Banana farmers pushed out of land awarded to them by DAR in Tagum
TAGUM CITY, Davao del Norte – Farmers occupying a portion of a banana plantation in Barangay Madaum here spent the first day of 2017 out of the land awarded to them by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
This after they were allegedly driven out of the land by security personnel of a large agri-business firm on New Year’s eve.
Some 50 armed guards believed from Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) broke into the “kampuhan” (camp-in) of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai) around 3 a.m. Saturday and forced out scores of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who had staked their claim to a 145-hectare landholding, which has been a subject of a dispute between farmers and LFC, according to Antonio Tuyak, one of the farmers’ leaders.
“We were roused from sleep by armed LFC guards and evicted from our land at gunpoint,” Tuyak told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by mobile phone. “Some of the ARBs, which included old women were tied and their wallets, cellphone and personal belongings taken.”
Tuyak said Saturday’s incident was an “utter disrespect” of the order by the national government allowing them back to their lands.
“It was useless. Lapanday does not follow it,” the farmer leader said, referring to the cease and desist order implemented last Dec. 18 by the DAR preventing LFC and its security guards from interfering with the farmers’ activities within the latter’s claim.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano had issued the CDO last Dec. 13 as tension between the 159 claimant-ARBs and the LFC escalated, culminating in shootings that wounded at least 10 farmers
and their supporters.
The ARBs have been staging their kampuhan outside the farm gates in Madaum village since last June.
“LFC guards now occupy our land while we, the owners, are back outside the plantation’s main gate. We’re disappointed and felt betrayed. The police and the local government have not done enough,” Tuyak said.
Adelaido Caminade, a sheriff for DAR Southern Mindanao who was among the officials that oversaw the CDO implementation had admitted the order was “a temporary relief” as legal cases surrounding the landholding remain unresolved.
Efforts to get LFC’s reaction to the latest incident remained futile, but the banana firm in an earlier statement said the DAR has “illegally confiscat(ed)” the 145-hectare disputed land where it has been growing bananas in Tagum City when it awarded the land to a group of agrarian reform beneficiaries.
The company also threatened to sue over the DAR’s action of re-installing the 159 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (Marbai) on the property in Barangay Madaum on December 19.
“In giving the land and the improvements to Marbai, DAR resorted to the illegal confiscation of (the) property. This act directly violates due process under the Constitution,” Lapanday said in a statement sent to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The company said DAR’s action violated the contract between the company and the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (Hearbco 1), one of the agrarian reform beneficiary groups in the contested area.
It was in 1999 when Hearbco 1 entered into a 10-year agreement to grow and sell exportable Cavendish bananas with Hijo Plantations Inc. in Madaum village, Tagum City, Davao del Norte.
After its contract with Hijo expired, Hearbco 1 signed a similar agreement with LFC.
In 2010, some Hearbco 1 officials – led by Mely Yu – protested what they termed as an “exploitative and unfair” Agri-business Ventures Agreement (AVA) scheme between the farmers’ coop and the LFC. They were eventually removed from the cooperative. The following year, Yu and other officials finalized their separation from Hearbco 1 and formed Marbai.
During the same year, Marbai filed a petition before the Davao del Norte provincial agrarian reform office (PARO) for the reinstatement of its members on the disputed property. The problem did not end there as Marbai members got harassed, allegedly by LFC company guards.
On December 7 and 12, 10 Marbai members were wounded when fired at by supposed LFC guards. The company denied these claims.
On December 18, DAR stepped in and reinstalled the Marbai farmers.
“Since the DAR took the property without due process of law, it also disregarded and defied the court-approved contract between Hearbco-1 and LFC covering the farm now forcibly taken over by Marbai. This action of DAR is not legitimate and encourages the unlawful and forcible taking of a farm already awarded to a legitimate ARB. This is a criminal act and this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” LFC said as it warned of legal actions against DAR officials.
LFC, a company owned by the family of former Agriculture secretary Luis Lorenzo, also maintained that Marbai members were not only “illegally occupying” the disputed area but have also been stealing bananas being grown for LFC. SFM
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