MARBAI farmers back DAR officials in graft case filed by Lapanday

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 May) – Farmers belonging to Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. in Barangay Madaum, Tagum City have thrown their support behind two embattled officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano and Undersecretary Luis Pangulayan are facing complaints for violation of Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act filed by the Lorenzo-owned Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC).

In an interview Tuesday, MARBAI president Mely Yu maintained Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials were just doing their job in light of the May 18 issuance of the writ of execution that installed 159 MARBAI farmers as owners of a 145-hectare disputed property managed by LFC.

She called LFC’s agricultural venture agreement (AVA) with Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1) an “onerous contract” and insisted ownership of the property.

She said MARBAI and HEARBCO-1 members have not come into conflict after the installation and even claimed the latter wanted to turn over the land because of their growing debt to LFC.

In a release posted on the DAR website, Mariano said the actions taken by LFC “illustrate how landlord-oligarchs use courts to thwart the implementation of genuine agrarian reform” and harass DAR officials implementing the agrarian reform law.

LFC filed complaints before the Ombudsman last week against Mariano and Pangulayan for violation of Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and asked the Ombudsman for their preventive suspension.

LFC’s lawyer Noel Oliver Punzalan, in his complaint received by the Ombudsman on May 18, said that the “respondents clearly used their office and abused their authority to deliberately favor the No Group/Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) members.”

He maintained that Mariano and Pañgulayan “did not even consider that the No Group/MARBAI members are not the only agrarian reform beneficiaries in the land awarded to the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1) whose majority members honor and respect the court-approved compromise agreement with Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC).”

Last May 17, Mariano served the writ of execution, his third attempt, to install 159 MARBAI members as owners of the 145-hectare disputed property in Barangay Madaum.

But Mariano countered by saying “Lapanday’s contract is not binding to MARBAI as it was executed with HEARBCO-1 (Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1) who already ceded the disputed portion of the banana plantation to MARBAI farmers.”

In a May 18 statement, LFC maintained that “it owns the fruits coming from the San Isidro (Sanid) despite the reentry of former members of the cooperative it is in contract with.”

The 145-hectare contested property is situated in the San Isidro farm.

The firm added it is denouncing Mariano for forcing the installation by coercing the police to carry out his “highly anomalous action” and blamed him for “directly instigating the mob who became violent and unruly as the installation of the breakaway agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) was proceeding in Madaum, Tagum City on May 18.”

It said the contract with HEARBCO-1 will continue, insisting that the reentry of former members does not modify the existing agreement where “HEARBCO- 1 is obligated to deliver and sell the fruits from the whole plantation to Lapanday.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)