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Don’t blame us, agri firm tells farmers

Company running banana plantation says rival land claimants behind conflict
/ 01:05 AM January 03, 2017

DAVAO CITY—The agricultural company, which a group of agrarian reform beneficiaries here blamed for driving them away from their land in Barangay Madaum, said another group of farmers reclaimed the disputed area from the protesting farmers.

The Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC), in a statement, said leaders and members of the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1) and its security guards have been conducting a “security sweep” and inventory of equipment in farming areas in Barangay Madaum that were occupied by a breakaway group, referring to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai).

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At least 159 members of Marbai were reinstated to a 145-hectare land within a banana plantation here on Dec. 19 following a cease and desist order from Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano.

LFC, however, described the reinstatement of Marbai members to the disputed land as “unlawful occupation.”

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LFC said Marbai supporters “abandoned” the premises on Dec. 31, “leaving in their wake over 20 hectares that were viciously and unnecessarily destroyed that deprived the livelihood of the legitimate members of the cooperative (HEARBCO-1).”

LFC said there was “no violence, nor any untoward incident in the course of the retaking of the areas as these posts were practically left unattended.”

The company said several farm equipment in the disputed banana plantation have gone missing.

“Since the breakaway group … and its supporters forcibly entered the farm premises [on Dec. 9], unlawfully occupying portions of the plantations registered in the name of the cooperative and its legitimate members, they have not only chopped standing banana crops and illegally harvested and sold fruits, but they also ransacked its bodegas (warehouses),” LFC said.

But Marbai members shared a different story.

Antonio Tuyak, a farmer leader in the area, said they were roused from sleep by at least 50 armed men at 3 a.m. on Saturday.

He said the armed men, whom he believed to be LFC guards, evicted them at gunpoint.

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Marbai said LFC’s move disrespected not only the order of the Department of Agrarian Reform but also the order of President Duterte to return land to Filipino farmers.

At least 10 farmers were wounded when guards, which the farmers said were employed by LFC, fired at them in separate incidents last month.

The contested area was formerly owned by Hijo Plantation Inc. and was awarded to three groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries and employees in the 1990s.

In 1999, HEARBCO-1 entered into a growership contract agreement with Hijo Plantation Inc., now LFC and Global Fruits Corp.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the contract was set for 10 years, but HEARBCO-1 accumulated more than P1 billion in debt. It said a group of farmers subsequently rejected the renegotiated growership contract with LFC because it was “grossly disadvantageous.” This led to the creation of Marbai, which later filed in the DAR a petition for reinstatement to their land. —KARLOS MANLUPIG

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TAGS: Agriculture, banana, banana plantation, Barangay Madaum, farming, Hearbco 1, Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1, Lapanday Foods Corp., LFC, Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc., MARBAI, protesting farmers, Security guards
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