Like food for the gods, the Cavendish bananas of Tagum City, Davao Del Norte are spotless. Sealed with stickers to mark their perfection, they are being shipped to countries in the Asia Pacific contributing billions to the domestic economy.
But what many don’t know, these bananas were grown on a soil soaked with sweat and blood and were bought at a very low price from peasant farmers who are forced into a life of poverty.
Sixty-year-old Mely Yu, President of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI), still vividly remembers the dawn of December 31, 2016. Around 300 bonnet-wearing armed men forcibly took them out of their land. Those who resisted were hogtied or beaten.
Something worse happened prior. On December 12, 2016, security guards of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) allegedly fired shots at the farmers who tried to enter the banana plantation. Seven farmers were wounded.
“We didn’t have guns. If we had guns, many would have died because we will really fight back, we will really fight for our land,” Yu told SubSelfie.com.
The only thing the farmers had were Certificates of Land Ownership Award from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) proving that the 145-hectare parcel of land in Barangay San Isidro had already been awarded to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
But LFC had been defying orders to implement this grant and refused to give up control of the property. Yu said the company locked the farmers out and surrounded the property with around 700 armed men.
Yu was 39 years old when the land was awarded to them by the government. Now she is 60, but they still have not been reinstalled to the their own land that they have been tilling for more than 30 years.
The LFC owned by the Lorenzos entered into an agri-business venture with the MARBAI farmers.
This is an option under CARP, where agrarian reform beneficiaries organize themselves into a cooperative and enter into a joint venture agreement with an investor, which can be the land’s former owner.
But this system is being criticized by farmers’ groups saying some landlords would use it to evade land distribution and genuine agrarian reform.
Yu said their joint venture agreement with LFC is an onerous contract.
“Hindi na nga kami umasenso dahil sa kontrata. Hanggang nagkaganito kami. Hindi na namin makayanan. Hindi na nga nakapag-aral ‘yung mga anak namin kahit sa public school man lang,” Yu said. (We didn’t progress because of the contract. We’re stuck here. We can’t bear it anymore. Our children can’t continue their studies even in public schools.)
The farmers would work at least eight hours a day under the scorching heat of the sun and would get paid only $2.10 for every box of bananas they harvest. Each box weighs 13.5 kilograms, which the corporation would export three to five times the original price.
The farmers would earn less than just a little over a dollar per day or P2,000 a month, making it hard to make both ends meet.
Francisco Mundo, 68, has been planting bananas for 30 years. But since they have been denied entry to the plantation, he was forced to just drive the habal-habal (motorcycle used as public transportation) for a measly income to survive.
Mundo and Yu along with 180 farmers traveled three days by bus from Davao Del Norte to Manila. They have been camping out on Mendiola since May 1 to call for President Duterte’s help and intervention.
The President’s Promise
On their ninth day in camp, President Duterte paid a visit out of his schedule.
The white-wearing presidential guards looked wary as they ushered the President from his car to the farmers’ camp. This was the first time Duterte as President was stepping on Mendiola, the street where protesters would frequently face-off with troops protecting the Malacañang Palace.
Yu urged President Duterte to ensure the immediate installation of the MARBAI farmers into their land and the disarmament of LFC’s private army.
The President, for his part, vowed to help his fellow Mindanaoans get back their lands.
“The fight that you are doing is right. We, in the government, promise to grant you the lands that you deserve. It is yours,” the President added.
Yu and the 180 farmers camped at Mendiola could fold their tents and go back home for now carrying the President’s word.
But even the President himself admits that big landowners have ways of circumventing the law.
“You know, these landowners are into forum shopping. They will seek (temporary restraining orders) and get what they want. This system cannot be forever,” Duterte said.
But until stronger laws are passed by Congress, which is a lair of landlords and unless the leaders of the land have a strong political will to enforce genuine agrarian reform, the farmers’ struggle for land-ownership will remain on a slippery slope, like running on a peel of bananas.
UPDATE: Last May 18, as promised by President Duterte, the farmers have been reinstalled in the government-awarded land being controlled by Lapanday Foods Corporation. They were accompanied by Agrarian Reform Sec. Rafael Mariano. More than 200 fully armed policemen from the Davao Del Norte Public Safety Company and a sheriff from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) cleared the way for them. But after the reinstallation, Lapanday immediately filed graft charges in the Office of the Ombudsman against Mariano and DAR Usec. Luis Pangulayan for “favoring” the evicted farmers. Lapanday also accused the officials grave misconduct and grave abuse of authority.
Last May 20, Lapanday positioned its private army near the farmers’ camp. Army amphibian vehicles were also spotted on standby within the 70-meter-radius, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas. As of this writing (May 21), Lapanday’s armed men are still in the area, according to Mely Yu, the president of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI).
Disclaimer: This article only reflects the position of the author and not of the entire website.
[Entry 225, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Ephraim Aguilar is an Executive Producer for News TV Live and Balitanghali Weekend, Segment Producer for News to Go, and a News Producer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho on GMA News TV Channel 11. He was also previously a Southern Luzon Correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Journalism 2006, Bicol University. Views are his. Read more of his articles here.