After six years of being fenced off from their land, the agrarian reform beneficiaries of Tagum City could wait no more.
MANILA – Some 2,000 farmers burst into a banana plantation in Tagum City, Davao del Norte yesterday, Dec. 9, to assert their ownership over 145 hectares of land which they said remains under control of an agri-business company, six years after government ordered its distribution.
The farmers, led by the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Incorporated (Marbai), along with peasant groups, forced their way through the gates of the Lorenzo family-owned Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) in Madaum village in Tagum City.
Davao Today reported that tension erupted as security guards manning the gate fired warning shots, but protesting farmers were undeterred, as they made their way to encamp inside the plantation.
“No amount of shots of guns from Lapanday’s armed goons can stop the peasants rage and resolve to reclaim the land,” said Antonio Tuyak, spokesperson of Unyon sa mga Mag-uumang Nagtikad para sa Tinuod nga Reformang Agraryo (Ugmad-TRA) in a statement.
The farmers staged the protest as they lamented the inaction by the Department of Agrarian Reform-Region 10, in spite of the assurance from Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano in October, that the land –- which has been fenced off for six years –- will be turned over to the farmer-beneficiaries.
The farmers’ groups called for the revocation of contracts entered into by the cooperatives of agrarian reform beneficiaries and the LFC, under the Agribusiness Ventures Agreement Schemes (AVAS). Tuyak called these “exploitative and oppressive” and had only served to keep the farmers deep in debt, and the control of the land in the company’s hands.
Agrarian reform beneficiaries began asserting their right to the land in the past months. In November, they protested at the LFC office in Davao city. In a Sun Star news report, LFC denied claiming ownership to the land, which it said has been awarded to the Hijo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HARBCO) and Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1), with whom it has signed a banana sales and marketing agreement.
Under such contract, the agrarian reform beneficiaries serve as farm workers in the plantation and sell their export-quality bananas to LFC. The farmers, however, said banana sales brought profits only to the company, while the supposed land owners hardly get any income. They demand that the LFC be held accountable for “all unpaid amount forfeited from ARBs due to implementation of an onerous contract.”
For more than a decade, the farmers have been embroiled in prolonged court battles with LFC, as they assert their rightful ownership to the land they till. News blog Durian Post reported that in 2011, a Davao City regional trial court ruled in favor of the farmers, ordering the distribution of 236 hectares to 296 farmer-beneficiaries. The court’s final ruling was actually a reversal of its first decision which favored LFC.
LFC filed the case in the regional trial court to stop the implementation of a June 21, 2010 ruling by Datu Yusoph Mama, DAR-Region 10 director ordering the distribution of the banana plantation.
The farmers were supported by the groups Agrarian Reform Benificiaries One Movement (AOM) and Unyon Sa Mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (Ugmad-TRA).
“This is just a beginning of the steps towards the victory of the agrarian reform beneficiaries and peasants. We will continue to remain vigilant, organized and mobilized against any sinister schemes of Lapanday to grab again our land,” said Artemio Serot, AOM spokesperson.
Serot called on other farmer-beneficiaries “to follow the lead of Marbai to heighten the fight for land rights, end land grabbing, exact agrarian justice, and actualize genuine land reform program.” With photos by KILAB MULTIMEDIA