MARBAI farmers reclaim land from Lapanday in Tagum

TAGUM CITY (MindaNews/18 May) – After seven years of struggle to reclaim the 145-hectare banana plantation from the management of Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC), a Lorenzo-owned company, members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI) were installed Thursday as owners of the disputed property.

In an interview, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, who served the writ of installation for the third time Thursday, described the serving of the order as peaceful and successful.

Farmers of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. gather after they were installed at the plantation in Madaum, Tagum City managed by Lapanday Foods Corporation on Thursday, 18 May 2017. MindaNews photo by Manman Dejeto

“Syempre naging mapayapa at matagumpay at makikita na matiwasay at masasabi natin naging lubos ang pagsasakatuparan dun sa pagtugon sa naunang hinaing na sila ay mainstall. (The serving of the order was peaceful and successful and we were able to address the concern of our farmers they would be installed),” he said.

He attributed the successful installation to the directive issued by President Rodrigo Duterte during his meeting with some 200 MARBAI farmers last May 9 near Malacanang that the order must be served.

He said the dialogue with the president “was fruitful”, ending their 13-day picket in Manila, from April 29 until May 12. The farmers returned home to Davao del Norte on May 13.

Mariano encouraged the farmers to continue defending their rights through strong collaboration and determination.

Before the installation, the DAR chief said a series of inter-agency meetings were held to ensure a peaceful installation.

On April 17, Mariano was supposed to serve the order but it did not happen when police authorities refused to give assistance due to some questions of technicalities in DAR’s order, including the lack of operation plan. It was then rescheduled to April 2 but it was not executed when nobody would receive the order.

In December 2016, farmers forcibly occupied the 145-hectare banana plantation after the firm refused to give the land. But they were ejected on December 31 and had since been camping outside the gate of the plantation.

MARBAI chairperson Mely Yu said she was thankful to Duterte and Mariano that they were finally recognized as owners of the land.

She said they would continue to assert their claims on the disputed property.

“We really have to assert our claims on the land because the debt of the cooperative will only go up if the management continues to be under Lapanday,” she said, referring to the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1).

HEARBCO-1 owns 1,323 hectares awarded to them as agrarian reform beneficiaries by Hijo Plantation Inc. in 1996.

In 2010, MARBAI members broke away from HEARBCO-1 and claimed 145 hectares of the property owned by the cooperative.

In a statement, LFC opposed DAR’s writ of installation over portions of land that were already awarded to the members of HEARBCO-1.

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

Citing the court’s writ of execution issued on December 9, 2015 and alias writ of execution on November 21, 2016, LFC said the court recognized and upheld the company’s right to manage and possess the contested land.

“This DAR action defies the final and executory orders of the Court. Ironically, the members of this breakaway group participated in the resolution of the legal dispute. Thus, they are bound by the subsequent legal orders that have now become final and executor,” it added.

But Mariano 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.”

In January 2011, Yu and her group were banned from entering the premises by the security guards of HEARBCO 1 and formed MARBAI, which consisted of 157 members, and filed a petition for reinstatement and accounting of harvest against the cooperative.

In a case brief released by DAR, the property in question was part of the 1,323.9272 hectares previously owned by Hijo Plantation Inc. that voluntarily offered it for CARP coverage.

On October 18, 1999, HEARBCO 1 entered into a 10-year Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) with Hijo Plantation at a price of $2.10 per box at 13 kilograms per box.

Afterwards, Hijo Plantation, Inc. and Global Fruits Corporation entered into a Deed of Assignment of Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement.

But the following day, October 19, LFC and HEARBCO 1 entered into a supplemental agreement that amended the BSMA executed between the cooperative, Hijo Plantation and Global Fruits Corp.

The Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator of Davao Del Norte on December 15, 2015, ordered the reinstatement of the ousted HEARBCO 1 officials and on March 17, 2016, a writ of execution directed the full implementation of the decision.

But on April 12, 2016, the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board informed the PARAD that the bigger portion of the of the area where the petitioners had to be reinstated was 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.” (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)