December 12, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

DAR-backed farmers take land, but Lapanday and contracted co-op assert it is illegal

FARMERS belonging to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (MARBAI), led by officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), succeeded on their third attempt yesterday to enter and take over a 145-hectare banana plantation in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.

DAR, in its official Twitter account, said its officials led by Secretary Rafael V. Mariano, accompanied by local police, went around the area to ensure that it has been vacated by the security guards of Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC), which has a contract with farmers for the contested land.

LFC confirmed to BusinessWorld via text message that the MARBAI take-over was completed yesterday morning, but asserted in a statement that the DAR-led move is “illegal” because the land actually belongs to the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1).

“The installation had been done as we speak,” said LFC spokesperson Hernani P. Geronimo before the company issued its statement.

MARBAI members used to be part of HEARBCO-1, which signed an agreement with LFC, but later broke away and formed the new co-op.

“Contrary to accusations against the company that it is a land grabber, LFC has never claimed that it owns the lands. The agrarian reform beneficiaries under HEARBCO-1 are the rightful owners of these lands,” the company said.

HEARBCO-1, through LFC’s statement, said it “strongly denounces the highly anomalous and irregular order by the Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano issued May 15 to install the farmers from the breakaway group now under MARBAI, to the San Isidro (SANID) area of lands that the cooperative owns under a collective certificate of title which the DAR itself issued in 1998 when their members were first installed.”

LFC also pointed out that Mr. Mariano’s order contravenes the 2011 final and executory order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 that upheld the Compromise Agreement between HEARBCO-1 and LFC.

The DAR chief’s action, said LFC, “does not only violate the law and the Constitution, his order also undermines President (Rodrigo R.) Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that as he looks after the ARBs (agrarian reform beneficiaries) plight, he will also uphold justice and the law.”

Mr. Mariano, on the other hand, said in a statement released May 17, “I will not be deterred by the RTC order. It is actually the LFC who defied our cease and desist order so they could eject the MARBAI farmers.”

“Only the Supreme Court can overrule the writ of installation I have issued. Until then, I will not stop until the farmers reclaim actual physical possession and control of the land that is legally theirs,” Mr. Mariano said.

HEARBCO-1 and LFC have sent separate letters to Mr. Duterte requesting for his intervention on the matter and call on the parties to discuss a settlement. -- BusinessWorld Mindanao Bureau