BANANA exporter Lapanday Foods Corp. has filed a graft complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman against Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Undersecretary Luis Pañgulayan.
In the complaint filed on May 18, Lapanday alleged that Mariano committed graft when he issued a cease-and-desist order against the company, which had blocked members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (Marbai) from a plantation in Tagum, Davao del Norte that it said belongs to a different group, the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative-1 or Hearbco-1.
Mariano allegedly acted “with manifest partiality, evident bad faith or gross inexcusable negligence and gave unwarranted benefit, advantage, or preference” to Marbai, pointing out that Hearbco-1 and Lapanday had reached a compromise on production arrangements in 2011 that was later upheld by the Davao City Regional Trial Court.
“[Lapanday] suffered losses due to the destruction of the facilities, and the banana fruits and plants in the Sanid area which the [Marbai] members chopped,” the complaint, filed by Lapanday lawyer Noel Oliver Punzalan, said.
“Respondent Secretary Mariano did not even bother to hear the side of [Lapanday] before he issued the cease-and-desist order,” the firm said.
It added that the cease and desist order “gave a stamp of approval to the forcible taking by Marbai members of the Sanid area,” “emboldened the Marbai members to chop the bananas of Hearbco-1, and to destroy the facilities of [Lapanday] in the banana plantation.”
Lapanday alleged that Pañgulayan committed graft when he supposedly “publicly announced to the Marbai members on December 19, 2016, that by virtue of the cease-and-desist order, the Marbai members could already harvest bananas in the Sanid area and sell them to third parties despite knowing that Lapanday has the exclusive right to manage the Sanid area and to purchase the Cavendish bananas of Hearbco-1, pursuant to a final and executory order of the [Regional Trial Court] of Davao City.”
Moreover, the Department of Agrarian Reform has “no authority to annul a final and executory order of the regular courts.”
The 157.5-hectare Sanid area refers to areas in the banana plantation of Hearbco-1 in Tagum that had suffered deterioration and were turned over to the Lapanday management for rehabilitation and operation.
In 2010, the Hearbco-1 board of directors passed a resolution directing members not to deliver non-”Class A” bananas to the plantation’s packinghouse.
“According to the resolution, these rejected bananas, which included “Class B” bananas, were to be disposed of appropriately,” Lapanday said, adding that it had viewed the resolution “as an attempt to subvert the existing agreements between Hearbco-1 and [Lapanday].”
The firm said that the non-”Class A” bananas were sold to third parties in violation of its exclusive right to purchase these, which forced it to file a complaint before the Davao City court.
On September 9, 2011, Hearbco-1 and Lapanday signed a compromise agreement, which was later approved by the Davao City court.
Some Hearbco-1 members did not want to honor the deal, Lapanday claimed. These members organized themselves as Marbai in March 2012.
In November 2015, the Davao City court granted Lapanday’s plea for the issuance of a writ of execution to implement the compromise agreement. Following the unsuccessful implementation of the writ because of “resistance” from the Marbai members, the firm asked the court to issue an alias writ of execution. The court granted the firm’s plea in November 2016.
Lapanday said that last December 9, around 700 persons, allegedly “at the behest” of the Marbai members, “forcibly took over the office of Hearbco-1 and the Sanid area which is part of the area managed by [Lapanday] under the compromise agreement.”