DAVAO CITY, Feb. 1 - In line with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s directive and the Department of Agrarian Reform’s policy thrust in protecting the rights and welfare of farmers, including the 12,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who have entered into Agribusiness Venture Agreements (AVAs) with some landlord-oligarchs, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) is conducting a three-day ARBs’ forum on the implementation of AVA in Davao City from Feb. 1-3.
The forum is an offshoot of Pres. Duterte’s directive to review all AVA contracts after he approved the revocation of contract between the Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI) and the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) last Sept. 12 at the 35th PARC meeting.
Recently, DAR issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) against Lapanday Foods Corp. after members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) sought for DAR’s intervention as they were forcibly evicted from the 145-hectare banana plantation last December. This land was previously awarded under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1996 and was successfully turned over to the MARBAI farmers last Dec. 19.
MARBAI as a legal entity was never a party to the AVA that Lapanday inked with the original landowner Hilo Plantations, Inc. (HPI) and the cooperative, Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperation 1 (HEARBCO 1). Majority of HEARBCO 1 farm workers rejected the renegotiated contract with Lapanday because they consider it as “highly disadvantageous,” according to DAR Undersecretary for Field Operations Atty. Marcos Risonar.
In the 26-year existence of AVAs, there are reports that ARBs have not been successful in their partnerships with investors as exemplified by the Lapanday vs MARBAI case. A study of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN FAO) in 2016 revealed that successful arrangements among ARBs and investors were limited. ARBs, who specifically entered into long term lease contracts for more than 20 years were not able to enjoy benefits from land ownership.
AVA is a form of non-land transfer scheme where farm lots are awarded to beneficiaries in paper but control over land use and production remain with companies or private entities. This essentially defeats the goal and spirit of agrarian reform program that is to empower the ARBs.
Data submitted to the PARC secretariat by DAR Regional Directors and Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officers (PARPOs) show that there are more than 12,000 ARBs, mostly from Regions IX, XI, XII and CARAGA, who have entered into various AVA contracts with private companies or investors.
These entrepreneurial collaborations between ARBs and private investors implement an agribusiness venture involving lands that were distributed under CARP. Schemes under AVA include Joint Venture Agreement (JVA), Lease Agreement, Management Contract, Marketing Agreement, and Production or Contract Growing. These are intended to sustain farm operation and enhance the productivity of awarded lands among ARBs considering that commercial farming on a larger scale has been more efficient especially with the use of modern farming technology.
Agrarian reform chief and PARC Vice Chairperson Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, upon assuming office in July 2016, suspended Administrative Order No. 4 or the Rules on Agribusiness Venture Agreements due to numerous issues encountered.
The PARC, as the highest policy making body of the CARP, seeks to gain first-hand information and actual experiences of ARBs as they enter into contracts or agreements with private investors in the three-day forum. Recommendations from this forum would be PARC’s cornerstone in formulating appropriate policy direction for AVA implementation.
“It’s timely for the PARC to flex its muscles and review onerous contracts under AVA to give justice to thousands of ARBs who were deprived with the fruits of their labor,” said PARC Secretariat Director James Ponce.
Around 29 ARB cooperatives and associations, 14 Provincial Agrarian Reform Coordinating Committee (PARCCOM) Chairpersons, regional and provincial AVA point persons, officials from the DAR, and the PARC Secretariat are expected to attend the forum. Workshops are set in place to ensure that participants can thoroughly express their experiences.