ARBs agree to ‘win-win’ solution with Marsman

Marsman Estate Plantation Incorporated (MEPI) workers undertake cleaning and clearing operations on land now owned by agrarian reform beneficiaries who have signed a leaseback agreement with the company. The beneficiaries will now get P90,000 per hectare per year plus other production incentives. Photo courtesy of Kim Ignacio

Marsman Estate Plantation Incorporated (MEPI) and the 622 ARB-members of Davao Marsman Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative (DAMARB-MPC) agree to sign a fifth amendment to their land lease contract seen as a “win-win solution” for both the beneficiaries and the banana export producer.

DAMARB-MPC chairman Hernando Rivero said: “after almost two years of negotiations we have finally reached an amicable arrangement with MEPI regarding our members’ plea for rental adjustment.”

 DAMARB-MPC entered into a lease-back agreement with MEPI in 2000 after the 799-hectare banana plantation was donated to the cooperative.  The lease agreement was approved by Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) which, at that time, was headed by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, on the condition that the ARBs could freely choose what they want to do with their land. About 762 ARBs chose to enter into a lease contract with MEPI.  This lease agreement, however, was revoked in 2016 by President Rodrigo R. Duterte, as head of PARC, acting on the recommendation of former Acting Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, whose nomination was rejected by the Commission on Appointment.

 This led DAMARB-MPC and MEPI to separately file a Motion for Reconsideration on the order of revocation. DAR officials were then directed by President Duterte to hold dialogues with the stakeholders and to come up with what he termed as a “win-win solution.”

 After numerous discussions, 622 of the 762 ARBs—or 82% majority—have finally come into terms with MEPI.  Rivero pointed out that the ARBs of MEPI and with the guidance of the Provincial Agrarian Reform Coordinating Committee (PARCCOM) have agreed to sign the fifth amendment to the contract, where the land rental is increased from the existing P50,000 per hectare per year to P90,000—made immediately effective upon signing last December 2019. 

Rivero added that the ARBs who signed the latest amendment also received a three-year advance rental which, he said is, “a big help to our members who are mostly retired and sickly.”  

With this recent development, the cooperative and the ARBs, through its officers have affirmed their commitment to defend and support the validity of the lease agreement that they signed with MEPI in 2000.  Rolando Lusterio, the first chairman of DAMARB-MPC and now a member of the Board, said: “I will personally deliver the message of our ARB-members to DAR officials to respect and recognize the will of our people to continue with the lease.”      

Another member of DAMARB-MPC Board, Edwin Gil added: “We are extremely happy and doubly grateful to MEPI.  First, they gave us the land for free without us paying for anything. And second, now they are paying us a generous land rental fee.”

Victor Mercado Jr., MEPI president and chief operating officer, said: “We have always believed that we should also share the bounties of the land to its owners, our agrarian reform beneficiaries.”

When asked about those ARBs who did not sign the latest revisions to the contract, Mercado said: “the offer of MEPI to give the improved rental is open to them if ever they decide to sign the fifth amendment.   They will always be a part of our MEPI family being former employees of the company. “ 

 MEPI is one of the pioneers in the banana industry and is known to be among those who have the highest productivity per hectare per year.

In support to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the government, MEPI in 2000 donated 799 hectares of its banana plantation to its employees who were qualified and identified by DAR to become beneficiaries.  The donation carried a condition that MEPI will be allowed to lease back the land from the ARBs for 30 years. With the said arrangement, the government was relieved from having to pay MEPI just compensation for the land that is valued at more than P1 billion.

 In the original lease contract, the rental per hectare per year was set at P4,500. This was then amended in 2013 to reflect an adjustment of the annual rental to P12,000 per hectare.  Subsequent adjustments were implemented in 2016 and in 2017, setting the annual rental to P25,000 and P50,000, respectively.

 When another member of DAMARB-MPC Board Nilo Magaway was asked what prompted him to stick with MEPI, he explained “farming Cavendish banana is a risky business. If the weather is bad or if the farms get infected with diseases, productivity suffers. We would rather be on the safe side and have it rented to MEPI.  Besides, at the end of the day, we should all be very thankful to MEPI that we became owners of these lands for free”

 Apart from the land rentals, MEPI provides additional benefits to its ARBs, including employment rights, scholarship to ARBs dependents, medical health insurance, and even mortuary assistance. (PR)