National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that the Lorenzo-owned Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) must immediately be held accountable for violence in Madaum, Tagum City which left at least 10 farmers wounded in consecutive attacks by armed LFC security men since December 9.
UMA said that the suggestion of the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA) for a ‘peaceful mediation’ this Christmas cannot possibly be fruitful, with Lapanday consistently denying its hand in landgrabbing, harassment and the frustrated killing of agrarian reform beneficiaries and their supporters.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the PBGEA, in keeping silent about the shooting incidents, is practically absolving Lapanday of any wrongdoing.
“Lapanday and PBGEA are pushing the ‘divide-and-rule’ and ‘blame-the victim’ tact by making the public believe that the ‘root cause’ of the violence is merely the disagreements between farmers’cooperatives in Madaum,” said Ramos.
UMA and militant peasant organization Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) organized a national fact-finding and solidarity mission (NFFSM) to Madaum, Tagum City from December 15 -16 and confirmed that Lapanday has encroached on property already awarded by government land reform to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI).
A summary of the NFFSM report was released to the press last Friday.
Aside from three reported shooting incidents in Madaum, the mission also confirmed accounts that Lapanday deliberately conducted aerial spraying of poisonous chemicals over the banana plantation on December 12, while protesting farmworkers were camped-out in the area and having breakfast. The victims were forced to dispose of the contaminated food and water and seek refuge in a nearby chapel.
“PBGEA is also practically insinuating that it was okay for Lapanday security guards to shoot farmers reclaiming their land in Madaum, just because Lapanday insists that farmers did not comply with their contracts,” said Ramos.
UMA stressed that MARBAI as a legal entity was never a party to the onerous and exploitative Agribusiness Venture Agreement (AVA) that Lapanday inked with the original landowner Hijo Plantations, Inc (HPI) and the cooperative Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperation 1 (HEARBCO1).
According to the NFFSM report, HEARBCO1 entered into a growership contract with Lapanday and Global Foods Corp in 1999. After a decade, HEARBCO1 incurred debts amounting to P1 M. A majority of HEARBCO 1 farmworkers rejected the renegotiated contract with Lapanday because it was “highly disadvantageous” to the land reform beneficiaries.
“AVAs are among non-land transfer schemes allowed by the pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. Beneficiaries are awarded farmlots in paper but control over land use and production remains with big landlords and companies such as Lapanday,” said Ramos.
Workers organized and formed MARBAI and filed for a petition to reinstate them to their land. A compromise agreement was reached in 2011, reducing the farmworkers’ debt to P800,000. On December 2015, the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board issued a final and executory order reinstating MARBAI farmworkers to a 145-hectare area. The current DAR under Secretary Rafael Mariano, started the installation process last October.
Despite the DAR ruling, LFC continues to encroach on land rightfully-owned by MARBAI. MARBAI and the UMA-affiliated local union, UGMAD-TRA led farmworkers in reclaiming their land in a daring land occupation initiative which commenced on December 9. Shooting and harassment of protesters have left 10 wounded by LFC security guards.
The DAR has already issued a Cease and Desist Order (CDO) against Lapanday. DAR regional and provincial offices are also ordered to provide assistance to MARBAI, including filing cases against LFC and its security guards.
“As in Hacienda Luisita where farmworkers rejected the oppressive stock distribution option (SDO) scheme in a massive strike in 2004, those who choose to bolt out of the onerous AVA with Lapanday earn the wrath of these greedy hacienderos,”
“Shooting farmers like rats seems to be mere impulse for these notorious landgrabbers,” added Ramos.
The Lorenzos who own Lapanday, are now also part-owners of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac in Hacienda Luisita with the Cojuangco-Aquino family.