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Davao banana firm sues DAR secretary

Rafael Mariano

Rafael Mariano

TAGUM CITY—Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and his undersecretary are facing charges in the Office of the Ombudsman for helping install land reform beneficiaries on 145 hectares of a banana farm here being claimed by agribusiness company Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC).

Mariano and Undersecretary Luis Pañgulayan were accused of “giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference” to Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. (Marbai) when the department issued a cease-and-desist order (CDO), according to a complaint filed by LFC lawyer Noel Oliver Punzalan.

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The top officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) were charged with violation of Section 3(e) of the Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, and grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority.

The CDO prohibited LFC from evicting the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) who entered the San Isidro (Sanid) farm in San Isidro village on Dec. 9, 2016.

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In previous reports, the Inquirer quoted Mariano as saying that he was standing on solid legal ground when he installed the farmers.

“Only the Supreme Court can overrule the writ of installation I have issued. Until then, I will not stop until the farmers reclaim control of the land that is legally theirs,” Mariano said in a report on May 13.

“The 159 members of Marbai, being legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries, have the right to possess and till the lands awarded to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” Mariano said.

Police support

Punzalan filed the complaint, dated May 18, on the day Marbai and its supporters took over the Sanid area by virtue of a “break-open order” issued by Mariano.

Lapanday security guards have built a fence around the farm, Marbai members said.

When the Marbai members, who were accompanied by a police detachment, demanded that the guards leave, they were told, “You are not the ones who hired us. Our employers, Lapanday, ordered us to stay here,” said their spokesperson, Antonio Tuyac.

The CDO gave a stamp of approval for ARBs to forcibly take the farm, Punzalan said.

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It “encouraged them to continue violating the writs of execution issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Davao City, and emboldened the members to chop [down] the bananas of Hearbco-1,” referring to Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative, with which LFC has a banana-growing contract, he said.

“This (CDO) disregarded the fact that LFC’s possession and management of the Sanid area is by virtue of a prior and final and executory order issued by the RTC of Davao City,” Punzalan said.

The lawyer said Pañgulayan publicly announced to Marbai members on Dec. 19, 2016, that they could already harvest the bananas in the Sanid area and sell them to third parties despite knowing that LFC had the exclusive right to manage the farm and to purchase the produce of Hearbco-1, pursuant to a final and executory order of the Davao court.

Guards opened fire

On Dec. 9 last year, at least 12 Marbai members and sympathizers were wounded when LFC guards opened fire to drive them out of the contested area.

The complaint also accused Mariano and Pañgulayan of siding with Marbai’s “self-serving allegations” when they issued the CDO and appeared personally as a party before the Davao City court to seek the reversal of the second writ of execution to enforce a judgment on the contract between LFC and Hearbco-1.

“It bears emphasis that when respondent Secretary Mariano in the cease-and-desist order stated that his office treated Marbai’s letter as a petition, the DAR already assumed the role of a quasijudicial agency tasked to determine and adjudicate the issues presented to it … including the issue of whether or not it has jurisdiction in the first place,” the complaint said.

“It was highly irregular for the DAR to appear before the RTC of Davao City, take on the cause of Marbai … question the rights of LFC … the jurisdiction of the RTC and insist its own jurisdiction,” the complainant added.

Punzalan said the CDO did not apply to the Sanid case, pointing out that the dispute that led to the court-approved compromise agreement between LFC and Hearbco-1 did not constitute any involuntary cancellation of individually registered emancipated patents, certificates of land ownership awards and other titles issued by the DAR under the agrarian reform program.

He said Hearbco-1 was awarded the land under CARP and that a transfer certificate of title had already been issued under its name.

Punzalan said the two DAR officials clearly used their office and abused their authority to deliberately favor the No Group/Marbai members.

They did not even consider that Marbai members were not the only ARBs of the land awarded to Hearbco-1, he said.

In a statement, LFC maintained that its contract with Hearbco-1 was in effect and that it owned the fruits from the Sanid farm despite the reinstallation of Marbai members.

“The reentry of former (Hearbco-1) members into the farm does not modify the existing agreement where Hearbco-1 is obligated to deliver and sell the fruits from the whole plantation to Lapanday,’’ Punzalan said.

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TAGS: Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Lapanday Foods Corp., Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc., Noel Oliver Punzalan, Philippine news updates
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