MANILA – In a rare move by the country's head of state, President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday went to Mendiola outside the Palace to meet up with farmers from Davao region who are decrying alleged landgrabbing by Lapanday Foods Corp.
Some 200 farmers have been camping out in Mendiola bridge, a common venue of protest actions, to pressure the president into acting on their demand to have Lapanday turn over 145 hectares of land to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
”Kumain na kayo ng hapunan? Ilan kayo lahat dito? [Secretary] Bong [Go], mag-reserve ka ng 200 sa Manila Hotel. Oo nga, don kayo. Ayaw ninyo?” Duterte told the farmers, who have been camping out in Mendiola since May 1.
“Basta ‘yung naka-barong lahat doon, naka-gown, ‘wag ninyong pansinin iyon. Hindi tayo magkakilala. Magsabi ni, Mayor, dito kami magkain ng hapunan. Manila Hotel. Para makatikim kayo. Ang sabi ni Mayor, dito kami magkain ng hapunan, Manila Hotel, para makatikim kayo.”
Duterte later offered to feed the farmers with food from Philippine fast-food chain Jollibee.
“Jollibee daw… Yung may manok ha. May mga Moro dito,” the president told his aides.
The president also promised plane tickets to the farmers so they can easily return to Davao.
In a statement released after Duterte's meeting with Marbai, Lapanday said it supports Duterte's call to "ensure that the rule of law prevails and shares in his dream that opportunities for all be a lasting legacy of his administration"
"The company agrees with President Duterte that when parties understand each other and are willing to discuss the resolution of issues, the best solution is attained with no need to resort to the courts to resolve them," the statement read.
"The company shall faithfully adhere to the spirit and letter of law and calls on all parties to discuss a settlement anchored on good faith, fairness and a final mutually acceptable resolution of this problem so we can then continue to contribute to the well-being of the country."
The company said it "wants the dialogue to hopefully and finally resolve issues that pertain to the portion of the farm that is subject to the concerted action of Marbai and its supporters."
FARMERS AIR PLIGHT TO DUTERTE
In meeting the president, the farmers urged the government to intervene and direct Lapanday to return the land to agrarian reform beneficiaries, and immediately install farm workers and agrarian reform beneficiaries on their lands.
“The farm workers are challenging President Rodrigo Duterte to curb the greed of oligarchs like the Lorenzos of Lapanday and other landlords controlling vast tracts of land,” the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. (MARBAI) said in a statement.
The group said Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, one of Duterte’s Cabinet members recommended by the Left, was supposed to install 159 MARBAI members in the banana plantation last April 18 but it did not push through due to security reasons.
The group claimed that Lapanday deployed some 800 armed security guards to barricade the plantation and prevent the farmers from entering the property.
Duterte said he has given the go signal to Mariano to assist the farmers regarding their plight, as long as their actions are in accordance with the law.
“Iyung requirements ng batas, ako na mismo nagsasabi kay Secretary Mariano, go ahead. Para matapos na ang problema, gulo, pati patayan. Basta sang-ayon as batas, go ahead,” he said.
MARBAI farm workers became beneficiaries of the government’s land reform program in 1996. However, the group said loopholes in the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) allowed Lapanday to take over some 1,000 hectares of agrarian reform lands using the farm worker cooperatives’ Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA).
The group was referring to a 10-year agreement entered into by Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative with Lapanday in 1999. Under the agreement, the farm workers planted, harvested, packed and delivered bananas to Lapanday.
MARBAI said it refused to renew the contract in 2009, after farmers discovered that Lapanday supposedly duped them by deliberately downgrading the classification of bananas so it could buy them at a lower price.
The farmers met with members of the House of Representatives last March 7 when the Committee on Human Rights conducted an inquiry with officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform and Lapanday to investigate the incidents of violence against the farmers.
DAR officials disproved the agribusiness firm’s claims and asserted the validity of the department’s legal actions on the presented evidence by the banana farmers.
The DAR, under Mariano, earlier warned Lapanday of contempt if it will not reinstate the farmers to their lands immediately.