AGRARIAN Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones yesterday appealed to minority agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) of Marsman Estate Plantations Inc. (MEPI) to resolve long-standing issues with one of the country’s top export banana growers.
In a radio interview with Davao-based RGMA 1125kHz Saksi program, the Agrarian Reform chief said: “The important thing is that [the ARBs] continue to receive their benefits from a business organization which entered into an agreement with them originally.”
Castriciones was referring to the decision made by the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) on September 1, 2021, to uphold and continue the leaseback agreement between MEPI and the majority ARBs under the Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose cooperative (DAMARB MPC).
This decision effectively negated PARC Resolution No. 2016-30-05 issued in 2016 which revoked the Contract of Lease between MEPI and DAMARB MPC.
Castriciones explained that during the PARC meeting “[the council members] had a discussion and we talked about how to resolve this motion. The first group, DAMARB MPC—which is composed more or less of 700 farmers, and they are the majority—wants to set aside the first resolution which revoked the AVA with MEPI. However, this other group opposed it and they are composed of only a few ARBs.”
He added that “If this minority will separate, the lands that they have are located in different areas, i.e., some in the middle, some on the sides, which are separate. So, what happens is that if the land is given to them, there won’t be any value or meaning to the business and will affect the majority of the ARBs.” MEPI is one of the country’s top exporters of Cavendish banana.
The Agrarian Reform secretary pointed out that during the PARC meeting, “the majority though voted that the first resolution should be set aside because it will affect the majority of the ARBs. Furthermore, the ARBs and MEPI already have a new agreement which basically says they will continue with their agribusiness venture agreement (AVA). The decision is not only favorable to MEPI but also to DAMARB MPC [members]. The two [parties] want to continue with their AVA agreement”.
Castriciones emphasized that: “since we are in a democracy, the will of the majority will be followed and what the minority insists cannot be done because the majority of the farmers will benefit as well as the corporation which entered into this agreement with the beneficiaries.”
It should be pointed out that even as the minority beneficiaries oppose the deal, they continue to receive the same benefits the majority beneficiaries receive.
MEPI’s agrarian reform beneficiaries received their land for free under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program without any cost to them and the government but on the condition that there will be a leaseback agreement.
For this leaseback deal, the beneficiaries are currently paid P90,000 per hectare—which is the highest land rental in the country’s agricultural sector—aside from a host of other benefits.
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