TAGUM CITY, Philippines – Injured farmers belied they were armed when security forces of a banana plantation here attacked them yesterday morning.
In an interview with DavaoToday, Jose Balucos, 43, said his wounds and and that of six others were located mostly along their backs and legs, proof that they were shot at while running away.
Balucos recalled that they were negotiating with the security forces allegedly hired by Lapanday Foods Corporation when other men clad in the same uniform but without nameplates, their faces covered in bonnets, appeared from underneath a nearby canal and open fired at them.
“Nganong muingon man sila nga balos-balos ang pinusilay ganina, nga klaro man gyud nga wala miy pusil bisan pag tan-awon nila ang area. Ang tanang mga buto, o agi sa mga balingis padung man gyud sa amoa tanan gikan didto sa mga gipostingan sa mga security,” Balucos said.
(How could they say that there were an exchange of shots earlier today? It was clear that we were not armed. They can even inspect our area. All traces of gunfire pointed to the direction that we were fleeing. They came from where the guards were posted.)
Balucos is a member of the Hugpong sa mga Mag-Uuma sa Walog Compostela, one of the groups who supported the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Inc. (Marbai).
On Dec. 9, Marbai farmers and support groups HUMAWAC and “Unyon Sa Mga Mag-Uuma Alang Sa Tinood Nga Repormang Agraryo (Farmers’ Union For Genuine Agrarian Reform) claimed victory after they took over a 145 hectare farmland that was awarded to Marbai in 1997.
According to reports, the farmers were preparing to till their reclaimed land again when Lapanday security guards fired at the farmers. The farmers responded by taking off their shirts in order to prove that they were unarmed.
Balucos said they asked for police assistance when they learned armed guards accompanied Lapanday banana harvesters who went to the area yesterday.
The police mobile, which was stationed near the entrance of the compound, fled when the shooting began, Balucos said.
“Murag gisabotahe nila ang pulis ba nga pag binuthanay, sibat na ang mga pulis (It was as if they had conspired with the police, who fled when shots began),” Balucos said.
Balucos said he was carried on to a motorcycle but later rode a police rescue vehicle to the hospital, where policemen berated him, saying the gunfire was provoked because the farmers were also armed.
Renante Mantos, chairperson of HUMAWAC who led the botched negotiations, identified the leader of the guards as “Mr. Vicente” through his name plate. Mantos said Vicente was the only unmasked member of the group.
‘They were armed’
Tagum City Police Chief Supt. Laudamer Laude accused farmers were carrying firearms and thus provoked the violent confrontation yesterday.
In a heated exchange between farmer leaders and their support groups inside the Tagum City Police Office, Laude said: “Naa poy mga pusil, dili lang ninyo ipakita. So, both parties kabalo ko naay mga pusil.”
(You also have guns, you’re just hiding them. I know both parties have guns).
“Tinuod man na, kay sauna pa lang dugay nako diha,” (That’s the truth. I know that because I’ve been there for a long time,” Laude added.
Laude quickly recanted his statement, saying he did not mean to say that the farmers hired their own guards, and appealed that the ARBs do not attempt to enter the contested areas again to prevent provocation.
There were no reported casualties on the side of the armed guards, whom both Mantos and Balucos said were uniformed members of Lapanday’s hired security agency ACDISA, and armed with shotguns.
Merely internal conflict
In a statement, Lapanday denied involvement in the shooting, and downplayed the issue as that of “internal conflict” between two cooperative groups, the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1, (HEARBCO-1) a “breakaway” group led by Mely Yu, the chairperson of Marbai.
Lapanday said Yu and her group had been “engaging armed men to inflict violence and disrupt operations in the farm.”
“This internal conflict among the HEARBCO-1 and this breakaway group may be the reason for this latest incident,” Lapanday said.
HEARBCO has a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) with Lapanday since 2009.
To earn a living
In an interview Monday,Yu said they did not join the contract with Lapanday in 2009 because they found it onerous as they were only paid P2000 every month.
Yu also complained of “intentional downgrading” where Lapanday would intentionally classify their produce to a lower grade in order to buy them cheaper, but would sell them at a higher price.
Yu said the farmers only wanted to harvest their bananas to earn a living.
For six years, she said, they were prevented by the Lapanday from entering their lands which were awarded to them by the Department of Agrarian Reform through its Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program since 1997.
“Minasaker ang mga magsasaka, at hinabol pa nila. Wala namang ginawa ang mga magsasaka, gusto lang nila makaharvest ng saging. For six years, pinagkait nila sa amin ang aming prutas na itinanim nong 1997 nang inaward ng DAR ang lupang ito,” Yu said.
(They massacred the farmers, and then went after them. The farmers did nothing wrong; they just wanted to harvest bananas. For six years, we were deprived of the bananas that we planted in 1997 when DAR awarded this land to us.)
“Ang among beneficiaries, ‘pag muadto, tutukan ug baril. Mga high powered pa gyud” (When our beneficiaries would go to their lands, [security guards] would point high-powered firearms at them), Yu said. (davaotoday.com)