Militant groups held a picket in front of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) main office in Makati City today to demand justice for farmer-victims of consecutive shooting incidents involving alleged LFC security men in Madaum, Tagum City.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that there are already 10 individuals reportedly wounded in two separate shooting incidents in Madaum on December 12 and 14.
The victims belong to organizations affiliated with UMA and the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) – the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Incorporated (MARBAI) and the Unyon sa mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (UGMAD –TRA or Farmers’ Union For Genuine Agrarian Reform).
MARBAI and UGMAD-TRA led a daring land occupation initiative and protest camp-out to counter massive landrabbing perpetrated by Lapanday. Agriworkers who launched the protest are also legitimate agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) of the 145-hectare portion of a banana plantation.
Today’s protest action in Makati coincides with a 2-day solidarity mission to Tagum City, also led by UMA and KMP. UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos, Antonio “Ka Tunying” Flores, KMP Secretary General, and Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel Casilao took early morning flights to Davao City to lead the mission to be participated in by national and international land reform advocates and human rights groups Tanggol Magsasaka, Karapatan, Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), Pesticide Action Network-Asia Pacific (PAN-AP) and other peasant support groups.
“There had been three consecutive gun attacks against the agriworkers reclaiming their land, but elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) have not arrested any security guard of the Lorenzo-owned LFC. Are they immune from arrest?” asked Ramos. Nobody was reported injured during the first incident which occurred on day one of the camp-out on December 9.
Seven were wounded in the second incident, December 12. Victims were identified as Jose Balucos, Emanuel Buladaco, Abelardo Francisco, Jojo Gomez, Rico Saladaga, Joseph Bertulfo and 16-year old Talban Miparanun. Two of the victims remain in critical condition.
In the latest incident yesterday, December 14, three more were reportedly wounded while five farmers were held hostage by LFC guards. They victims were only attended to and released when Tagum Mayor Allan Rellon arrived around 10 am, and ordered police to intervene. However, police did not arrest the guards who merely walked away from the scene. Police reportedly claimed that they “cannot do anything because the shootings occurred on private land.”
The solidarity mission aims to confirm all these reports.
“Lapanday even has the gall to claim that these shooting incidents are merely internal disputes between feuding farmer cooperatives. If this was true then why are the guards seemingly untouchable? Are farmers in Tagum now fully-armed and influential like the Lorenzos?”
UMA said that this divide-and-rule tact is also used to fuel tension among beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita. Incidentally, the Lorenzos are also connected to Luisita, where violence also erupted due to land disputes last week. Martin Lorenzo, brother of Lapanday’s CEO Regina Lorenzo, is a top executive and active partner of the Cojuangco-Aquinos in running the Central Azucarera de Tarlac.
Onerous, oppresive AVAs also slammed
Lapanday Foods Corp. describes itself as an integrated grower, packer, and shipper of premium-quality tropical fresh produce. LFC claims to have 19 banana farms in Davao del Norte, Davao City, North and South Cotabato with a total land area of 6,000 hectares yielding 20 million boxes a year. Tagum City is the capital of Davao del Norte.
LFC controls thousands of hectares of land in Mindanao for plantation-scale fruit production through agribusiness ventures agreements (AVAs) with agrarian reform beneficiaries. UMA slams these AVAs as onerous, exploitative and oppressive schemes allowed by the anti-peasant CARP law.
“AVAs essentially legitimize reconcentration of lands back to the control of landlords and companies like LFC. Meanwhile, the supposed beneficiaries who are deemed ‘partners’ continue their toil as low-earning agriworkers without any benefits,” said Ramos.
In 1998, LFC entered into a banana sales and marketing agreement with ARBs through the original plantation owner, Hijo Plantations, Inc (HPI). With MARBAI, the AVA stipulates, among others that: the LFC set the buying price for bananas produced for the Japan market at U.S. $ 2.10 per 13 kilograms (kg) net box; LFC shall have the right to handle the operation of the cooperatives’ farms if in LFC’s “opinion” that the “success of the crop is endangered” due to the cooperatives’ failure to follow LFC “prescribed cultural practices.”
The first provision is too low a price which resulted in a measly P2,000/month for a typical ARB. ARBs also incurred a debt to LFC which according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) ballooned more or less to a billion pesos.
MARBAI bolted out from its original cooperative and formed a new legal entity. The DAR awarded 145 hectares to 159 MARBAI members but they were charged with “violation” of contract by the LFC. Using the onerous provisions of the AVA, LFC took over also the land intended for MARBAI – a sinister scheme of landgrabbing. In effect, MARBAI was dispossessed by LFC of their land even though it is no longer a party to the AVA.
“Agriworkers are now aware that these devious AVAs or ‘non-land transfer’ schemes of the CARP have been exploiting them for years. The public must support agriworkers who decide to bolt out of these arrangements and carry out their own land occupation and cultivation initiatives,” ended Ramos.