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DAR steps into banana farm dispute

/ 02:02 AM December 16, 2016

Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano on Thursday issued a cease and desist order stopping Lapanday Foods Corp. and its security guards from evicting farmers who have reclaimed a 145-hectare banana plantation in Tagum City that was awarded to them in 1996 under the government’s agrarian reform program.

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) announced the order three days after seven farmers were wounded when security guards, who they claimed were employed by Lapanday, opened fire at a group  that was on its way to harvest bananas in Barangay Madaum.

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These farmers belong to encamped farmers who are members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai). On Wednesday, at least three more farmers were wounded when they were shot by security guards.

Lapanday, in a statement sent to the Inquirer, said the company had not been involved in the attacks.

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It also denied reports that it was involved in a dispute with Marbai, saying the conflict was between the agrarian reform beneficiaries and the company’s cooperative.

Mariano ordered DAR regional director John Maruhom and Davao del Norte provincial agrarian reform program officer Jocelyn Seno to coordinate with the police and file cases against the armed men who attacked the farmers.

Mariano, a former representative of the party-list group Anakpawis and former chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, also asked DAR officials to get police and military assistance to secure farmers from further harassment.

On Thursday, party-list Representatives Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis); Carlos Zarate (Bayan Muna); Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas (Gabriela); Antonio Tinio and France Castro (ACT Teachers); and Sarah Elago (Kabataan) filed House Resolution No. 634, seeking an investigation into the attacks and the land dispute.

In a Dec. 13 letter, Mely Yu, Marbai president, asked Mariano to intervene after several of their members were hurt in assaults by security guards supposedly employed by Lapanday.

The group had accused the company of land grabbing.

DAR described Lapanday as a “multibillion-[peso] export company of tropical products, such as bananas and pineapples.” Among its owners, it said, is the family of former Agriculture Secretary Luis “Cito” Lorenzo Jr.

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In 1996, DAR awarded the farmers with a collective certificate of land ownership award (Cloa) that gave the 159 farmer-beneficiaries a 7,900-square-meter lot in the banana plantation.

In December 2015, Provincial Agrarian Reform Adjudicator Jose Nilo Tillano ordered the reinstatement of Marbai farm workers to their lands. The farm workers, however, failed to return to their farmlands because of alleged harassment.

In October, Mariano visited the farmers who had set camp at the gate of the Lapanday compound.

He promised the farmers the DAR would push for their peaceful return to their lands.

The labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) on Thursday condemned the attacks on farm workers.

“[Lapanday] should be held accountable for the brutal shooting of innocent farmers, who had every right to reclaim their own land. Under the law, the land belongs to the Lapanday farm workers,” Elmer Labog, KMU chair, said in a statement.

KMU also called on President Duterte to heed Filipino farmers’ demand for genuine land reform.

“The violent attack against Lapanday farmers highlights the need to urgently implement a genuine land reform to give the land to its tillers and end the monopoly of a few landlord families over the country’s agricultural lands,” Labog said.  —WITH REPORTS FROM KARLOS MANLUPIG IN DAVAO CITY AND TINA G. SANTOS IN MANILA

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TAGS: agrarian reform, banana, banana plantation, DAR, dispute, farmer, Rafael Mariano
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