TAGUM CITY, Philippines — As their land is now within their arms reach, farmers of Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc., are planning to sell their bananas to other buyers as they push to end their ties with Lapanday Foods Corporation.

Salvador Barcebal, 60, vice chairperson of Marbai said they will look for other buyers that can support them.

In an interview inside the farmers camp, a few meters across the contested San Isidro farm area in Barangay San Isidro here, Barcebal said they will not engage in long-term contracts anymore.

“Ang plano namo dili mi mokontrata long term, one year to two years lang para og naay kausaban, moabot nga maexpire among kontrata pwede mi mokontrata og lain (We plan not to engage in long term contracts anymore so that if there will be changes, we can make a new contract),” he said.

Barcebal said they learned their lesson from their experience with Lapanday.

On October 1996, the collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was awarded to 567 farmers of the Hijo Employees and Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries-1 at the Hijo plantation in Barangay Madaum.

In December 1998, Hearbco-1 signed a 10-year Agri-Ventures Agreement known as Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement with Hijo Plantation Inc. starting October 18, 1999 to September 18, 2009.

The HPI executed a Deed of Assignment of the BSMA in favor of the Global Fruits Corporation, now known as Lapanday Foods Corporation.

Barcebal described their contracts with Lapanday as onerous.

“Dili namo masabtan nganong nagabayad mi og utang apan inay mogamay, mosaka naman nuon (We did not understand why our debts kept mounting even though we have been paying for it)”, he said.

Barcebal said farmers found themselves taking home only P92 pesos a day after working on their land. It would later increase to P100.

But they said other benefits were not remitted to them by the company.

The Cavendish bananas they produce were sold to Lapanday for only P2.10 per box, each box containing some 13.5 kilos of bananas, a price which Barcebal described as “too cheap” compared to the running market price of “USD3-4 per box.”

Barcebal said the farmers started
to struggle against Lapanday.

Hearbco-1 divided into two groups — the “Yes” group who still agrees with engaging with Lapanday and the “No” group which formed Marbai.

Unyon ng mga Manggagawang Agrikultura described the AVA between ARB cooperatives and Lapanday as “practically legitimizing the land grabbing and unfair labor practices in the banana plantation.”

Danilo Ramos, secretary general of UMA said the AVA in Lapanday “is similar to the failed Stock Distribution Option scheme” in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

“The 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. (davaotoday.com)

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