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Banana farm row far from over

Tension rises anew in disputed plantation in Davao del Norte after guards of agri firm break farmers’ camp
/ 12:30 AM January 02, 2017
SHORT-LIVED VICTORY Members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. celebrate when they reclaimed their land last month after years of a bitter conflict with a giant agricultural firm in Tagum City. On New Year’s Eve, they were driven away from their banana farm. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

SHORT-LIVED VICTORY Members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. celebrate when they reclaimed their land last month after years of a bitter conflict with a giant agricultural firm in Tagum City. On New Year’s Eve, they were driven away from their banana farm. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

TAGUM CITY—For farmer leader Antonio Tuyak, the New Year brought cries of indignation and a sense of betrayal.

This as he and more than 150 farmers were once again driven out of a disputed property in Madaum village on New Year’s Eve, just weeks after the government intervened and allowed him and other agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to till their land following six years of a bitter dispute with Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC).

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“We felt betrayed. We could not celebrate the New Year after what happened,” Tuyak said.

An estimated 50 armed guards, believed to be from LFC, broke into the “kampuhan” (camp-in) of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai) around 3 a.m. on Saturday and forced out ARBs who had staked their claim on a 145-hectare land.

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“We were roused from sleep by armed LFC guards and evicted from our land at gunpoint,” Tuyak told the Inquirer by telephone on Saturday.

“Some of the ARBs, which included old women, were tied up and their wallets, cellular phones and personal belongings taken,” he said.

Tuyak said Saturday’s incident was an “utter disrespect” for the order by the national government allowing them to return to their lands. “It was useless. Lapanday does not follow it,” he said, referring to the cease and desist order (CDO) implemented on Dec. 18 by the Department of Agrarian Reform, preventing LFC and its security guards from interfering with the farmers’ activities within the latter’s claim.

Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano issued the CDO on Dec. 13 as tension between the 159 claimant-ARBs and LFC escalated, culminating in shooting incidents that wounded at least 10 farmers and their supporters. LFC had denied involvement in these attacks.

The ARBs have been staging their kampuhan outside the farm gates in Madaum village since 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.

Mayor Allan Rellon said he has ordered Supt. Laudemer Laude, city police chief, to send a team of policemen to provide security in the vicinity after he received reports about the alleged intrusion of LFC guards.

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“I ordered Superintendent Laude to ensure that no untoward incident would happen there. If LFC guards indeed entered the farmers’ area, there’s really a violation,” Rellon said.

Adelaido Caminade, a sheriff for the DAR Southern Mindanao and one of the officials who oversaw the CDO implementation, had admitted the order was a “temporary relief” as legal questions surrounding the landholding remain unresolved.

The Inquirer tried but failed to reach LFC representatives on Sunday for a statement on the latest incident. But the firm, in an earlier statement, said the DAR had “illegally confiscated” the disputed land, where it has been growing bananas, when it awarded the land to a group of ARBs.

The company also threatened to sue after the DAR reinstalled the Marbai members on the Madaum property.

“In giving the land and the improvements to Marbai, the DAR resorted to the illegal confiscation of (the) property. This act directly violates due process under the Constitution,” LFC said in the statement.

The company said DAR’s action violated the contract between the company and the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative, one of the groups of ARBs in the contested area.

LFC, a company owned by the family of former Agriculture Secretary Luis Lorenzo Jr., said Marbai members were not only “illegally occupying” the disputed area but were stealing bananas being grown for LFC. —FRINSTON LIM

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TAGS: agrarian reform beneficiaries, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Agriculture, ARBs, banana, banana farm, Davao Del Norte, Lapanday Foods Corp., LFC, Madaum village, New Year’s eve
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