MANILA — For the third time this year, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will attempt to install farmer-beneficiaries evicted from a disputed portion of a banana plantation in Tagum, Davao del Norte — this time, with a go-signal from the President and with backing from the police and military.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, in a press conference on Wednesday, announced the installation( ) of 159 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. (Marbai) who have been repeatedly evicted by agribusiness firm Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) from the 145-hectare San Isidro (Sanid) portion of the plantation since late 2016.
The DAR hopes its next attempt for the installation will now be bolstered by a pronouncement made by President Duterte to the Marbai farmers last May 9, when he visited their campout in Mendiola, Manila: “The government promises to grant you the lands you deserve. These lands are yours.”
The latest installation plans were decided on a multi-sectoral meeting attended by provincial DAR officials, provincial and city police heads, provincial and city government representatives, social welfare department representatives, human rights commission representatives, and even a representative of Christopher “Bong” Go, the special assistant to President Duterte.
Mariano said the meeting was called after he issued a “break-open” order to dismantle Lapanday’s gates and other obstacles and threats barring the installation, and to see through the “peaceful and successful” installation of the farmers.
DAR Undersecretary for policy planning and field operations David Erro said that police have committed a complement of 240 police through “Task Force” Tagum headed by the provincial director; with around a hundred personnel from the Philippine Army to serve as perimeter security, to conduct clearing and inspections and dismantling of “alleged booby traps” in the disputed farm.
The provincial police director also assured a 48-hour protection for the farmers after the installation, although “it depends on the situation if that will be extended,” Erro said. Support mechanisms for the farmers will also be made accessible in the area.
Marbai earlier complained to DAR that Lapanday employed around 700 armed men to secure the 145-hectare plantation and installed “booby traps” near the fence.
Lapanday refused to accept the break-open order when the DAR served them a copy at their Makati offices, DAR officials said.
Mariano had issued a writ of installation, and had attempted twice to install the Marbai farmers in April. Lapanday refused to acknowledge DAR’s jurisdiction over the farm on behalf of Marbai, and has also defied a cease and desist order in December from DAR, citing a pre-existing contract between Lapanday and Hearbco-1, Marbai’s mother cooperative, giving management of the Sanid farm over to Lapanday. The Davao regional trial court branch 14 has upheld this agreement.
DAR Undersecretary for legal affairs Luis Pangulayan, however, has said the courts have no jurisdiction over the dispute, and that Lapanday’s agreement with Hearbco-1 was “illegal” or void for lacking approval from the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council. SFM