to produce an initial output of 3,000 seedlings by September.

“Apart from producing marketable seedlings, we shall also be planting rubber trees in our farms because it will earn for us additional income we can spend for the schooling of our children,” said an MNLF member who asked to be identified only as Samad.

DA-12 and CEMIARC technicians working alongside MNLF farmers are convinced the rubber seedling venture would boom in the next two years since it is the only one existing in Maguindanao. [John Unson Home]