Tagum shooting by alleged Lapanday guards shows land still the root of PH unrest

(Photos and video by Kilab Multimedia. Do not use without credit.)

A long-running conflict between Lapanday Foods Corporation and agrarian reform beneficiaries in Tagum City, the capital of Davao del Norte, exploded today in a shooting incident that followed a successful attempt by farmers to reclaim their land.

Renante Mantos, chairperson of  Hugpong Sa Mga Mag-uuma sa Walhog Compostela (Humawac), the alliance of farmer cooperatives from the Tagum barangays of Madaum and San Isidro, said in a phone interview that guards of Lapanday’s security agency, ACDISA, wounded seven protesters.

Jose Balucos, 42yrs old; Rico Saladaga , Jojo Gomez , Belardo Francisco, Emanuel Buladaco,46 yrs old; Taldan Miparanun,16yrs old; and Joseph Bertulfo, 58yrs old, were rushed to the Davao Regional Medical Center.

Buladaco and Bertulfo are among the 159 direct beneficiaries involved in the protest, according to Mantos, who remains with more than 200 farmers on the reclaimed land.

The others are members of Humawac cooperatives in the Southern Mindanao area, who reinforced the beneficiaries in their efforts to assert their landonwership that a regional trial court and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2011. He said they are waiting for medical updates on their colleagues.

The shooting came two days after some 2,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries and supporters stormed the gates of their land – forcibly taken over by Lapanday in 2011 following the DAR decision.


Festering conflict

Documenting an attack. Farmers take out mobile phones as masked, armed guards, allegedly controlled by Lapanday Foods Corp., approach them in Madaum, Tagum City, where a long-running land conflict exploded into violence on Dec. 12, wounding seven protesters.

Mantos said armed guards of Lapanday entered the encampment past 7 a.m.

He and other protest leaders were holding a dialogue with the guards’ leader, only known by his surname, Vicente, just three meters from the main bulk of protesters when they heard gunshots.

As protesters rushed to aid the fallen, the guards retreated. The other protesters strengthened their barricades and undertook defensive formations.

After the wounded were taken off the encampment, Mantos siad, the guards returned, having replaced their guns with wooden clubs. They challenged the farmers to a brawl but were ignored, Mantos added.

The land dispute in an area barely an hour from President Rodrigo Duterte’s Davao City turf has been festering since 1996 when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded 724 farmers in Madaum nearly 570 hectates of land, mostly planted with banana export crop.

Lapanday just released this statement:

Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) denies any involvement in the reported shooting of alleged agrarian reform beneficiaries in Barangay Madaum, Tagum City this morning. Since last week, the company has been seeking police assistance to investigate the presence of armed men who were seen within the areas under Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 (HEARBCO-1). HEARBCO-1 which has acknowledged its existing and valid contracts with LFC has been in conflict with a breakaway group of its former members led by Mely Yu who has been engaging armed men to inflict violence and disrupt operations in the farm. Mely Yu and her group were ousted as officers by the majority of HEARBCO-1 in 2011 and since then, her group has caused severe damage to the cooperative. This internal conflict among the HEARBCO-1 and this breakaway group may be the reason for this latest incident.

Protesters deny the claim of armed men, saying guards fired in the air when they asserted farmers’ right to the land. A Kilab Multimedia photo shows most of the protesters without shirts “to prove they were not armed.”

The timeline of the land dispute also indicates that Lapanday has waged a legal battle with the farmers — and lost its case twice.

A decade of woes

Protest signs along the Madaum highway, where guards, allegedly controlled by Lapanday Foods Corp, shot farmers reclaiming the land. (Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

The DAR order was covered by Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) No.00398239, issued under Transfer Certificate of Title No. C-10527 and registered on 18 December 1996.

The mother cooperative of beneficiaries, the HIJO EMPLOYEES AGRARIAN REFORM COOPERATIVE 1 (HEARCO1), signed a Banana Sales and Marketing Agreement (BSMA) with Lapanday, owned by the Lorenzo family.

Mantos said within two years, many farmer beneficiaries expressed dismay at the low price for their products and the many supposed debts subtracted from their sales income, “kasi di nila alam saan nanggagaling ang utang at walang supporting documents.”

In the ten years, from 1998 to 2008, skirmishes between restive beneficiaries and guards cost two lives and injured several from both sides of the conflict. Farmer leaders were also booted out of work and reinstated only after years of legal battle.

When the contract with Lapanday expired in 2009, the beneficiaries undertook a referendum for future plans. Majority voted to extend the contract, while 159 voted No.

The nay-voters eventually reached an agreement with the mother cooperative, which allowed them to leave, ceding over 145 hectares covered by a document.

“They found a new buyer with better contract — $8 a box from $4 a box paid by Lapanday,” Mantos said.

The DAR ruled in favor of the benificiaries in 2010, upholding their right to the land parcel ceded by the mother cooperative.

Lapanday: no owner – but exerts control

Mantos said the 145 hectares is only one case. Other land parcels are also involved in on-going disputes between beneficiaries and Lapanday, for unjust wages and onerous practices – reminiscent, he said, of the old, feudal plantation setups in the pre-CARP era.

Lapanday denies ownership of the land. But it filed a a case against the new group, covering the lands they tilled. The corporation lost that legal battle too, with the regional trial court ruling in favor of the formers.

Mantos said the agrarian reform beneficiaries were preparing to till the land after victory when “300 Lapanday guards and goons atacked.”

“Tinutukan sila ng baril at pinalayas,” he said. (Guns were pointed at them and they were forced off the land.)

Despite the legal victories, the beneficiaries were kept out of their lands for the next six years.

After seven months of pickets at the gate of Lapanday’s local office, the farmers sought reinforcement from other peasant’s group in the region and entered to reclaim their land on December 9.

Lapanday, in a statement released to Sunstar Davao last month, said:


“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 Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas – Southern Mindanao said the tagum dispute “is a classic example of what Pres.Duterte refers to as Feudalism.”

The KMP urged Duterte “to walk the talk” and intervene with the farmers upholding the DAR decision.

“We hope that he understands very well that agrarian reform remains myth so long as landlords continously grabbed the lands of nameless farmers. If the farmers will not fight for their rights to survive what assurance can they get from this landlord-dominated government?” said KMP-SMR chairperson, Pedro Arnado.

Lords of the land

A 2015 campaign poster linking the failures of agrarian reform in old and new order of leaders. (Graphic by UMA Pilipinas)

The Tagum dispute is an emblem of the struggles that face Filipino farmers decades after the passage of what was pledged to be a landmark law for a comprehensive agrarian reform program (CARP) and congress approval of a successor program, Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform (CARPER).

Lapanday is controlled by the Lorenzo clan. Its chief executive officer, Regina Lorenzo, is the sister of Martin Lorenzo, a top executive of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, the sugar mill of the Cojuangco clan’s sprawling Hacienda Luisita.

A recent outbreak of violence also occurred in Luisita, where beleaguered land workers still have to benefit fully from a final Supreme Court ruling in 2013.

Distribution of land has gone very slowly for beneficiaries. In 2009, the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department of the House of Representatives, said CARP had a balance of 1.6 million hectares, covering 1.2 million farmer beneficiaries. The environment department, it added, also had nearly 600,000 hectares of land still undistributed to farmer-tillers.

CARPER received a P150 billion budget. But in a 2015 report, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said DAR had still failed to distribute 726, 421 hectares and the DENR still had some 100,000 hectares to go.

Even those who have received land continue to struggle from their lack of access to affordable credit, the continued lack of support mechanisms from government and the market control exercised by agriculture dealers who are also often big landlords.

The hardships often end up with re-concentration of lands, which are then blamed on workers and not on government neglect and collusion with big landowners.

Halting an unjust cycle

uma-2016-card2In August, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the former representative of militant party-list group, Anakpawis, received President Rodrigo Duterte’s backing on the planned executive order for a halt to land use conversion.

Mariano said the proposed EO should also cover applications for exemption/exclusion of land from the coverage of CARP and other agrarian reform laws and programs.

The practice is currently allowed by Section 20 of the Local Government Code, which authorizes municipal and city councils to reclassify agricultural lands into other uses.

It’s a long, long fight, paid for by tears and blood. Farmers formed the bulk of restive Filipinos who rose up against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and joined the New People’s Army as big ticket development projects drove them off their lands.

Sixteen years after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship, Bulatlat.com came out with a damning report on CARP: Lands are Back in the Hands of the Lords.

Read Also: Are Filipino Peasants Better Off Now?

It’s now four decades since the EDSA People Power Revolt. Farmers are still shedding blood for lands that are theirs by right.





These Arroyo terror tactics survive in the time of Aquino

Jovito Palparan, known as the butcher of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo simpered as she hailed as “hero” an officer called “the butcher” for his long record of human rights violations. His name: Jovito Palparan.

Under the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, 470 political activists were killed by the state’s armed henchmen. They were either gunned down near their homes and place of work or arrested, tortured and then dumped somewhere. Some, like Jonas Burgos, remain missing.

In 2010, before he took his oath as President, Benigno Aquino III met with European ambassadors over the issue of human rights and vowed to bring “closure” to the one of the worst records for a democracy.

“Cases of extrajudicial killings need to be solved, not just identify the perpetrators but have them captured and sent to jail,” he told journalists after the meeting.

Mrs. Arroyo ruled for nine years. Mr. Aquino is entering the last of his six years in office.

Under the incumbent, the human rights group Karapatan has documented 262 incidents of extrajudicial killings and 292 victims of frustrated killings. Do the math.


Jonas’ mother, Edith, his wife and daughter, continue to look for him. One of the officers suspected of having a hand in his abduction – broad daylight, in a crowded Metro Manila mall – has just been appointed Army chief by Mr. Aquino.

Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año was among those charged by Mrs. Burgos for the abduction of Jonas. He was exonerated in what the family called a “whitewash.”

“I believe that at one point during Jonas’ disappearance, Año had custody of Jonas,” Mrs. Burgos stressed in a statement.

She warns that with Año’s appointment as army chief, “there is no hope at all that justice will be obtained for human rights crimes during the watch of Aquino.” Jonas’ mother adds,

I fear for defenders, victims and independent minded human rights workers. With so much power in the hands of a head of an Institution reputed to be a violator of human rights, we can only pray to the Lord Almighty to have mercy.

Like Mrs. Arroyo’s hero, Año’s record – latest as head of the 10th Infantry Division in Mindanao – is littered by a trail of allegations: extrajudicial killings, disappearances, illegal arrests, torture, hamletting and forcible exacuation of civilians, according to Karapatan. He probably accounts for a good share of the 60,000 persons displaced and dislocated due to military operations under Mr. Aquino’s administration.

Why is the son of democratic icons increasingly looking like his much-hated predecessor? There has been no halt to the killings of political dissidents (or journalists). There certainly has been no closure, despite the arrest of Palparan.

Terror tactics

What has happened in the last few months is an upsurge in rights violations. Aside from killings, the stalking of activists has become more pronounced, more brazen, more deliberate and broader in scope.

Several members and officers of COURAGE, the labor federation of government workers, have asked the Supreme Court a writ of amparo.

“It is a remedy available to any person whose right to life, liberty, and security has been violated or is threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or of a private individual or entity. The writ covers extralegal killings and enforced disappearances or threats thereof.”

Read the Courage petition, with a context on the writ of amparo’s historical background in the Philippines:
Amparo Petition by Courage


The stories behind their petition are chilling.

Men going to their homes, or offices, accosting them on the streets, on public transportation – in most cases there is a note with a mobile phone number to call. In all cases, there is one message: We know your (legal) organization serves the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army. Your life is in danger. You cooperate with us, or else.

At the National Food Administration, security staff took in for questioning on April 21 a man with a gun. He was asking for the whereabouts of for Hilario M. Tan, retired NFA employee and former vice president of the National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Evelyn P. Garcia, , NFA employee and national assistant secretary general of the organization.

The man claimed to be a Sgt. Borres, liaison officer of the Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (ISAFP). He could not produce a mission order for his gun. Why he was allowed to leave under these circumstances is a question the NFA should account for.
There are many other cases just in the summer of 2015. You can read about these here.

COURAGE documents stalking of PH government activists


Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers' union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.
Vehicles and men caught trailing Antonieta Setias-Dizon, former Deputy Secretary General of government workers’ union COURAGE and still an adviser of the group.

You’d think the filing of a writ of amparo petition in the Supreme Court would give harassers some pause.

What happened was the opposite.

Courage adviser and former deputy secretary-general Antonieta Setias-Dizon is among the petitioners. Twice this summer, a man had accosted her, making the same demand as those received by her peers.

Lately, Setias-Dizon documented the presence of a silver Toyota Innova vehicle always on her trail. The vehicle carries the plate number AAM 3129. More than one man are involved in what in military lingo is the surveillance.

That vehicle was parked near the Supreme Court when Setias-Dizon and company filed their petition. It followed her to  the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Office in Ortigas where she sought refuge. In what seems to be an escalating operation, the Inova was joined by a Red Pajero, another Toyota Innova and three Honda motorcycles. 

I asked new Commission on Human Rights Chair Chito Gascon about the latest harassment case. His reply via Facebook:

Thanks for the alert… i had previously written to the AFP Human Rights Office about other reports of harassment of COURAGE leaders… BUT, this is a new development… will have the matter looked into as well… keep the faith!!! Press On

The CHR can monitor. It can issue statements and write letters. But it has no prosecutory powers. Still, if some former activists now in government can risk the ire of their touchy Boss, they would be doing the country a service.

Activists can be pesky for the powers-that-be. Their rallies could inconvenience commuters. But review their role in pushing for reforms: the legal victories leading to the rollback of power rates; the hue and cry and the petitions that led to the landmark SC victories against pork, both legislative (PDAF) and executive (DAP).

Most so-called democratic gains that Filipinos enjoy today were not gifts from the country’s powers. They were fruits of struggle. You let the silence of the grave blanket activists, you let darkness cover our society.