DAR officials slammed for deceptive tactics, insensitivity

Davao banana company mulls Ombudsman suit

The management of the Davao-based Marsman Estate Plantation, Inc. (MEPI) decried the deceptive tactics employed by two ranking government officials to agitate and confuse agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) regarding the fate of their  Agribusiness Venture Agreements (AVA) with the company.

In a letter addressed to the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC), which is chaired by President Duterte, MEPI also assailed the insensitivity of Undersecretaries David Erro and Marcos Risonar of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to the plight of ARBs and other workers in MEPI’s banana plantation.

MEPI president Antero Sison, Jr. said he found it both appalling and disturbing that the two DAR officials would resort to “deliberate and organized misinformation” when they held a consultative meeting in Tagum City last March 23 with members of the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Development Cooperative (DAMARDEVCO).

Sison said the actions of the DAR representatives were “totally unfair, misleading and devoid of due process as we have not been given the opportunity to correct these obviously erroneous and biased statements made by them.”  

“Surely, the behavior of the DAR representatives is not aligned with the spirit in which President Duterte would like the pending issues to be resolved, which is that of fairness and transparency instead of misinformation and confusion,” Sison said in his letter that was also addressed to DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano. 

Sison said that on MEPI’s part, it is “ready and committed to clarify and present factual and legal grounds” to back up its position. 

He also said that “MEPI reserves its right to take the appropriate legal measures to protect its interest, including bringing this matter up to the Office of the Ombudsman.” 

The consultative meeting in Tagum was held to discuss whether the AVA between MEPI and DAMARDEVCO should be continued and determine the options open to ARBs in case they elect to get out of the existing lease contract. MEPI was not invited to the meeting.             

Sison said in his letter dated March 24 that in the meeting, Erro, who also acts as the PARC Council Secretary, and Risonar, the DAR undersecretary for field operations,  misled the ARBs by telling them the  following erroneous statements:

  • The revocation of the AVA between MEPI and DAMARBDEVCO is already final and executory. Sison said this statement is “not factual and is misleading” because the PARC, in a March 7 letter to MEPI, informed the company that the Council agreed to defer action on the issue and that President Duterte had instructed the DAR to hold consultations with the parties involved “to discuss the intention to continue, modify or rescind the subject lease AVA with MEPI.”

  • MEPI no longer has legal ground to appeal the decision for the AVA cancellation. Sison said that this is again misleading because such claim “is not supported by legal grounds as MEPI’s motion for reconsideration has not been decided with finality.”

  • With the cancellation of the lease AVA with MEPI, the two other ARB cooperatives – SIFABCO and STARBENCO – may now take over the MEPI farm. Sison said that such a patently false statement  “is alarming as it amounts to fomenting anarchy and instigating possible violence” and shows “conduct unbecoming of government officials.” Sison said that granting for the sake of argument that the lease AVA is cancelled, an interim period would still have to be observed by the parties involved to determine the arrangement that will govern their relationship.

  • The land originally donated by MEPI to DAMARBDEVCO was made to DAR and not to the ARBs and, therefore the ARB, need not worry about payment of just compensation to MEPI when the AVA is revoked.  Sison said “this is completely wrong as the records will clearly show that the land was donated to DAMARBDEVCO and eventually subdivided to the individual ARBs to whom respective Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs) were issued.”

  • The ARBs will no longer have to pay for the land when the lease AVA with MEPI is revoked because they have House Bill 555, which bars the foreclosure of their land even with the nonpayment of amortizations to Land Bank, to rely on. Sison said this is another misleading statement. “How can House Bill 555 be used as a basis when it is not yet a law and there is no assurance that it will become a law?” Sison asked. Moreover, Sison said “the CARP law also clearly states that the Land Bank may foreclose the land in case of failure to pay three annual amortizations.” “With the DAR’s statement, the ARBs were given  the wrong impression that they are not obligated to pay for the land at all,” Sison said.

Sison said he was also alarmed over the “uncaring” attitude of the DAR officials on the welfare of the ARBs and other MEPI workers who would end up jobless when the AVA is revoked.  Sison said DAMARBDEVCO members informed him that the DAR officials told them that their plight was no longer DAR’s concern.

“Asked what will happen to the more than 1,800 employees of MEPI who will become jobless and to their 8,000 dependents if the lease AVA is cancelled and MEPI shuts down, the DAR representatives said that this is not their concern and that the employees can go to the Department of Labor and Employment to address that issue,” Sison said in his letter. 

“This unfortunately shows utter disregard and uncaring attitude for the economic consequences of the Lease AVA cancellation,” he added. 

Sison pointed out that on top of causing “economic and reputational damage” to MEPI, the deliberately erroneous statements made by the DAR officials also caused “confusion among the ARBs who may not anymore be able to make rational and intelligent decisions that will determine their economic future.” 

“In the interest of fairness and transparency, we strongly urge the PARC to cause the DAR representatives to clarify as soon as possible the concerns expressed by the DAMARBDEVCO officers and members,” Sison said in his letter.

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