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Agri union addresses sagging banana industry issues

05:01 AM November 07, 2017

This refers to the column written by Cielito F. Habito, “Is banana sagging?” (Opinion, 11/3/17)

Habito describes three manmade problems besetting the banana industry.

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The first is the destructive attack by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels on the Lapanday Foods Corp. in Davao last April. The second concerns the Tagum Agricultural Development Co.’s (Tadeco) possible invalidation of its decades-old contract with the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) for the use of the latter’s 5,308 hectares of land at the Davao Penal Colony in Panabo City, Davao del Norte. And the third arises from the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) action to review all agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs) between banana export firms and cooperatives formed by agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).

The NPA can answer Habito’s first allegation. We will answer the second and third.

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Habito wants to prove that there are no problems, at least for the plantation owners — who are landlords and oligarchs — pertaining to Tadeco’s contract with BuCor and AVAs.

BuCor is provided an annual income of only P26,541,809 from the Tadeco contract for leasing 5,343 hectares of land or just almost P5,000 per hectare. This is way below the market price; the government loses P106,167,191 annually with this one-sided arrangement.

The Floirendos who own Tadeco were only able to have a contract with BuCor in 1969 that turned the land into a banana plantation by willingly becoming a Marcos dummy.

But other than that, Habito failed to mention that there are four organizations of ARBs in Tadeco-controlled property trying to reclaim their land from the Floirendos: Wadecor Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc., Checkered Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Employees Multipurpose Cooperative, Paheco Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc., and Linda District Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc.

Some of these ARBs are already in Metro Manila and camped outside the DAR main office in Quezon City and are just waiting to be installed by DAR to their lands, since most of them already won their cases.

With regards to AVAs, Habito failed to mention what AVAs are in the first place. Essentially, it is a form of non-land transfer scheme allowed by the defunct Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) where farm lots are awarded to beneficiaries in paper but control over land use and production remain with companies or private entities.

Even a study made by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Office in 2016 concluded, among others, that most AVAs are disadvantageous to ARBs’ interests because of the prevalence of unlawful labor practices, absence of social protection and low lease rates. This includes the onerous contract Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC) had with the ARBs of Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Cooperative 1 (Hearbco 1).

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Among its 14 one-sided provisions are the following: Cooperatives could not expand farm areas because LFC has the right of first refusal to the production of expansion area; LFC set the buying price for bananas produced for the Japan market at $2.10 per 13 kilograms net box; and LFC shall have the right to handle the operation of the cooperatives’ farms if it sees that the “success of the crop is endangered” due to the cooperatives’ failure to follow its “prescribed cultural practices.”

A majority of Hearbco 1 farmworkers rejected the renegotiated contract with Lapanday because it is highly disadvantageous to farmworkers. The employees organized and formed Marbai and filed for a petition to reinstate them to their tillage.

In December 2015, the DAR Adjudication Board issued a final and executory order reinstating Marbai farmworkers to the land. Former DAR secretary Rafael Mariano started the installation process in October last year.

But LFC, time and again, defied his orders. On Dec. 9 last year, farmers under Marbai and their supporters were able to successfully occupy their lands. But security guards shot and wounded 10 farmers in two incidents on Dec. 12 and 14. At dawn of Dec. 31, 2016, armed security guards of Lapanday forcibly evicted Marbai farmers from their lands. It was only after President Duterte intervened on their case were they successfully installed by DAR on May 17, 2017.

In conclusion, many of the lands controlled by landlords and oligarchs, including Tadeco, are disputed. ARBs who assert their claim to their lands and/or against onerous agreements are met with force by private and even government security forces or are faced with legal machinations, which wittingly or unwittingly, Habito failed to mention.

AURELIO ESTRADA, media officer, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, [email protected]

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TAGS: Aurelio Estrada, Bureau of Corrections, Cielito F. Habito, Davao Penal Colony, Floirendo family, Inquirer letters, Lapanday Food Corp., NPA attacks, Tadeco, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura
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