AROUND 800 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) rallied in front of the administration building of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) demanding to give their land back.

The farmers claimed Lapanday has taken over 1,000 hectares of agrarian reform land under their groups' Certificates of Land Ownership Award (Cloa).

The protesters include Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac) members of the farmer cooperatives from barangay Madaum and barangay San Isidro, Tagum City including the Madaum Agrariam Reform Beneficiaries Incorporated (Marbai) and Hijo Agrarian Reform beneficiaries cooperative (Harbco- Madaum).

Humawac chairperson Reynante Mantos told SunStar Davao, Marbai has been removed from their land for six years now, a claim Lapanday denies.

Mantos said LFC justified their actions by stating that cooperatives have no capacity to till the land, and this is because farmers owe the farm implements and products they need from the company.

He said the conflict stemmed when 159 members of Marbai separated from their mother cooperative, HEARBCO-1, when it entered into a banana sales marketing agreement with Lapanday in 2010.

“Marbai refused to sign because they saw the low pricing of their products and at the same time each member can only receive approximately P1,000 for 15 days," Mantos said.

Mantos said since that time Marbai refused to sell to Lapanday and the company filed a case against the cooperative for doing this.

They fought this out at the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjucation Board (Darab), which ruled in their favor in 2010, he said.

But when the coop members tried to harvest their produce, around 300 armed men were deployed to stop them.

He said that Harbco which has 400 hectares of land can only use 149 hectares because their land was also controlled by Lapanday, and 129 hectares owned by Marbai was also fully controlled by LFC.

He said Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano visited them last October 22 and committed to help them but until now they have not received concrete assistance from DAR Davao region.

Lapanday, in a statement, denied they claimed ownership of the land.

"Lapanday Foods Corporation clarifies that it does not claim ownership over agrarian reform lands awarded to Hijo Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (HARBCO) and Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). This is in reaction to a recent gathering of members and sympathizers of these cooperatives at its offices in Davao City," the statement read.

The LFC said these cooperatives remain the absolute owners of these lands and they only want "these cooperatives honor and respect their valid and lawful contracts with LFC that mandate them to sell the bananas produced in their farms to LFC and allow LFC to manage their farms to ensure the quality of their produce."

The company also said in the contracts where HARBCO borrowed funds for its use from LFC, HARBCO and LFC entered into a banana sales and marketing agreement in 1998 and a general framework on farm handling last December 23, 2008.

In these contracts, HARBCO committed to exclusively sell bananas produced in its farm to LFC and allow LFC to manage its farms to ensure the export quality of the bananas.

The LFC added that HARBCO, through its board of directors and general assembly, approved these contracts with the participation of concerned government agencies. HEARBCO-1 also have similar contracts with LFC duly approved by its board of directors and general assembly.

In 2011, LFC and HEARBCO-1 even entered into a compromise agreement to settle their differences. Also in the agreement, HEARBCO-1 affirmed the validity of its contracts and complied with it.

Lapanday also said HEARBCO-1 acknowledged its liabilities to LFC and allowed LFC to manage the less productive portion of its land.

Lapanday also cited that a compromise agreement was approved by the Davao Regional Trial Court and is covered by a subsisting writ of execution.

On May 27, 2016, HEARBCO-1 and LFC entered into a supplement to the compromise agreement wherein they both affirmed the validity of their contracts and LFC granted HEARBCO-1 financial and other concessions.

The company also said "it is the internal conflict by and among the members of these cooperatives that have caused financial and operational problems including as a result, parts of these lands now being abandoned and thus, unproductive."

The company also alleged some members have resorted to stealing the fruits owned by LFC and selling these to third parties, which it said "violate the valid contracts and are criminal acts."

The LFC already filed several criminal cases before the proper courts to vindicate its rights.

It also warned that "it will continue to prosecute all individuals and parties who will be responsible for stealing from its property and who conspire to break these contracts or will inflict damage to LFC property and personnel."