TAGUM CITY, Davao Del Norte — After almost seven years, 159 agrarian reform beneficiaries here are set to manage their own land in anticipation of the government’s installation order to seize a 145-hectare banana plantation.
Antonio Tuyak, an officer of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (Marbai) said they will be reinstalled at the San Isidro farm area inside the Hijo Plantation around 10 am on Tuesday.
Marbai members occupied the disputed land on December 9 last year but they were forced to leave the area by December 31 following shooting incidents reportedly by company guards that left nine of the farmers seriously wounded.
In a press conference in Davao City on Monday, Tuyak said they hope to get back their land from Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) who has a compromise agreement with the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (Hearbco 1).
The Hearbco 1 was previously divided into the “Yes” and “No” groups who were in favor and against the ties with the LFC as the buyer of the bananas.
The “No Group” would later organize themselves into Marbai.
Tuyak said their installation in their lands is good news for the agrarian reform beneficiaries in Barangay Madaum.
“Mao na ning higayona atong kalampusan tungod kay gitagaan na ta og igong panahon. Ang installation order gihatag na gyud sa atoa sa atong kalihim, si Ka Paeng Mariano (This is victory for us. The installation order is finally given to us by Ka Paeng Mariano),” Tuyak said.
In a statement Monday, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano directed the Region 11 officials to oversee the “peaceful” installation of the members of Marbai. A pre-installation conference was also held on Tuesday as directed by Mariano, to facilitate the installation.
Mariano in a memorandum dated April 11, 2017, ordered Regional Director Joseph Orilla and Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Jocelyn Seno to convene the pre-installation team composed of the Sheriff, DAR regional office XI, the provincial director of the Davao del Norte Provincial Police Office, and Representative/s of the Commission on Human Rights.
“You are directed to facilitate the meeting of the above-mentioned members to finalize the conduct of the installation,” Mariano said.
Marbai held a campsite at the farm on October 20 last year to assert their claim over the lands. But it was on December 9 when members and their families boldly occupied 136.8 hectares of the land amid presence of the armed company guards.
According to a report by a two-day national fact finding mission (FFM), armed security guards fired around two warning shots. As the farmers negotiated with them, the guards continued to fire around 30 shots.
Three days later, the FFM report said that 20 to 30 armed guards in black long sleeves and masks fired at the farmers which left seven people wounded.
Marbai said that around 7:30 am on December 14, the guards again fired at them, wounding two of their members.
They said on December 15 and 31, armed LFC guards pointed their guns at them and told them to leave the area.
DAR Sec. Mariano said the installation order is in response to the “continued defiance of the LFC and all of its officers, employees or persons acting for and in its behalf, to the cease and desist (CDO) issued by DAR on December 14, 2016.
“If not restraint, such defiance, will surely impede and frustrate the mandate of the DAR to protect the rights and welfare of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to own directly or collectively the lands they till or to receive their just share in the case of farmworkers,” he said.
On December 19, 2016 DAR upheld its cease and desist order favoring the ARBs.
The CDO which was released last Dec. 14, prohibited Lapanday “from forcibly evicting the members of petitioner Marbai from the subject landholding and from disturbing their peaceful possession and occupation of the subject property.”
“By virtue of the approval of the compromise agreement, this area belongs to Marbai in so far as program implementation is concerned. Marbai members are the agrarian reform beneficiaries in the Sanid area,” DAR Undersecretary Luis Pangulayan told Davao Today in a previous interview.
But on December 31, plantation guards allegedly from LFC evicted the farmers occupying the contested land.
Mely Yu, chairperson of Marbai, filed a petition before the DAR for an “extremely urgent request for intervention” which was treated as a petition for installation of ARBs amid the recent attacks and harassments suffered by Marbai members.
Mariano said “considering that the area claimed by Marbai members is an awarded land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), the ARB/s have the right to take possession of the land covered by his/her/their titles from the time the same is awarded to them through a registered CLOA.”
“In cases where the taking of possession of the awarded lands by the ARBs would endanger or imperil their lives, as in the present situation, the DAR shall assume the responsibility for their installation to the awarded property by way of a writ of installation, pursuant to Section 109 of Administrative Order (A.O.) 07-11,” Mariano said.
Davao Today tried to get the side of Lapanday’s legal counsel but the LFC is yet to issue a statement on the issue.
What went before?
Since October 18, 1999, the Hearbco 1 was under contract to sell its bananas to Lapanday under the Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) for the Class A bananas and Banana Purchase Agreement (BPA) for the Class B bananas. The contract was good for 10 years and was extended for 10 more years.
However, in its open letter to the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association on December 18, Yu said the contract was “unfavourable”.
“It was through Lapanday Foods Corporation’s contract implementation of the unfavourable 10 year Banana Sales Agreement and General Framework Farm Rehabilitation that ARBs experienced worst living condition. Contracts with banana buyers ideally are supposed to alleviate economic condition and credits given are meant to grant temporary fiscal relief to us poor farmers. Yet our then contract with Lapanday Foods Corporation did not serve this purpose,” Yu said.
Teofisto Melloria, a 72 year-old farmer previously interviewed by Davao Today also said: “We do not understand their ways. We earn a gross of P20,000, but they would only give us P1,000 as a cash advance.”
He said the gross income is collected by Lapanday to pay for the cash advances by the farmers.
Yu said the contracts brokered by Lapanday is “an Agri-Business Ventures Agreement Scheme meant to extract excessive profits from farmers and leaves them in abysmal debt.”
She said through the contract, Lapanday deducts the amount of “P4,500 twice monthly for farm inputs or production cost” from the farmers.
Yu added that the company “downgraded” their banana products, costing them a lot of their earnings.
In 2010, during the general assembly, the new set of the Board of Directs led by Yu refused to honor the existing contracts with Lapanday.
During a board meeting on May 2010, the officers reacted after finding out that the cooperative owes Lapanday some “P93 million.”
According to Marbai, Lapanday also collected 9 percent and 12 percent interest rates, “a reason why for 12 years of transacting with Lapanday, the cooperative was only able to pay the interest and not the principal (debt).”
On June 7, 2010, a dialogue between the cooperative and Lapanday took place in Tagum City which was attended by Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer II Nicasio Lemente. Marbai said they submitted a position paper to the Lapanday during the dialogue expressing their intent to sell their Class A bananas to Lapanday and that they would get the rejects to sell it to other buyers “effective Week 25.”
Marbai said a representative of Lapanday said their legal counsel will reply to the cooperative before “week 25.” But no reply came.
On June 21 the cooperative only sold Class A bananas to Lapanday. Marbai said the cooperative wanted to get the rejects but Lapanday refused and instead deployed security guards in the packing house.
The following day, the road was blocked and the agrarian reform beneficiaries could not enter to harvest their bananas.
Lapanday filed a case against the cooperative for “Specific Performance, Damages, and Attorney’s Fees with Application for a Writ of Preliminary Injunction” against the cooperative and Yu’s groups.
The Regional Trial Court Branch 14 of Davao City issued a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction in favor of LFC and referred the case to mediation for possible amicable settlement.
On February 2011, negotiations for a possible compromise agreement begun. The agreement was signed on September 9, 2011.
Good areas, poor areas
A major provision of the Compromise Agreement is the classification of the areas into “Good Areas” and “Poor Areas”.
In a letter to DAR Regional Director John Maruhom date February 16, 2015, Atty. Leilanie Espejo, legal counsel for Lapanday, explained: “the good areas consisting of 274.5 hectares are managed by the growers-agrarian reform beneficiaries, while the poor areas consisting only of 157.5 hectares are managed by the LFC.”
The 145-hectares claimed by members of the Marbai are part of the Poor Areas.
Espejo said the Hearbco-1 Board of Directors negotiated to charge most of the deductions to the poor areas “so that the good areas managed by the grower-ARBs would have higher net proceeds.”
She said Lapanday agreed to the scheme.
Espejo said Hearbco-1 is not yet even halfway through in the payment of its loans and advances from Lapanday.
She added that Lapanday’s collection is “mostly reliant on the managed areas as concessions were already given to the Good Areas.”
In a supplement to the Compromise Agreement between Hearbco-1 and Lapanday, it indicated that the account of Hearbco-1 is P892,629,827. Lapanday agreed to reduce it to P616,518,304 “to assist Hearbco-1 to continue its operations.”
Espejo also said “although LFC is open to an eventual turn-over of these areas to the ARB, now is not yet the proper time.”
It said the area has just been rehabilitated by Lapanday as it is prone to Panama disease.
“If this area will be turned over to the ARBs for them to manage on their own, there will be unobstructed entry and exit to these areas which will openly expose these areas again to PD,” Espejo told Maruhom in the letter.
She said this is detrimental to the adjacent areas as well.
Refusal to recognize
Marbai said Lapanday refused to recognize that their separation from Hearbco-1 in January 2011 “was by means of a referendum—one democratic procedure that all ARBs under Hearbco-1 agreed upon and voted for whether we choose to remain in continuance of an unfair contract with our buyer or not.”
Marbai asserted that they are not accountable for the contract they never agreed to.
Marbai filed a case against the Hearbco-1 before the DAR Adjudication Board for reinstatement in their former designated areas.
On December 15, 2015, the Marbai won their case against Hearbco-1. An agreement was also signed between the Hearbco 1 and the Marbai wherein because there are already some members of the “Yes” group cultivating their areas, the “No” group will instead be reinstated in the 145-hectare portion of the Sanid area.
However, Lapanday opposed the move because their reinstatement would affect Lapanday’s rights under the Compromise Agreement.
Lapanday also said it is not bound by the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator of Davao del Norte as it was not a party to the case between Marbai and Hearbco-1.(davaotoday.com)