TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte (July 18, 2017)—The second round of talks conducted by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council Executive Committee (PARC Excom) between the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and banana business giant Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI) has ended in a standoff as the latter refuses to revoke the agri-business venture agreements (AVAs) the farmers have entered with them.
MEPI President Antero Sison, Jr. said he is against the revocation of the AVA because more than 1,000 employees will be affected by the revocation.
“As businessmen, we should honor the signed agreement. If the PARC insists on it, we are ready to file a case to the Supreme Court,” Sison said.
AVAs are contracts entered into by an ARB or group of ARBs, on one hand, and an investor, on the other, which involve the possession of the land; distribution of the produce of the land, and commitment of the owners to produce certain crops.
The lease AVA was approved for revocation by the PARC on September 12, 2016 due to complaints by the Sto. Tomas Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (Starbenco) and the Sto. Tomas Individual Farming Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (Sifarbco) for gross violations of several provisions of the contract of lease.
The Starbenco and Sifarbco farmers said they were terminated from their work 10 years ago and were not given separation pay. The farmers said they were not allowed to enter the plantation. Their landholdings are being cultivated by hired laborers who are provided by three employment agencies hired by MEPI.
Consultation with cooperatives and MEPI
DAR Secretary and PARC Excom Chairman Rafael Mariano said the PARC gave farmers/cooperatives their right to be heard.
At the consultation, the Sifarbco group is firm in their position on the revocation of their lease AVA contract. They want to enter into a growership arrangement with other corporations. They also asked the DAR to be installed into their awarded lands.
“The Starbenco group, at present is not the ones cultivating their lands. They also wish to take possession of, be installed in and cultivate individually their respective landholdings. Its members expressed capability to cultivate and manage their farms and market their produce,” Mariano said. He said the Starbenco group prefers individual farming and to enter into a growership arrangement with other corporations and not with MEPI. “It is clear that that both Starbenco and Sifarbco want their AVA to be revoked,” said Mariano.
Mariano said the PARC will consolidate the result of the consultation with farmers and MEPi and will present the report at the next PARC meeting with President Duterte.
“The meeting is tentatively scheduled on August 10 at Malacanang. We will present this and propose possible solutions that would be beneficial to all parties involved,” said Mariano.
Win-win solution with Damarb-MPC
DAR Secretary and PARC Excom Chairman Rafael Mariano said at the first consultation with the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARB-MPC) on March 25, the Damarb-MPC wanted a “win-win” solution where they shall continue their relationship with MEPI under a separate agreement.
Mariano said the Damarb-MPC and the MEPI has arrived at an agreement guaranteeing ARBs a signing bonus and retroactive and advance rental payments for each ARB-signatory amounting to P105,000 as well as a regular monthly income for each of them. MEPI President Antero Sison, Jr., in a June 21 letter addressed to President Rodrigo R. Duterte, said majority of the ARBs working in the firm’s plantation have signed the amended agreement.
The AVA ensures that more than 1,800 employees of the banana farm will retain their jobs, benefiting some 8,000 dependents. The new deal includes payment for land rental of P50,000 per hectare per annum plus an increase of P10,000 every five years, which the company said is more than twice the average rate for the industry.
Photo 1: Sec. Mariano welcoming the farmers and MEPI officials at the 2nd consultation with the farmers at Molave Hotel in Tagum, Davao del Norte.
Photo 2: Farmers of Starbenco and Sifarbco picketing at the gate of the hotel.
Photo 3: Sec. Mariano with DA Sec. Emmanuel Pinol and Sec. of Finance and PARC member Carlos Dominguez in a huddle discussing the issues of the AVAs of Starbenco and Sifarbco. Looking on: DAR Assistant Secretary for Mindanao Affairs John Maruhom.
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