BACOLOD CITY: Agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in Negros Occidental have demanded that President Rodrigo Duterte scrap a plan of tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. that allows him to control 4,654.0638 hectares in 11 haciendas (estates) spread in six cities and towns in the province.
In a statement, members of Task Force Mapalad (TFM) called on Duterte to direct Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano to restore their Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs), which were canceled and transferred to the ECJ Farmworkers Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative by Alexis Arsenal, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) regional director, on August 15, 2003 and October 2, 2003.
Arsenal’s move was made after the farmers approved a joint venture agreement (JVA) proposed by Cojuangco that made it possible for him and his surrogates to control the huge sugar estates even after they had been paid through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and CLOAs had been issued to 1,756 farmers and sugar workers,
By canceling the CLOAs, the farmers ended up as landless workers under the employ of the JVA crafted by Cojuangco, his lawyers and business executives.
The farmers said the move allowed Cojuangco to implement his own version of bogus agrarian reform as the ARBs lost their authority over the land, “making a mockery of their being beneficiaries of CARP.”
Noel Magan, an ARB and signatory to the 21-page position paper submitted to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) on February 10, 2017, said Duterte, through Mariano, could invalidate the cancelation of their CLOAs and their transfer to the multipurpose cooperative and install them as the rightful owners of the land.
This cooperative became the partner of Cojuangco in the JVA and the Southern Negros Joint Venture Corp. (SNJVC), which was formed to manage the property since 2004, and thus assured the tycoon of undiminished control over the land.
Magan said after the SNJVC cut another deal with Cana Dulce Agro-Industrial, Inc. (Cana Dulce), represented by Miguel S. Hinojales, Lagrimas H. Llorca and Michael Andrew V. Hinojales, the ARBs further lost any role in managing the land.
Even before Cana Dulce took over, Magan said “the farm workers were either terminated or prevented from working on the land without due process and without SNJVC explaining why they were losing their jobs, which is a clear violation of labor laws.”
The ARBs said “the agreement of SNJVC and Cana Dulce is not in the form of a management and service participation but a form of contract of lease because Cana Dulce merely takes over the management of the land and in return, SNJVC will receive 33 percent of the production.”
Magan added that “the control of the land has been completely taken away from SNJVC and transferred to Cana Dulce because the so-called management and service participation barred SNJVC from deciding on management and control of the land until August 31, 2022.”
To show their disgust at the unequal and unjust terms of the JVA, Magan said the ARBs “took possession of 632 hectares in various areas of the 11 haciendas covered by the CLOAs of [the multipurpose cooperative].”
As expected, Magan said “they were subjected to different forms of harassment and threats from security forces of [the cooperative]and SNJVC management.”
He argued the December 16, 2004 JVA signed between them through the multipurpose cooperative and Cojuangco was “highly iniequitous” since the tycoon earned 70 percent of the proceeds of the venture, with the ARBs sharing only 30 percent.
EUGENE Y. ADIONG