CARP: Threat or opportunity?
Second of Two Parts
By Gina Mission

When Betty Francia of the Philippine Banana Growers and Exporters Association (PBGEA), heard of the August 10 Hijo Plantation shootout, she knew things were not going well inside the plantation. She may not have figures to back up her claim, but she believes, nonetheless, that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is not good for the banana industry.

___"Just look at what is happening to Hijo Plantation," Francia said, referring to the shootout. CARP, she said, may not have been the direct cause of the tension, but did contribute to it, if indirectly.

___The Hijo Plantation is a 1,227 hectare banana plantation jointly owned by Jose Tuazon Jr., Manuel Lim, and Jesus Ayala and located in Tagum, Davao del Norte. It went under CARP in 1996 and the land was turned over to its beneficiaries in January of 1997. Three cooperatives, most commonly referred to as Coop A, Coop B, and Coop C, by the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) were subsequently formed. ARBs and previous owners entered into a "growership" agreement, whereby the ARBs take care of the production of bananas and sell them to the Hijo management.

___Recent events, however, have plunged Hijo Plantation into a state that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) could only describe as "tension-filled." Last Tuesday, two opposing factions of ARBs figured in a shooting incident that killed one person and injured 19 others.

___The shootout was triggered by a marketing dispute. One group wanted to sell their yields outside of Hijo, while the other wanted to remain selling bananas to the company.

___DAR responded to the Hijo "tension" by arranging, through Secretary Horacio Morales, a "dialogue among representatives of government agencies and various groups to resolve the differences between the two opposing factions."

___Cases such as Hijos’, Francia pointed out, are causing the decline of the banana export. "All these squabbles over who should do what, is harming the plantation’s production. It’s not good for the industry," she said.

___But the Hijo Plantation experience was not at all that thorny at the start. Said Dina Fuentes, legal counsel for the company. "When the land was put under CARP, there was no longer a labor-management relationship, but a buyer-seller one." The seller being the ARBs, and the buyer, its former owners. Coop C members, she added, are actually happy with the way things are happening at the plantation. It was only when Dole Philippines came into the picture and started buying bananas from the Hijo growers, she continued, that the "tension" began.

___Jowen Berber of the Philippine Peasant Institute (PPI), for all her organization’s pro-agrarian reform stand, also conceded, in an interview with CyberDyaryo, that there is indeed a "seeming weakness" of CARP in as far as the banana plantations in Davao, particularly Marsman and Hijo, are concerned. However, she blames the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for it.

___"It is true that the transition from being land workers to landowners is a completely new concept to the beneficiaries. The whole process of distributing CARP-able lands takes more than a year. DAR should ensure that by the time the land has been transferred to them, they are already ready for such role change," Berber said.

___On this matter, the DAR, Berber stressed, "needs to be more aggressive."

___As a PPI study, The Philippine Banana Industry: Confronting the Challenge of Agrarian Reform, concluded: "To be sure, many other issues hound the long-awaited redistribution of banana plantations. Chief among these is ensuring the capacity of beneficiaries to manage and sustain the plantations’ operations. DAR efforts so far, in assisting beneficiaries in this regard have been severely limited. Without interventions from development NGOs, beneficiaries’ organizations often find themselves at a loss on what to do once land transfer does occur."

___Another limiting factor of the CARP program, as discussed in the PPI study, is the intrinsic disadvantaged position of the beneficiaries. "Coming as they do from a disadvantaged position relative to management, farm workers, unless assisted, may not be able to assert their rights over managing the land and securing a fair share of the plantations’ profits," the study said.

___The study of Salvador Feranil of Philnet, an NGO tapped by DAR to help the agency implement CARP, showed how "CARP-ing" banana plantations disturbs established industrial relations as well as compensation packages. "It frees the employers from the obligation of having to pay legislated wage increases and benefits for the workers as such burdens have been passed on to the growers," he said.

___Corporations, Feranil said, do not have to worry about labor disputes, as most farm workers technically have the growers as their employers. "And to ensure that organized labor movements do not develop in the
plantations, most growers hire laborers on a contractual or piece work system," he said.

___DAR, on the other hand, remains silent on these "CARP obstacles," maintaining its official word that "CARP is implemented to improve the lives of the ARBs, through land distribution and support services."

___For his part, Marsman employee Claudio Nalzaro said that if CARP is implemented in the easiest way possible and with all its policies strictly followed, the program might be good for Marsman workers after all. However, he also added: "Unless we can categorically say our income will increase after we shall have become landowners, CARP will not have any meaning to us."

CyberDyaryo | 1999.08.12