Thousands of banana workers are set to reclaim areas controlled by the Lapanday Foods Corporation at the Hijo plantation area in Madaum, Tagum City today, after years of fierce struggle.
National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said that the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc (MARBAI) was able to secure a writ of installation from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), for a 145-hectare portion of the contested banana plantation.
“The re-installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries set today in Madaum would not be possible if not for the militant collective action of MARBAI members, who were not deterred by Lapanday’s violent maneuvers,” said UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos, referring to the series of shooting incidents perpetrated by private security guards of Lapanday December last year which resulted in the wounding of at least 10 farm workers.
UMA lauded the efforts of its local affiliate, the Unyon sa mga Mag-uuma Alang sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (UGMAD-TRA or Farmers’ Union for Genuine Agrarian Reform), in leading daring actions such as the unprecedented land occupation of the contested Lapanday farms since October last year, and the series of protests at the local and national offices of the DAR and Lapanday.
“A genuine agriworkers union as the UGMAD-TRA served to unite banana workers affiliated with splinter groups of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) under Lapanday’s control. Today, MARBAI’s installation will be joined by two other ARB cooperatives which they previously considered as rivals. Members of HEARBCO1 and GMARBAI have now decided to assert their rights through ‘self-installation.’ These cooperatives are now united in fighting the landgrabbing of the Lorenzos,” said Ramos.
Ramos added that the case of Lapanday banana workers in Madaum reminds one of the violence in Hacienda Luisita, especially now that the Lorenzo family are involved in the management of both agricultural firms.
“The banana workers of the Lapanday Foods Corporation in Tagum City and the sugar workers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac are both called ‘agrarian reform beneficiaries’ by the state. Both are also victims of bloody shooting incidents perpetrated by landlords who insist on their immoral claims over these land reform areas,” said Ramos who added that Hacienda Luisita farmers are still fighting for their rights years after the massacre and spate of extra-judicial killings in the controversial sugar estate.
Martin Lorenzo, a scion of the Lorenzo landlord family who controls Lapanday, is now a co-owner of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac in Hacienda Luisita with the Cojuangco-Aquinos.
UMA said that the onerous agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) between ARB cooperatives and Lapanday practically legitimized land grabbing and unfair labor practices in the banana plantation.
“The AVA in Lapanday is similar in essence to the failed Stock Distribution Option scheme in Hacienda Luisita, which was also implemented through the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In both schemes, farmworkers are told that they are now landowners or stockholders in control of business, but they practically remain landless farmworkers who earn measly wages and token dividends, if any,” said Ramos.
In Hacienda Luisita, farm workers earned a measly Php 9.50 a day as stockholders when workers decided to strike in 2004. This practice is replicated by the Cojuangco-Aquino-Lorenzos today in hiring sacadas or migratory sugar workers. Sacadas in Luisita are still paid Php 9.50 a day or even less.
“The practice of contractualization among agricultural workers is actually made worse by the CARP’s SDO scheme and AVAs. Agriworkers fighting for jobs, decent wages and benefits this coming Labor Day will also be marching for genuine land reform and free land distribution,” ended Ramos.