AN agrarian reform cooperative of small banana farmers in Davao del Norte have renewed their appeal to President Duterte to reverse his earlier decision revoking the lease contract that the cooperative had entered with the company that has provided the land they till for free.
The lease deal also reportedly gave the banana farmers above-average compensation and other benefits that are among the highest in the agriculture sector.
The Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO) said the revocation of its lease deal, or agribusiness venture agreement (AVA), with Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI) would force thousands of farmers and their families into bankruptcy, saddle them with debts and deprive them of a host of benefits they are now getting as part of the terms of their contract.
Revoking the contract would also lead to some P2.09 billion in revenue losses for the government over a 16-year period, the group said.
Underscoring President Duterte’s inaugural pledge that all contracts approved by the government will not be rescinded or changed by his administration, both DAMARDEVCO and MEPI said canceling the AVA would also send the wrong signals to investors and discourage investments at a time when the government is seeking more capital to boost the economy.
Even the government, they said, would be at the losing end as it would have to pay MEPI more than P1 billion representing its just compensation for the land it had already donated to the members of DAMARBDEVCO but would now have to take back because of the revocation of the lease contract.
“The revocation of the [AVA] by the [Presidential Agrarian Reform Council or PARC] is greatly unjust and oppressive to MEPI, which has always dealt fairly with the ARBs [agrarian reform beneficiaries], not to mention detrimental to their welfare and a majority of whom are even opposed to such revocation,” they said.
MEPI had written a letter in August last year to the President in his capacity as PARC chairperson asking him not to revoke the AVA, while DAMARBDEVCO sent a similar letter to Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, who chairs the PARC Executive Committee.
Complying with the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), MEPI in 2002 donated all 800 hectares of its plantation in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte to the ARBs tilling it, on one condition: that a 30-year lease agreement or AVA be forged between MEPI and the ARBs, who then formed themselves into DAMARBDEVCO.
The agreement complies with the provisions of the CARP and was approved by the PARC.
As a result of this AVA, farmers tilling the land previously under MEPI’s name now own it without having to pay any amortization to the government and now even receive an annual fee from MEPI representing the farm rental payment to them, even if the land was donated.
Moreover, each ARB of MEPI earns a total of P233,485 a year, representing the salary and annual land rental fee. A MEPI ARB earns P651.78 a day or almost four times more than a typical non-ARB farmer, who gets only a P181.29 daily wage.
ARBs and their families also enjoy educational and health care benefits. In 2015 alone, each MEPI ARB got P4,000 as dividend from their cooperative, which receives financial assistance of P800,000 per year from MEPI.
Expectedly, majority of the MEPI ARBs want the AVA to continue, with only a small minority calling for the revocation of the agreement, the two groups said.
“The consequences of illegally revoking this contract signed in good faith will be measured not just in terms of money and the credibility of the national government, but in the impact on the real lives of the farmer/ARBs and their families,” MEPI said.