Davao land issue
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - January 23, 2020 - 12:00am

In fairness to Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. this column is putting out its reply to the complaint of farmer Rosauro Tapal Sr. about his being deprived of the benefits of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law by said plantation. (See “From the Stands” issue of Jan. 14, 2020)

 Below is the letter of Atty. Enrique Dimaano, MEPI corporate secretary. 

 “The Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. (MEPI) wishes to correct false information that it is in violation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). On the contrary, MEPI has fully embraced the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its thrust to give farmers the benefits of productive land ownership.

 “MEPI is part of the Marsman Drysdale Group of Companies that has acted and will always act within the strict confines of the law. Furthermore, MEPI has nurtured a strong and mutually beneficial partnership with its workers, including landowners to whom it has donated lands under the CARP.

 “In September 2000, MEPI donated 800 hectares of land covered by CARP to 762 eligible Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) in MEPI’s banana plantation in Sto. Tomas, Davao del Norte. MEPI’s donation freed government from paying lands acquisition cost then valued at P1 billion, and the ARBs from having to pay government back.

 “The land donation was subject to a lease-back arrangement of 30 years where MEPI would pay the participating ARBs rental for use of their lands. MEPI would also pay the ARBs and the non-ARB workers among the highest wages in the industry. It would also provide them a package of benefits including health, education, retirement, and financial assistance.

 “761 out of 762 eligible ARBs who formed the DAMARBDEVCO Cooperative (now DAMARB-MPC) signed the contract of lease for the agribusiness venture agreement (Lease - AVA) with MEPI, and this was approved by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration in 2002. 

“The vast majority of the ARBs have continuously enjoyed the fruits of this accord whose terms have been periodically adjusted to yield even higher benefits to them and the other workers of MEPI.

 “Meanwhile, the sole non-signatory of the lease – AVA was Rosauro Tapal Sr. However, his wife, Mrs. Alma Tapal approved and signed all documents related to the Lease - AVA, including the contract of lease for the land donated by MEPI to the couple.

 “MEPI denies Tapal’s allegations that it is in violation of the CARL. MEPI stresses that it is Tapal who reneged on the terms of the land donation that he accepted but unlawfully refused to comply with its condition.

  “In 2006, a breakaway group of ARBs led by Tapal, SIFARBCO, began agitating to unilaterally break their commitment to the Lease - AVA. In 2010, SIFARBCO illegally occupied 100 hectares of the plantation but were ordered ejected by the authorities after causing P25 million in damages. SIFARBCO’s ejection and dismissal of its members from employment were upheld by all government entities, including the Agrarian Reform Adjudicating Board, and the National Labor Relations Council. The President ordered that several hearings and meetings be held to address the concerns of all parties.

 “On Jan. 7, 2020, the ARBs wrote a letter to the PARC stating that in consultation with the Provincial Agrarian Reform Coordinating Committees [PARCCOM], 81% or 612 of 761 ARBs have finally signed individually the 5th Amendment of the Lease - AVA with MEPI. 

“The benefits of the 5th Amendment of the Lease - AVA remain open to all ARBs including Tapal and those in the minority group, of whom several have already signed to continue their beneficial arrangement with MEPI.

 “MEPI remains committed to working with the ARBs and its workers to uplift families, observe social justice, and fully comply with the laws of the land.

 “”MEPI denies that it has ignored Tapal’s demands for compensation. It has asked Tapal to affirm his consent to the contract of lease signed by his wife, and which was the requirement for MEPI’s land donation to the couple. This would then allow MEPI to release to Tapal the lease rentals due to him.

 “MEPI also denies Tapal’s claim that it has not replied to his criminal complaint filed before the Davao del Norte Prosecutor last November. Aside from furnishing him the reply, MEPI’s counsels met with Tapal and his counsel last Jan. 8, in a hearing held by DAR Tagum office. This was after the Davao del Norte prosecutor referred Tapal’s case to the DAR to determine whether or not this is an agrarian dispute that should be filed before the DAR.

 “MEPI’s counsels informed the DAR hearing officer that Tapal’s case is the same as the pending case before the PARC on the validity of the Lease - AVA filed by DAMARB-MPC and MEPI. In fact, Tapal has written the President a letter seeking to expedite their resolution by the PARC.

 “We are hopeful that the existing case before the PARC can be resolved to benefit the vast majority of the ARBs who are MEPI’s partners in Sto. Tomas Plantation.” -Atty. Enrique Dimaano, Corporate Secretary, MEPI   

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com    

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