Banana farmers who took out loans from Century Rural Bank for banana production failed to pay their loans because they sold their produce through the “pole-vaulting” scheme.
“Pole-vaulting” is the illegal practice by small banana growers of selling produce to “fly-by-night” banana exporters other than the companies they had signed a contract with.
Under the loan agreement, the farmers also entered into a marketing arrangement to market their produce in the world market with Tropial Fresh Fruit, which served as conduit for the loan amortization of the small banana growers.
For reneging on their loan payments, the bank owned by the Del Rosario family foreclosed on the small banana farmers whose properties were used as collateral in the loan.
The banana growing, financing and marketing arrangement was at the start a big success. But the borrowers started to default on their amortization after they resorted to “pole-vaulting” and surreptitiously sold their produce to illegal Cavendish banana exporters other than the companies with which they have a marketing agreement, which in this case is the Tropical Fresh Fruits.
As the borrowers reneged on their loan amortizations Century Rural Bank was forced to foreclose on some of the borrowers.
Two weeks ago, two small banana farmers went to court and filed charges against the former governor and officers of the bank in a bid to recover their properties.
In a hint that political motives was behind the filing of the case against the Del Rosarios, Jubahid has publicly admitted that he is legally and financially assisting the farmer-borrowers.
He claims that more than 600 farmer-borrowers were victimized by the “landgrabbing” of the Del Rosarios, but only two of the farmers filed a case. Rumors spreading in Davao del Norte say that Jubahib is offering millions of pesos to the farmer-borrowers who file a complaint against the Del Rosarios.
Davao del Norte Board Member Rodolfo “Rodney” del Rosario Jr., son of the former governor and headed Century Rural Bank when the small farmers took out their loans, is among members of the Del Rosario family included in the charge.
Rodney is running for Governor in the May 13 election under the banner of the Hugpong Ng Pagbabago (HNP) of presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.
His rival, virtual unknown former bus conductor Jubahib is the candidate of the Alvarez Wing of deposed HouseSpeaker and 2nd District Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez, whose reelection is being challenged by incumbent Governor Anthony del Rosario, Rodney’s younger brother.
Although, the properties of the defaulting farmer borrowers were “foreclosed”, Jubahib is accusing the Del Rosarios of “landgrabbing.” Rodney said Jubahib’s accusation is a recycled issue that surfaces only during election, dismissing Jubahib’s claim of more than 600 “victims” as a big lie. He said the bank foreclosed only on a few borrowers, with most of the farmer-borrowers successfully benefiting from their loan with the Century Rural Bank.
About ten years ago, pole-vaulting operators created a stir in the banana industry in the Davao Region when they started luring the small banana growers with higher prices.
Because they are paid directly by pole-vaulting operators, the banana growers simply evaded paying repayment of their loans with the bank, through Tropical Fresh Fruits, from sale of their bananas.
In the case of their loan agreement with the Del Rosario-owned Century Rural Bank, the bank would provide financing to the small banana growers and Fresh Tropical Fruits tasked with the marketing of their produce. The banana growers’ cooperative serves as conduit for inputs provided by Century Bank, which is repaid the loans from sale of the produce.
The farmers were religiously paying amortizations for the loans until pole-vaulting operators started buying their produce.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) had expressed worry that the practice has grown into a serious problem at the height of the racket starting from 2010.
The bananas were also exported without permit from government regulators thus affecting the quality of Philippine Cavendish bananas in the world market.
In 2015, then Davao del Norte Governor Rodolfo del Rosario said pole-vaulting is an anomaly that caused billions of pesos of damage to the industry and unpaid taxes to the government.
Worried that the illegal pole-vaulting could kill the banana export industry, in 2015, then Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala ordered the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to stop the practice.
The Cavendish banana export industry is one of the country’s biggest dollar-earning industries.
Alcala ordered the Davao Region Plant Quarantine Service (PQS), an agency under the BPI, to stop the illegal practice. PQS is based in Davao City where export Cavendish bananas in the Davao Region, Caraga and Central Mindanao are loaded for shipment abroad.
The PQS serves as the regulator for fruit and vegetable producers and exporters and phytosanitary certificates to export commodities. A phytosanitary certificate guarantees that commodities for export are free from pests and diseases.
Banana industry stakeholders said the quality of Philippine bananas was affected by bananas shipped out by pole-vaulting operators whose exports are packed in unlicensed packing house and shipped out without inspection by PQS.
The then Gov. del Rosario had feared pole-vaulting would impact on his province’s economy the banana industry being the biggest revenue earner for Davao del Norte.
To stop the practice in the Davao Region, Del Rosario joined hands with other local government units in assisting the DA in the campaign against pole-vaulting.
Del Rosario is an industry veteran having been a top officer of Tagum Development Corporation (Tadeco), the Philippines’ top banana grower and exporter.
Tadeco, founded in the 60s by the late banana magnate Don Antonio Floirendo Sr., is the pioneering banana grower that made Davao del Norte the “banana capital” of the Philippines.
The bananas of Davao del Norte placed the Philippines in the ranks of the world’s top banana producers alongside Latin America countries.