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MARSMAN ESTATE PLANTATION, ARBs REACH ‘WIN-WIN’ SOLUTION

The Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI) and its Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) have reached yet another milestone in their decades-long partnership following the signing of a new agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) that would provide workers in the MEPI banana farm a significantly improved package of land rental, salaries and benefits that remain the highest in the industry. 

Both the MEPI management and members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARB) described the amended  AVA as a “win-win” solution that would guarantee the ARBs an unmatched array of benefits, which include a signing bonus and retroactive and advance rental payments for each ARB-signatory amounting to P105,000 as well as a regular monthly income for each of them. 

BENEFITS HIGHEST IN INDUSTRY

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MEPI president Antero Sison, Jr., who reported this positive development in a letter dated June 21 to President Rodrigo Duterte, said majority of the ARBs working in the Marsman plantation have already signed the amended agreement. 
“As of this writing, 489 out of the 793 ARBs have already signed the amended agreement. At least 18 more ARBs who are residing outside Davao del Norte and/or are sick or incapacitated have committed to sign through their representatives. As your Excellency has voiced in a number of occasions, the Republic continues to be run under democratic principles and hence, the wishes of the majority must prevail,” Sison said in his letter to the President. 
Hernando Rivero, the chairman of the board of DAMARB, said the organization’s members find the amended agreement “to be reasonable and economically beneficial for themselves, the community, the banana industry and the government.” 
The amended lease AVA, Rivero said, will ensure that more than 1,800 employees of MEPI would get to keep their jobs, which will, in turn, benefit nearly 8,000 dependents. 

MORE THAN DOUBLE

The new AVA signed between MEPI and DAMARB last June 1 also includes payment for land rental of P50,000 per hectare per year plus an escalation of P10,000 every five years, which is more than double the industry average. 
“For all ARBs, this will total P40 million per annum for the first five years alone, and getting higher as the escalation takes effect,” Sison said in his letter. 
As part of MEPI’s continued commitment to social responsibility, the new pact also grants medical/death benefits for retired ARBs, which are beyond the provisions of the existing collective bargaining agreement. 
Sison said the guaranteed monthly income for each ARB that would take effect starting January next year will come from an “innovative monthly rental payment scheme” that was agreed upon by the MEPI and the beneficiaries. 

OTHER COOPS

The MEPI president said that even ARBs belonging to the minority groups, such as the Santo Tomas Individual Farmers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (SIFARBCO) and Sto. Tomas Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (STARBENCO) may also avail themselves of this unprecedented increase in benefits by merely proposing to MEPI the same amendments to their lease AVA. 
He informed the President that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), which had recommended the cancellation of the lease AVA, “has also been notified of the win-win solution through a letter sent by DAMARB on 03 June 2017.” 
MEPI also followed this up with a separate notification to DAR on June 5. 
“Whilst MEPI has strong legal grounds to question the cancellation of the lease AVA, this will be a very long process which will delay the grant of benefits to landowners. With this win-win solution, the ARBs immediately enjoy the economic benefits of land ownership. This may be considered a landmark approach for addressing other AVA controversies,” Sison said in his letter to the President. 
Sison said that with the President’s support, the MEPI and the ARBs “look forward to finally putting this controversy to rest with the interest of all concerned parties accordingly addressed, most especially the economic welfare of the ARBs.” 
On top of getting pay and benefits that are way above industry standards, ARBs and their families in the MEPI banana farm also enjoy educational and health care coverage; generous vacati on and sick leaves with pay; housing, meal and medical allowances; performance, production, Christmas, Labor Day and longevity bonuses; life and accident insurance; and retirement benefits. 

PHILIPINE BANANA LOSES WORLD STANDING

DAR BLAMED FOR DECLINE OF BANANA INDUSTRY

BANANASBY ROGER M. BALANZA

The Philippines has lost its standing as the world’s second largest banana producer and exporter due to unreliable government policies, the communist insurgency and unstable weather patterns.

Banana industry players fear these negative factors could further weaken the industry, one of the country’s top export earners.

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PAENG MARIANO under fire

While the communist New People’s Army and the extreme weather patterns El Niño and the La Niña deal deadly blows, the industry specifically  blames the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and its “unreliable policies that disregard established practices and contracts” as a key contributor in the decline of the export Cavendish banana industry. Rafael Mariano is the DAR Secretary.

The country’s export earnings from banana plunged to $440 million in 2015, down by about 60 percent from $1.1 billion in 2014.

“We used to be the world’s second largest banana producer and exporter next to Ecuador.  But today the Philippines has been edged out by Costa Rica,” said Antero Sison, Jr., president of Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI).

The Philippine banana industry faces the triple woes as it also misses export opportunities from new markets.

“Ironically, this (is supposed to be) the best time for us to recover because of the increasing demand from large markets like China, but unpredictable state policies are pulling the industry down,” said Sison.

The unpredictable government policies is the worst enemy facing MEPI now, according to Sison.

 “We can learn to cope with extreme weather phenomena like the El Niño and the La Niña by applying and developing climate-resilient technologies,” Sison said.

“But (there is) no technological application (that) can be developed against the inconsistency of the DAR  policies,” Sison said in jest.

MEPI is fighting off DAR’s order to revoke the banana company’s long existing Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) with Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).

AVAs between cooperatives formed by ARBs and banana plantation developers are among the most successful partnerships in the agriculture sector. The AVAs have enabled ARBs to earn more than farmers planting rice or other crops.

Hernando Rivero, a member of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) said “DAR officials, whether deliberate or not, have been contributing to the decline of the banana industry, which has helped tens of thousands of agrarian reform beneficiaries significantly improve their living standards and that of their families.”

The DAMARBDEVCO has an AVA with MEPI, which donated the land cultivated by members of the cooperative.

Another banana company, Lapanday Fruits Corporation (LFC), is in the same boat as MEPI, battling DAR over the company’s  AVA with ARBs.

Hernani P. Geronimo, spokesperson of LFC said that “the DAR’s move to break legitimate AVAs that have enabled many ARBs to earn better than decent wages and that have provided well for their families, violates the non-impairment clause contained in Section 10, Article III of the Constitution.”

Sison said the DAR appears to be unconcerned over the plight of banana ARBs when its head, Secretary Rafael Mariano, ordered a blanket review of all AVAs or leaseback agreements despite these deals already upheld as legal, fair and aboveboard by government authorities and the courts.

The DAR has been after the cancellation of the AVA of MEPI and LFC.

“It saddens us to think that the DAR doesn’t care whether our ARBs and other workers in our plantation lose their jobs. Their officials are indifferent to their plight and couldn’t care less if our farmers and their families go hungry,” Sison said.

LFC and its workers, and the ARBs, are lamenting the “attempts by officials of the DAR to scuttle legitimate and valid agribusiness venture deals between banana plantation developers and ARBs, in blatant disregard of President Duterte’s policy of honoring all contractual obligations of the government,” said LFC spokesperson Hernani P. Geronimo.

He said that “the DAR’s move to break legitimate AVAs that have enabled many ARBs to earn better than decent wages and that have provided well for their families, doesn’t just violate the non impairment clause contained in Section 10, Article III of the Constitution. It also apparently has emboldened the communist insurgents to continue with their extortion activities and attacks against banana plantations.”

On April 29, NPA rebels attacked LFC’s two packaging plants and farm in Mandug, at the outskirts of Davao City. The rebels burned plant equipment and exploded an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that killed a fish vendor.