MANILA–Davao del Norte-based agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) rebuked two officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for allegedly issuing misleading statements and inciting them to violence during a recent meeting to discuss their agribusiness venture agreement (AVA) with the Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI).
Members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARBDEVCO), in a statement, said they were shocked to hear DAR Undersecretaries Marcos Risonar and David Erro tell them that they should “attack with bolos” representatives from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LandBank) if the banana farms they are currently tilling are foreclosed by the Bank in the event their AVA with MEPI gets permanently revoked.
Rolando Lusterio, one of the ARBs present during the meeting held last March 23 with the two DAR undersecretaries, recalled Erro, a lawyer, saying that “kapag nagpunta ang LandBank para maningil, itakin ‘nyo (if the LandBank goes to you to ask for payment, attack them with bolos).”
Dioscoro Abellano, another ARB, also recalled the indifference and utter lack of concern of the DAR officials to their plight when he asked what would happen to the more than 1,800 ARBs of MEPI and their 8,000 dependents once the AVA with the company is revoked.
“Tinanong namin sila paano na kami kapag nawalan ng trabaho. Ang sagot nila (DAR officials), hindi na daw nila problema yun, at doon daw kami magpunta sa DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) para magreklamo (We asked them what would happen to us if we are rendered jobless. They responded that it’s not their problem anymore, and that we should go to the Department of Labor and Employment to complain).”
The March 25 meeting was held to discuss whether the AVA between DAMARDEVCO and MEPI should be continued and to explore the options for ARBs who will be displaced if the agreement is eventually revoked.
The land being tilled by the ARBs inside MEPI’s farm in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte was donated to them by the company as part of the terms of their AVA. While they were given the land for free, the ARBs also receive lease rentals, above-average compensation and other benefits from MEPI.
If the AVA, which is the condition for the donation is revoked, the donation itself is revoked and the government must pay MEPI more than PHP1.0 billion representing the company’s just compensation for the land it had earlier donated to the ARBs. The ARBs, in turn, would have to pay LandBank for the land that they already owned had the AVA not been revoked.
“Ano ba talaga ang gusto ng DAR, umunlad kami o maghirap (What does DAR really want — for us to prosper or to become poor?” thr farmers asked.
The farmers reiterated their appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte to reconsider the revocation of the AVA with MEPI, saying they would lose their source of livelihood.