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Farmers reclaim disputed land

DAR official says workers’ return to contested banana farm only initial relief due to pending cases
farmers

‘SWEET VICTORY’ That is how agrarian reform beneficiaries claiming a portion of a banana plantation in Tagum City describe the Department of Agrarian Reform’s order reinstating them to their land. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

TAGUM CITY—As the sun rises today, Narciso Bardonido, 63, will till his own land for the first time in 43 years.

Bardonido is one of the 149 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (Marbai), a group embroiled in a 145-hectare land dispute with Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC).

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On Monday, representatives from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) conducted a survey and an official turnover of the land earlier awarded to farmers.

Dozens of soldiers and policemen were deployed as DAR officials and the regional sheriff implemented the Dec. 13 cease-and-desist order (CDO) against LFC.

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“The CDO directs Lapanday to desist from interfering with your operations inside your claimed area,” Adelaido Caminade, DAR Southern Mindanao sheriff, told a crowd of over 1,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) and their supporters.

The order also directed the eviction of LFC security personnel in the area occupied by farmer-beneficiaries.

But LFC, in a statement, said members of Marbai were “unlawfully occupying” the land owned by the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1  (Hearbco 1).

“These lands are also the subject of the fruit supply and farm handling contracts between Hearbco 1 and LFC. This lawful arrangement was confirmed by the final and executory decision in Civil Case No. 33, 536-3010 of the Davao City Regional Trial Court Branch 14, on Sept. 30, 2011, that approved the compromise agreement between Hearbco 1 and the company,” LFC said.

“The DAR’s recent order cannot legally overturn the court’s final and executory decision,” it added.

Bardonido started working in the banana plantation when he was 20 years old. “I was able to bring food to my family and send my eight kids to school,” he said.

But their life turned miserable when the contested area, which was formerly owned by Hijo Plantation Inc., was awarded to three groups of ARBs and employees in the 1990s.

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“There were agreements and contracts, but we never understood it. It is sad but our brains are just for [growing] bananas, not [understanding] contracts,” Bardonido said.

In 1999, the Hearbco 1 entered into a growership contract agreement with Hijo Plantation Inc. (now LFC) and Global Fruits Corp.

According to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the contract was set for 10 years but Hearbco 1 accumulated more than P1 billion in debt and a group of farmers subsequently rejected the renegotiated growership contract  because, it said, it was “grossly disadvantageous.”

This led to the creation of Marbai, which later filed a petition for reinstatement to their tillage.

In 2011, a compromise agreement between Hearbco 1 and LFC was reached, reducing the debt to P800,000. Four years later, DAR ordered the reinstatement of Marbai farm workers, but they never got their lands back.

These events led to the launching of a barricade by farmers last month.

On Dec. 12, security guards supposedly employed by Lapanday, opened fire at a group of farmers, wounding seven. It was followed by another attack two days later, leaving three farmers wounded. The company had denied having a hand in the attack.

Despite the pain and the recent attacks, hope is back for the farmers after Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano ordered their reinstitution.

Caminade said security forces would remain in a “neutral ground” outside the farmers’ area and are not allowed to enter unless farmers would seek assistance.

He clarified there are still pending cases regarding the dispute.

“There are still issues of possession that can not be resolved immediately. This is just an initial relief,” Caminade said.

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TAGS: banana farm, DAR, Department of Agrarian Reform, Lapanday Foods Corp.
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