Irate landowners block roads to banana plantation in NorthCot

KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 27 January) – At least 10 owners of vast tracts of lands leased to a banana firm in North Cotabato have set up roadblocks that prevented plantation workers from harvesting the company’s produce Thursday morning.

The landowners, led by Fernando Brizuela, had already sent Sumifru Philippines Corporation notice of termination of the lease agreement they signed with the company some seven years ago.

Brizuela said they decided to end partnership with the company because of some loopholes in the contract, one of which, he alleged, was the non-implementation of some of the provisions in the contract, including the rentals.

He was resolute in saying they want the contract to end because the company that they had a transaction with many years back was the AJMR, a holding company of the Andres M Soriano (AMS) Group of Companies, and not Sumifru.

“In the past, the AJMR was religiously following what was written on the contract. But today,  Sumifru had changed many of the provisions in the document. There was breach in contract,” said Brizuela.

On January 24, the Brizuelas and the Osorio family, through a legal counsel, informed the management that they are terminating the contract.

Sumifru, however, was not bent on giving up the contract “just like that.”

“A contract cannot just be terminated by a mere letter from a lawyer. It has to be decided by a court. It has to go through a long and tedious legal process,” said Eric Tubo, administrative officer of Sumifru in North Cotabato.

Tubo said what the Brizuelas and the Osorios from Matalam, North Cotabato did was a clear violation of the lease agreement.

“The contract is still binding. It still exists. We will stick to what was written on the contract,” said Tubo.

Tubo said he pitied their workers who would be affected if the Brizuelas and Osorios, who own at least 37 hectares of lands now planted to Cavendish bananas, would continue to block the roads leading to the plantation.

There are at least 72 workers assigned at the area that would lose jobs.

“These workers have families to feed. Don’t they realize that?” asked Tubo.

Tubo was told there are at least 21 additional owners of some 150 hectares in Matalam town who have signified intentions to end their contract with Sumifru.

But the company, according to Tubo, would stick to the lease agreement.

“I suggest these landowners think many times before deciding on something, which may affect their lives and the lives of thousands of our workers in North Cotabato,” said Tubo.

Sumifru has at least 3,200 workers assigned in different areas in the province.

Based on the contract, the company will pay the landowner P1,000 every month for every hectare of land leased to the firm for a period of 25 years. (Malu Cadeliña Manar / MindaNews)