Unruly but peaceful

Protesting Tagum farmers occupy contested land
AFTER SEVEN year of struggle, protesting agrarian reform beneficiaries in Tagum City, Davao del Norte successfully reclaimed yesterday their farmland in a feud that, in a way, led to the burning of multi-billion Lapanday properties and the death of a fish vendor.

Police said there was no reported violence during the takeover despite some of the farmer and their support groups were unruly and undisciplined.

Sr. Supt. Marcial Magistrado, director of the Davao del Norte Police Provincial Office (DNPPO), said the installation of the 159 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) was peaceful despite the rudeness of some farmers and their support group.

The police aided the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the implementation of the order to install MARBAI members in the 145-hectare San Isidro farm area inside the former Hijo Plantation.

Magistrado said by 10:45 a.m. yesterday, the sheriff implemented the installation of the farmers.

MARBAI members and a cooperative, the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 (HEARBCO-1), are contesting over the land, which the Lapanday has occupied for years.

The plan was only for the 159 farmers to enter the land, but some 1,500 members of support group forced to enter in the property.

“When the beneficiaries was about to enter the property, the crowd could no longer be controlled,” Magistrado said in vernacular. “They became unruly and undisciplined as they forced to open the fence that was 30 meters away from the main gate.”

To avoid further trouble, Magistrado said they just allowed members of the support group to enter.

He said almost 500 supporters were able to enter while the rest were just outside the fence.

Around 240 police personnel, including the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM), were deployed. A total of 45 police officers were stationed inside the property to secure the sheriff and other DAR personnel and the beneficiaries. The rest of the police officers were within the perimeter.

“So no violence happened,” Magistrado said. “So good that nobody was hurt.”

The takeover program was initiated by Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano together with DAR Regional Director Joseph Morillo and the city government unit.

Mariano, in his speech during the installation, said the Lapanday should no longer installed security guard at the property.

It was the third attempt to install the MARBAI claimants as rightful owners of the property.

In an interview, Mariano described the serving of the order as peaceful and successful.

“Syempre naging mapayapa at matagumpay at makikita na matiwasay at masasabi natin naging lubos ang pagsasakatuparan dun sa pagtugon sa naunang hinaing na sila ay mainstall. (The serving of the order was peaceful and successful and we were able to address the concern of our farmers they would be installed),” he said.

He attributed the successful installation to the directive issued by President Rodrigo Duterte during his meeting with some 200 MARBAI farmers last May 9 near Malacanang that the order must be served.

Mariano said the dialogue with the president “was fruitful”, ending their 13-day picket in Manila, from April 29 until May 12. The farmers returned home to Davao del Norte on May 13.

The DAR had tried to install the beneficiaries twice in April but, it said, this “was opposed by LFC owners with the help of their armed goons and the failure of the Region XI local police to come up with operational plan to execute the writ of installation.”

Before the takeover, Lapanday and the HEARBCO-1 issued a press statement denouncing Mariano’s act and branded it as anomalous.

“The latest order of Mariano, which directs the local Philippine National Police (PNP) in Tagum City to assist the DAR Sheriff install the farmers, contravenes the 2011 final and executory order of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 14 that upheld the Compromise Agreement between HEARBCO-1 and Lapanday Foods Corporation,” the statement said.

The Lapanday, the statement added, maintains that the order is “illegal” claiming the lands that MARBAI is contesting already belonged to HEARBCO-1.

In assailing Mariano’s act, the company said it “does not only violate the law and the Constitution, his order also undermines President Duterte’s earlier pronouncement that as he looks after the ARBs plight, he will also uphold justice and the law.”

On Sunday, the Lapanday was calling for a “continuing constructive dialogue” that will “resolve all issues that pertain to the portion of the farm that is subject of the concerted action of MARBAI and its supporters.”

The company had stressed that Davao City Regional Trial Court Branch 14 has upheld its compromise agreement with HEARBCO-1. The same court had ruled that the DAR does not have jurisdiction over the dispute because it is not agrarian in nature.

But Mariano, in a statement Wednesday, said he “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.”

Mariano maintained the lower court has no jurisdiction over the matter because it is DAR who has quasi-judicial powers over agrarian reform cases.

Citing Section 50 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657, Mariano said “DAR clearly has quasi-judicial power and exclusive jurisdiction in all issues involving the implementation of the agrarian reform program. Only the Supreme Court may issue a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of DAR’s decision.”

MARBAI chair Mely Yu said she was thankful to Duterte and Mariano that they were finally recognized as owners of the land.

She said they would continue to assert their claims on the disputed property.

“We really have to assert our claims on the land because the debt of the cooperative will only go up if the management continues to be under Lapanday,” she said, referring to the HEARBCO-1.

HEARBCO-1 owns 1,323 hectares awarded to them as agrarian reform beneficiaries in 1996.

Hijo Plantation, which previously owned the land, voluntarily offered it for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) coverage.

In 2010, MARBAI members broke away from HEARBCO-1 and claimed 145 hectares of the property.

It claimed that the HEARBCO-1’s 10-year contract with Lapanday has been unfavorable to them.

The group said the burdensome contract brokered by Lapanday is an Agri-Business Ventures Agreement Scheme which “extracts excessive profits from farmers and leave them in huge debt.”

In January 2011, Yu and her group were banned from entering the premises by the security guards of HEARBCO-1. Thus, they formed MARBAI and filed a petition for reinstatement and accounting of harvest against the cooperative.

In December 2016, farmers forcibly occupied the 145-hectare banana plantation after the firm refused to give the land.

On Dec. 12, Lapanday security guards dispersed the picketing MARBAI farmers, wounding at least seven farmers.

Since then, the farmers had since been camping outside the gate of the plantation.

Early morning of April 29, communist rebels attacked four Lapanday properties in the region, resulting to P2 billion damage and displacement of around 100 workers.

The attacks, the NPA said, served as “punitive action against the Lorenzos for their numerous crimes against agricultural workers, peasants and Lumad.”

However, a fish vendor named Larry Buenafe died days after he was hit by an improvised explosive device that was intended for responding soldiers. (with Mindanews)