DAVAO CITY, Feb. 1 – As farmers eye the peaceful installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries to the 145-hectare banana plantation in Tagum City, members of Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO 1) expressed their intention to end their contract with Lapanday Foods Corp. in a dialogue with Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials in Davao City.
As requested by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in a farmers’ campout last Jan. 26, members of HEARBCO 1 and the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI) met with DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to discuss the ongoing land dispute in the area.
Together with Undersecretary for Foreign Assisted Projects Sylvia Mallari, Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Pañgulayan, Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Lucius Malsi, Director Roland Cua, Region XI Director John Maruhom, and Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer Jocelyn Sena, the agrarian reform chief reaffirmed that DAR will always side with the farmers in seeking social justice.
“Pare-pareho naman kayong magsasaka at maganda na magkaisa kayo dahil iisa naman ang kalaban ninyo,” RD Maruhom said at the start of the dialogue.
HEARBCO 1 has already declared support for the reinstallation of the MARBAI members to the banana plantation. They welcomed the initiative of KMP in order to disprove the claims of Lapanday that HEARBCO 1 was behind the shooting of MARBAI members last Dec. 31. The attack that injured 10 was a “security sweep” according to the agribusiness firm.
In addition, HEARBCO 1 has already filed a petition before the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) for the revocation of their contract with Lapanday after acquiring a total of P800 million in debt, citing unfavorable relationship between the investor and farmers.
Undersecretary Pañgulayan clarified that both HEARBCO 1 and MARBAI farmers are the true owners of the banana plantation during the farmers’ dialogue. “Service contract lang ang pinanghahawakan ng Lapanday,” he added.
Amid the wave of attacks on the farmers’ encampment by alleged personnel of Lapanday last December, DAR issued a Cease and Desist Order prohibiting the forcible eviction of MARBAI farmers from the landholding. Lapanday applied for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and/or writ of preliminary injunction against the CDO but the Court of Appeals denied it last Jan. 6.
According to Mariano, the extensive powers of the department, including its quasi-judicial and quasi-legislative powers, shall be used for the benefit of the farmers.
“Pangangalagaan ng DAR ang direct control and ownership ng lupa ng mga magsasaka. Hindi sinabi sa ating mga batas na ang agreement [between farmers and investors] ang primaryang poprotektahan ng DAR,” he added.
The Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao - National Union of People’s Lawyers (UPLM-NUPL) agreed to help the farmers in gathering documents and evidence to file the necessary charges against Lapanday.
Currently, the PARC is conducting a three-day forum in Davao City to determine the actual experiences of agrarian reform beneficiaries involved in agribusiness venture agreements (AVA). Such contract between HEARBCO 1 and Lapanday is one of the numerous reports that DAR received containing complaints about the “highly disadvantageous relationship” between the farmer and the investor.
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, chairperson of the PARC, ordered the review of all AVA contracts to protect the rights and welfare of farmers during the 35th PARC meeting last September.