Farmers to press claim on 145-ha land in Tagum

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 May) – Banking on President Rodrigo Duterte’s declaration of support, farmers belonging to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) will again attempt to reclaim possession of a disputed 145-hectare property in Tagum City from Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC) on Thursday.

In a phone interview Wednesday, MARBAI member Linda Dayahan said that Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, along with officials from the Department of Interior and Local Government in Davao Region, will serve the writ of installation on Thursday morning.

“We are thankful to Duterte that he hears our plight to reclaim the land because we have long been neglected in the past. It was not an easy fight for us but we tried our best to keep going. After all, this is not just about us, MARBAI farmers, but also other farmers who experience this kind of problem,” she said.

On April 17, Sec. Mariano was supposed to serve the order but police authorities refused to give assistance citing some technicalities in DAR’s order, including the lack of operation plan. It was then rescheduled to April 21 but still it was not served as nobody would receive the order.

Some 200 MARBAI members held a 13-day picket in Manila, from April 29 to May 12. Duterte met with them on May 9 on Chino Roces Avenue (formerly Mendiola). On May 13, they returned home aboard a Cebu Pacific flight shouldered by Duterte.

Dayahan appealed to LFC to honor the order, noting that it has been seven years since they were deprived of a livelihood.

“We are not notorious. It’s been seven years of suffering. We want to get our lands back so that we can live like a decent human,” she said.

The contested property was part of the 1,323.9272 hectares previously owned by Hijo Plantation Inc. and awarded to the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1), before members of MARBAI broke away in 2010.

In a statement on May 10, LFC said they opposed DAR’s order as the disputed property was awarded to HEARBCO-1 members.

It added it cannot “be dispossessed of the land and its existing management contract over the area” because the Davao City Regional Trial Court Branch 14 approved the Compromise Agreement between LFC and HEARBCO-1.

“As a good corporate citizen, Lapanday has always stood by what is just and fair. The company is steadfast in exercising only what is legal and lawful, which President Duterte said is part of his legacy, to uphold ‘justice for all’,” it said.

The firm said the President, who is a lawyer, “understands that a final and executory judgment on a case is the ultimate proof that justice and fairness prevailed.”

But Mariano, in a press release issued on May 16, maintained the lower court has no jurisdiction over the matter because it is DAR who has quasi-judicial powers over agrarian reform cases.

Citing Section 50 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657, Mariano said “DAR clearly has quasi-judicial power and exclusive jurisdiction in all issues involving the implementation of the agrarian reform program. Only the Supreme Court may issue a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of DAR’s decision.”

He reminded the Davao del Norte Police Office to assist in the installation of MARBAI members.

Mariano was instructed by Duterte to proceed with the issuance of the “writ of installation.”

On April 18, Mariano requested the local police in Tagum to assist in the installation.

“The Provincial Director of Davao del Norte Police Office is deputized to assist DAR in the enforcement and implementation of the writ of installation,” he said.

However, the installation was halted following the lack of the local police’s operational plan and the move of the police regional director, Chief Supt. Manuel Gaerlan to ask RTC Branch 14 whether the police should assist in the installation. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)