This October, I went to Mindanao and lived with farmers in Davao del Norte. Agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) staged a camp-out in front of the provincial office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Tagum City.
Most of the ARBs are retrenched farmworkers, tillers, and farmers from Tagum Agricultural Development Corporation (TADeCo) and Davao Penal Colony (DaPeCol) areas in Panabo City, Carmen, Sto. Tomas, and Dujali; evicted CLOA holders from Kapalong; and Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC)-conflict areas in Brgy. Madaum, Tagum City.
Protesting farmers are from different ARB organizations under the banner of ARBs One Movement (AOM), namely:
- WADECOR Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (WEARBAI)
- Checkered Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Employees Multipurpose Cooperative (CHARBEMCO)
- PAHECO Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (PEARBAI)
- Linda District Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (LINDERBAI)
- Alberto Marfori Soriano Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization (AMSARBO)
- Gagmay’ng Mag-uuma Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (GMARBAI)
- Hijo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HARBCO)
The ARBs are demanding for the immediate release of the installation orders which is long overdue. For decades, they have been deprived of their land that is rightfully theirs.
Four (4) ARB organizations are claiming more than 800 hectares of land in the areas of TADeCo: WEARBAI claims 376 hectares; CHARBEMCO claims 282 hectares; PEARBAI claims 163 hectares, and LINDEARBAI claims 448 hectares.
AMSARBO claims 91 hectares in Kapalong town; some ARBs in Barangay Madaum claims 152 hectares in Baret property, while GMARBAI claims 60.05 hectares; and, the HARBCO claims 56.39 inside the plantation managed by Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) also in Brgy. Madaum in Tagum City.
All legal requirements and processes have been done. Orders and decisions from DAR, the Supreme Court, and the Office of the President favoring the ARBs have been served.
Last July 2017, the Commission on Audit (CoA) has recommended the filing of criminal (corruption) charges against officials of the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) in connection with the anomalous joint venture agreement (JVA) that allowed the BuCor to lease lands covered by the Davao Penal Colony (DaPeCol) for the operation of TADeCo, the country’s largest banana producer and exporter, owned by the family of Davao del Norte 2nd District Rep. Antonio Floirendo, Jr. In turn, inmates are sent to the banana plantation to work as part of BuCor’s rehabilitation program.
Under the JVA, the government land being used by TADeCo totals 5,354 hectares from 3,000 hectares in 1969. The first 25-year contract was signed on December 26, 1969 under the Marcos administration but was only renewed for another 25 years on May 21, 2003 under the Arroyo administration. State auditors said the deals BuCor entered with TADeCo violated the 1935, 1973, and 1986 Constitutions. The violations were:
- the land subject of the JVA located in the Davao Prison and Penal Farm (DPPF) was non-alienable hence, outside the commerce of man making the JVA “inexistent and void from the beginning”;
- period covered by the original JVA and its renewal in 2003 totaled 60 years, which exceeded the constitutional limit of 50 years only;
- approving TADeCo’s use of the reseved government land without holding a public auction as required by law;
- and permitting TADeCo to use vast tracks of public land beyond the constitutional limit of 1,024 under the 1935 Constitution, and 1,000 hectares under the 1987 Constitution (Section 3, Article 12).
Public officials involved in the BuCor-TADeCo JVA may be prosecuted under Section 3 of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. The CoA declared, “The act of the BuCor and DoJ officials in selecting TADeCo to use the reserved land without public auction amounts to giving any private party unwarranted benefits, advantage, or preference in the discharge of his official administrative functions.”
The CoA’s audit report supported DOJ’s position paper (dated May 2017) which states that the classification of the BuCor-TADeCo deal as a land lease or JVA does not make it legal because the land itself should not have been subject to any kind of commercial activities. It also backed DOJ’s opinion that the 1969 JVA, all supplemental agreements, and the 2003 JVA should be nullified.
Despite these, the DAR has been delaying the installation of the ARBs. The ARBs are claiming that there is also a connivance between the said agency and the Floirendos.
In the case of the ARBs in Davao del Norte, DAR has been apparently neglecting its mandate to enforce the program for agrarian reform, and has took sides with big landlords and compradors.
Last October 3, government officials led by DAR Usec. Karlo S. Bello held a dialogue with the leaders of the ARBs. The provincial agrarian reform office (PARO) has yet to issue the installation orders. The ARBs are appealing that the President issue an executive order that would nullify the BuCor-TADeCo JVA and distribute the land to them. Last May 2017, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II said that a presidential proclamation will be the “best and fastest” way to void the anomalous deal.
So whom would Duterte favor? His ally Floirendo who was one of his biggest campaign donors, or the ARBs in his baluarte?