Officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) have added fire to the volatile situation in the banana industry in Davao del Norte by urging Land Reform Beneficiaries (ARB) to meet with violence officials of Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) serving foreclosures on banana farms they are currently tilling.
Attack them with bolos!, DAR Undersecretaries Marcos Risonar and David Erro told members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) of Sto. Tomas town.
Risonar and Erro dished out the call to violence during a meeting in Tagum City on March 23 with the 1,800-member DAMARBDEVCO to discuss the cooperative’s Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) with the Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI).
The meeting was held to discuss whether the AVA between DAMARDEVCO and MEPI should be continued and to explore the options for ARBs who will be displaced if the agreement is eventually revoked.
DAMARBDEVCO members said they were shocked to hear the DAR Undersecretaries telling them that they should “attack with bolos” representatives from the LandBank if the banana farms they are currently tilling are foreclosed by the government bank in the event their AVA with MEPI gets permanently revoked.
Rolando Lusterio, one of the ARBs present during the meeting, recalled Erro, a lawyer, saying that “kapag nagpunta ang Landbank para maningil, itakin ‘nyo (if the Landbank goes to you to ask for payment, attack them with bolos).”
Dioscoro Abellano, another ARB, also recalled the indifference and utter lack of concern of the DAR officials to their plight when he asked what would happen to the more than 1,800 ARBs of MEPI and their 8,000 dependents once the AVA with the company is revoked.
“Tinanong namin sila paano na kami kapag nawalan ng trabaho. Ang sagot nila, hindi na daw nila problema yun, at doon daw kami magpunta sa DOLE para magreklamo (We asked them what would happen to us if we are rendered jobless. They responded that it’s not their problem anymore, and that we should go to the Department of Labor and Employment to complain).”
Edwin Gil, another ARB, said Erro made the statement when he and the other ARBs asked what would happen if their AVA with MEPI was revoked and they have to start paying amortization to Landbank as required under the law.
“Ang sabi ba naman sa amin, itakin daw namin ang taga-Landbank nang tanungin namin kung anong gagawin namin, wala naman kaming ibabayad (Imagine, they told us that we should attack people from Landbank with our bolos when we asked what were we to do, we do not have money to pay Landbank),” Lusterio said.
The land being tilled by the ARBs inside MEPI’s farm in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte was donated to them by the company as part of the terms of their AVA. While they were given the land for free, the ARBs also received lease rentals, above-average compensation and other benefits from MEPI that are considered among the highest in the agriculture sector.
If the AVA, which is the condition for the donation is revoked, the donation itself is revoked and the government must pay MEPI more than P1.0 Billion representing the company’s just compensation for the land it had earlier donated to the ARBs. The ARBs, in turn, would have to pay Land Bank for the land that they already owned had the AVA not been revoked.
Abellano said the DAR officials also told them that House Bill 555 will protect them and stop Landbank from collecting payment from the ARBs and having their lands foreclosed, when such a proposal has not yet been approved and has long been languishing in the Congress.
Under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension, ARBs can pay for the land awarded to them for 30 years at 6 percent yearly interest.
“Ano ba talaga ang gusto ng DAR, umunlad kami o maghirap? Bakit sila nagpadala ng mga opisyal na puro kasinungalingan ang sinabi sa amin? (What does DAR really want—for us to prosper or to become poor? Why did they send officials who told us all lies?),” Abellano said.
Lusterio, Gil and Abellano said the DAR officials tried to dupe them by saying that the AVA with MEPI was already “cancelled” when the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), which is chaired by President Duterte, has not yet rendered a final decision on the motions for reconsideration that had been filed earlier by MEPI and DAMARDEVCO.
MEETING WITH DUTERTE
The DAMARBDEVCO ARBs said they could hardly argue with the two DAR officials, who introduced themselves as lawyers, even though the truth was that President Duterte even plans to attend the second round of consultations with them to discuss their AVA with MEPI.
Jun Mercado, another ARB present at the meeting, said Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella was quoted as saying recently that the President would be attending the second meeting, along with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, who chairs the Landbank.
“So how is the AVA already cancelled, mag-meeting pa nga kami with President Duterte?” Mercado said.
Mercado also recalled Risonar as claiming that MEPI can no longer appeal the decision before the courts on the revocation of the AVA, which is false because it deprives the company of due process.
“They were trying to make us believe that the agreement with MEPI is already cancelled by telling us na tapos na dawang (we already ended our) relationship [namin] with MEPI,” Lusterio said.