SPECIALREPORT

DAR chief under fire for defying court orders

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First of two parts

AGRARIAN Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano is under fire for violating court orders involving 149 hectares of farmland owned by Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (Hearbco-1), but is being occupied by breakaway group Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. (Marbai).

Mariano drew flak from Lapanday Foods Corp. for defying a Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC) order approving the September 2011 compromise agreement between Lapanday and Hearbco-1, which upheld the validity of three contracts signed between Lapanday and Hearbco-1 involving the 450-hectare Hearbco-1 banana farmland.

These contracts involve extending the term of the Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement wherein Hearbco-1 agreed to sell all bananas produced by the farm to Lapanday; extending the Banana Purchase Agreement covering the sale of Class B fruits in 2000, and the General Framework on Farm Rehabilitation in 2009 that allowed Lapanday to rehabilitate the banana farm, manage it and operate it on behalf of Hearbco-1.


The first two contracts were inked in 2000 while the General Framework was signed in 2009.

Lapanday lamented that instead of complying with the RTC order, Mariano resorted to issuing a cease and desist order (CDO) in December 2016 to prohibit Lapanday from evicting Marbai members from Hearbco-1’s farm and allow them to freely harvest bananas belonging to Hearbco-1.

“The RTC approved the compromise agreement between Lapanday and Hearbco-1. The Court’s approval had long been and still is, final and executory,” Lapanday said in its timeline of the events involving Hearbco-1’s banana farmland.

“Mariano’s CDO set aside the contracts between Lapanday and Hearbco-1, including the compromise agreement. In issuing the CDO, the DAR Secretary acted without jurisdiction and violated due process because the controversy is a civil dispute within the exclusive jurisdiction of regular courts,” Lapanday added.

To back its claims, Lapanday cited a Court of Appeals (CA) ruling in March 2011, which states that a dispute involving ex-Hearbco-1 leader Mely Yu, who is now with Marbai, is not an agrarian reform dispute, and thus beyond Mariano’s authority.

Given the appeals court’s ruling, the Davao RTC issued a writ of execution for the implementation of the compromise agreement in December 2015 and November 2016.

The writ, however, was not implemented because Marbai members and supporters occupied the Sanid area of the Hearbco-1-owned farm from Dec. 9 to 31, 2016, with Marbai chopping banana plants covering at least 15 hectares operated by Hearbco-1 members, and disarming guards, among other acts.

“Marbai did not only interfere with the court-approved contracts between Hearbco-1 and Lapanday but also committed various criminal acts,” Lapanday’s account of the dispute read.

Lapanday’s woes mounted when Mariano issued a writ of installation last April, which granted Marbai possession and control of the Sanid area. Mariano tasked the police to implement his writ of installation.

Lapanday wrote a letter to Mariano on April 28 to seek a dialogue with him as well as with the Marbai group, but Mariano had yet to reply

The confirmation of Mariano’s nomination as DAR chief is still pending before the Commission on Appointments.

Duterte vows to extend aid to farmers

President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday met with Marbai farmers who called for his intervention in their land dispute with fruit giant Lapanday Foods.

During a dialogue with farmers, Duterte said he would facilitate the distribution of lands. The President said he himself was frustrated with the “tedious legal processes” that farmers had to go through.

“You know, these landowners are into forum-shopping in courts. They will seek [temporary restraining orders]and get what they want. This system cannot be forever,” Duterte told farmers.

“The fight that you [farmers]are doing is right. We, in the government promise to grant you the lands that you deserve. It is yours,” he added.

Marbai members from Tagum City in Davao del Norte camped out at Mendiola Bridge near the Palace, and demanded that Duterte distribute land formerly owned by Lapanday Foods to farmers who had been awarded lots in the 145-hectare area in December 2015.

The Marbai farmers hit Lapanday for refusing to comply with Mariano’s installation order.

The installation was supposed to take effect on April 18 but 700 Lapanday company guards allegedly blocked
the agrarian reform beneficiaries despite Secretary Mariano’s presence.

Lapanday Foods claims ownership of around 6,000 hectares of land in Madaum.

WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE

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