Banana growers of Tagum City scored victory after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte ordered Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to proceed with the reinstallation of farmer-beneficiaries to the 145-hectare banana plantation controlled by agribusiness firm Lapanday Foods Corp.
During his visit at the farmers’ campout in Mendiola on May 9, Duterte told Mariano to continue with the installation in the disputed San Isidro (Sanid) farm area.
The pronouncement came after Duterte earlier called out landlord-oligarchs to follow his orders or he would be forced to reclaim government lands and distribute it to qualified beneficiaries instead.
Duterte is the first President of the Republic of the Philippines to visit protesting farmers in Mendiola. He encouraged the MARBAI farmers to continue defending their rights as he announced his continued support for Mariano’s installation order.
“The 159 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI), being legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), have the right to possess and till the lands awarded to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” said Mariano.
Section 108 of DAR Administrative Order (AO) no. 7, series of 2011 states that “as owner/s of awarded lands under CARP, the ARB/s shall take possession of the land covered by his/her/their titles from the time the same is awarded to them through a registered certificate of land ownership award (CLOA).”
Around 200 farmers have been staging a campout protest since Labor Day to urge the President and Philippine National Police Chief Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa to help them with their land concerns.
“The government promises to grant you the lands you deserve. These lands are yours,” Duterte said while admitting his dismay with the “tedious” legal processes that farmers have to go through to own their government-awarded lands.
Lapanday remained defiant during DAR’s attempts of installation of beneficiaries by employing security guards who frustrated official government activities last April 18 and 21. The agribusiness firm asserted its claim to manage the contested banana plantation pursuant to the final and executory decision by the court and argued that Mariano’s installation order is null and void.
The agrarian reform chief, however, affirmed DAR’s jurisdiction over the Sanid land and asserted the agency’s quasi-judicial powers to adjudicate agrarian reform issues. Under Section 50 of Republic Act (RA) No. 6657 as amended by RA 9700, DAR can determine matters involving the implementation of agrarian laws based on the authority vested by the law.
Duterte also advised the courts to avoid issuing issue temporary restraining orders as it makes the government’s job to recover property of the people difficult.
The writ of installation was issued by Mariano as a response to a petition filed last Dec. 9 by Mely Yu, chairperson of MARBAI, for an “extremely urgent request for intervention” which was treated as a petition for installation of ARBs amid the attacks and harassments suffered by MARBAI members last year.
One hundred fifty-nine members of MARBAI have been previously awarded with farm lots under CARP in 1996. MARBAI broke away from their mother cooperative Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1) in a collective effort to recognize their rights to a fair livelihood.
They decided to end ties with Lapanday after their members felt that they were being swindled in the 10-year Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement with the agribusiness firm. “We were tricked into selling high-grade bananas which were poorly classified for a lower price, thus resulting to a measly P2,000 monthly income,” Yu said.
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