TAGUM CITY (MindaNews/13 December) – A group of banana farmers has sought the assistance of President Duterte and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano in their effort to reclaim a 145-hectare land in Barangay Madaum here that was awarded to them in 1996 under the agrarian reform program.
Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) has been using the land as a Cavendish banana plantation.
In an interview Monday, Linda Dayahan, a member of the board of directors of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Incorporated (MARBAI), said they wanted Duterte and Mariano to intervene, claiming they were not getting support from the city government and provincial Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
“They should stop chasing us away. We did not steal the land. This was awarded to us by the government,” she said in the vernacular.
Dayahan said she is hoping that Monday’s shooting incident that left seven persons injured will not happen again.
Injured were Taldan Miparanun, 16; Jose Balucos, 42; Emmanuel Buladaco, 46; Belardo Francisco, 53; Jojo Gomez, 26; Rico Talagaga; and Joseph Bertulfo, 58. Gomez and Talagala were in critical condition at the Davao Regional Hospital in Tagum City.
The victims were among the MARBAI farmers and members of militant groups who had encamped near the plantation since December 9.
After learning that some LFC workers were reportedly harvesting at least five hectares of the plantation, Dayahan said they went to the site early Monday to stop the harvesting. With the farmers were 1,000 members of different support groups from Compostela Valley.
But she said they scampered for safety when plantation guards carrying high-powered firearms greeted them with gunshots at around 7:30 a.m.
She recalled she could have died had she not jumped into the canal for cover.
After the shooting, she said farmers returned to the site to tie blue ribbons around the bananas that were hit by bullets and cut some of the bunches in frustration.
MARBAI chair Mely S. Yu also appealed for help from Duterte and Sec. Mariano, saying the farmers could barely survive with their income as contract growers.
In a press release issued last December 9, the Unyon sa mga Mag-uumang Nagtikad para sa Tinuod nga Reformang Agraryo (UGMAD-TRA), said around 2,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries, peasant union, and support groups confronted and drove off the armed security guards of LFC that attempted to quell the mass action.
UGMAD-TRA spokesperson Antonio Tuyak said nothing can stop the farmers from reclaiming the land so they can use it for their own benefit.
He accused LFC of imposing “onerous, deceptive, exploitative and oppressive Agribusiness Ventures Agreement Schemes.”
Yu said they only get about P2,000 a month out of their P15,000 supposed monthly income as contract growers due to deductions for the farm inputs provided by the company.
Depending on the demand from the world market, she said Lapanday buys bananas for $3 dollars a box that weighs about 13 kilos.
“We are deprived of farmland that was given to us by the government through CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program),” she said.
Removed as officials
Yu said they have been struggling for over six years just for their reinstatement as officials of the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HEARBCO) 1.
According to a case brief from DAR, Yu and her group stood as officers and members of HEARBCO 1 before they were removed in 2010 and replaced by a new set of officers.
In January 2011, Yu and her group were banned from entering the premises by the security guards of HEARBCO 1. They then formed MARBAI, which consisted of 157 members, and filed a petition for reinstatement and accounting of harvest against HEARBCO 1.
“For almost six years, pinagkaitan kami sa lupang aming sinasaka na binigay ng gobyerno (we’ve been deprived of our farm that was given to us by the government) through CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program),” she said.
She said many of the farmers could hardly survive and send their children to school with the income that they get from the company.
“Ayaw nila kami bigyan ng pagkakataon na mabuhay kahit makapag-aral ang mga anak namin kahit sa public school o makatungtung ng kolehiyo (They did not give us the chance to survive on our own or even send our children to a public school or to college),” she said.
“Ninakaw ng Lapanday, lahat-lahat na kababuyan ang ginawa sa amin ng magsasaka lalo na sa MARBAI na ayaw pumirma ng (Lapanday stole from us, they did all kinds of indignity to us farmers, especially the members of MARBAI who refused to sign the) onerous contract,” she added.
DAR’s case brief added that the properties were part of the 1,323.9272 hectares previously owned by Hijo Plantation Inc. that voluntarily offered it for CARP coverage.
Yu said the DAR awarded them a certificate of land ownership in 1996.
On October 18, 1999, HEARBCO 1 entered into a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement with Hijo Plantation for a period of 10 years at a price of $2.10 per box at 13 kilogram per box.
Thereafter, a Deed of Assignment of Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement was executed by and between Hijo Plantation, Inc. and Global Fruits Corporation.
But the following day, October 19, a supplemental agreement was entered into by and between LFC and HEARBCO 1, amending the agreement executed between the coop, Hijo Plantation and Global Fruits Corp.
In a decision on December 15, 2015, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator of Davao Del Norte (PARAD) ordered the reinstatement of ousted HEARBCO 1 officials, and on March 17, 2016, issued a writ of execution.
But on April 12, 2016, the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board informed the PARAD that the bigger portion of the area where the petitioners have to be reinstated were already under the occupation and management of LFC “by virtue of of the existing compromise agreement dated April 9, 2011 between LFC and HEARBCO 1 entered into before RTC of Davao City Branch 14 as a result of the case filed by LFC against HEARBCO 1.”
On May 12, 2016, PARAD set aside the writ of execution issued on March 17 of the same year.
Last September 9, a conference took place at the Tagum City Hall for “the purpose of discussing the proposed deed of assignment as well as for the purpose finally executing the same.
However, the parties failed to execute the proposed deed of assignment “as HEARBCO 1 manifested that the cooperative received a letter from from Lapanday warning them that the conveyance of the SANID area in favor of MARBAI would be a violation of the terms and embodied in the Compromise Agreement contract entered into by HEARBCO 1 and LFC,” the DAR case brief said.
No hand in shooting incident
Meanwhile, in a statement sent to the media, LFC denied involvement in the shooting incident.
“Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) denies any involvement in the reported shooting of alleged agrarian reform beneficiaries in Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City… Since last week, the company has been seeking police assistance to investigate the presence of armed men who were seen within the areas under the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1,” it said.
It added that HEARBCO 1 acknowledged its existing and valid contracts with LFC has been in conflict with a “breakaway group of its former members led by Mely Yu who has been engaging armed men to inflict violence and disrupt operations in the farm. Mely Yu and her group were ousted as officers of the majority of HEARBCO 1 in 2011 and since then, her group has caused severe damage to the cooperative.”
The company surmised the internal conflict might be the “reason for the latest incident.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)