• SPECIAL REPORT

    Mariano, farmers urged to follow court order on Lapanday land

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    Last of two parts

    The occupation of the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay) of government housing for policemen and soldiers in Pandi, Bulacan last March may not be the last of its kind.

    Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and members of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. (Marbai) are being urged to follow the rule of law instead of occupying lands already owned by agrarian reform beneficiaries.

    Nanie Geronimo, an executive of the Lorenzo family’s Lapanday Foods Corp., made the call in connection with Mariano’s appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to install 159 Marbai members on 149 hectares of farmland in Tagum City, Davao del Norte owned by Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (Hearbco-
    1).

    Mariano is making the appeal even if the Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC) has repeatedly approved the September 2011 compromise agreement between Lapanday and Hearbco-1, which upheld three contracts between Lapanday and Hearbco-1 involving 450 hectares of Hearbco-1 banana farmland.

    “Marbai participated in the process, and the courts already made their decision multiple times. Why do they, and later DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) refuse to follow it? We have to uphold and adhere to the rule of law. Otherwise, where will our nation be?” Geronimo told The Manila Times in a phone interview.

    “Do we just resort to extralegal means and work outside the ambit of law and order just because the court ruling is not in favor of us? The parameters were clear. We have to follow the law, which has long been final and executory. It is sad that they want the situation to get into a mob rule,” Geronimo added.

    Asked if Lapanday was concerned that the President would rule in favor of Marbai just like how the Chief Executive decided to give the Pandi houses to Kadamay members, Geronimo stressed that Lapanday’s case is different because the land is already owned by agrarian reform beneficiaries of Hearbco-1 and Lapanday is just buying banana produce from it.

    “Besides, DAR cannot install agrarian reform beneficiaries here because the agrarian reform beneficiaries already own this land. The agrarian reform beneficiaries of Hearbco-1 fully own the land,” Geronimo added.

    Since Mariano’s appointment as Agrarian Reform chief is still pending before the Commission on Appointments (CA), Lapanday can submit a position paper opposing it. Geronimo, however, said the company was still unsure if it would take that route.

    “Of course, we are concerned how will this turn out and we are aware of the available remedies, but these remedies also have repercussions,” he said.

    “Initially, we were looking forward to have Rep. Antonio Floirendo of Davao del Norte on our side because he knows our plight given that he is also from the banana industry. But he was removed from the CA abruptly,” he added.

    Floirendo’s family owns the Tagum Agricultural Development Co. (Tadeco) which is one of the highest yielding banana plantations in the country.

    But for Rep. Ariel Casilao of Anakpawis party-list, Lapanday’s agreements with Hearbco-1 resulted in an unfavorable condition of the agrarian reform beneficiaries.

    “The demand of the farmers are simple, for the President to install them as [agrarian reform beneficiaries], to use his power against the landlord oligarch, the Lorenzo family, who owns Lapanday,” Casilao said in a statement.

    Geronimo, however, disputed Mariano’s claims by citing that Lapanday had been lenient in collecting Hearbco-1’s dues.

    “It is not true that it is disadvantageous to Hearbco. In fact, we have forgone their debts totaling P300 million because a banana plantation is not a pot of garden. There are expenses on banana supplies, farm inputs, aerial spray, irrigation, and other technical aspects that affect crops,” Geronimo said.

    “Besides, our interest in loans is just at 3 percent, while banks or cooperatives would charge as much as three times that rate. Our contracts are even all advantageous,” Geronimo added.

    “We are open to discussion because as long as the parties are talking, the concerns will be fleshed out, but they are using coercion and attacks on us,” Geronimo said.

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