Agricultural workers under the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) laud the recent announcement of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano on the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme in two Negros plantations and an Agribusiness Venture Arrangement (AVA) lease scheme at the Marsman Estate Plantations, Inc. (MEPI) in Southern Mindanao.
Mariano said that the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) revoked the AVA lease scheme at the MEPI, and the SDO scheme implemented at the Wuthrich Hermanos, Inc. in Calatrava town and SVJ Farms, Inc., in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, during the meeting led by President Rodrigo Duterte last September 12.
The rulings, which are largely in favor of farmworkers, have been pending with PARC since former President BS Aquino failed to convene the said agrarian reform body during his 6-year term.
UMA described the SDO and AVAs as anomalous schemes implemented under the pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that these schemes were used by big landlords and foreign agricorporations to evade land distribution.
“We welcome the rulings as we urge the Duterte administration to completely junk these ‘non-land transfer schemes’ that continue to deprive peasants and agricultural workers of their land rights. The SDO and various AVAs run counter to the fundamental land reform principle which is to provide land to the tiller,” said Ramos.
One prominent case is the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), which was established by the Cojuangco-Aquino family to implement the oppressive SDO in 1989. Instead of receiving parcels of land, CARP beneficiaries in Luisita were made to believe that they have become “co-owners” or “stockholders” of HLI, even as they continued to slave away as underpaid farmworkers who received wages as low as Php 9.50 a week. The Supreme Court revoked the SDO in Hacienda Luisita in a landmark decision in 2012.
The SDO, however, is still in effect in 11 other landholdings while the DAR says that there are 433 existing AVA contracts covering some 57,000 hectares. AVAs are onerous contracts covering lease, leaseback, contract-growing, joint-venture, market-sharing and other schemes. The supposed beneficiaries, usually farmworkers, are reduced to their former status receiving low wages. Farmworkers usually lose any previous benefits because they are now considered “business partners” of their employers. According to a figure from the NEDA, there are as much 1.2 million hectares of land under various AVAs in 2013.
MEPI reportedly pushed for lease contracts among agrarian reform beneficiaries through bribery, coercion, and deception. A so-called “beneficiary trust fund” or BTF – the measly annual lease payment which was distributed to its workers as some kind of bonus – was deviously put in place by the MEPI in its banana plantations in Sto.Tomas, Davao del Norte.
“The CARP legalized and allowed multi-national and local corporations to maintain their control and operation of vast tracts of agricultural lands for as long as 50 years,” according to Ramos. “These AVAs legitimize the swindle of thousands of farmworkers.”
Meanwhile, agricultural workers in SDO areas still live in the feudal world of any typical hacienda. The only difference is that they receive measly dividends of P340 to P500 annually as their share as supposed co-owners of the corporation.
“The pro-peasant moves of the DAR and the Duterte government must be reinforced. The SDO and AVAs must be completely junked through the implementation of exhaustive socio-economic reforms and the enactment of a new land reform law that will replace the rotten legacy of the CARP,” said Ramos, referring to the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) filed as House Bill 555 by Anakpawis Partylist.