Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary Rafael Mariano denied he committed graft and corruption when he personally led the installation of 159 agrarian reform beneficiaries last May 18 in Tagum City.
In a press conference, Mariano said all agrarian reform disputes are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR and only the Supreme Court may restrain the agency from implementing its decisions.
Instead, Mariano said Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) mocks the Duterte government’s call for change by using the courts to thwart the implementation of genuine agrarian reform.
“President Duterte has time and time again warned against the ‘use of courts’ to block the mandate of land reform, which is to distribute land to agrarian reform beneficiaries,” Mariano said.
“We are just following the president’s directives,” he added.
Mariano said the criminal and administrative complaint filed by LFC counsel Noel Oliver Punzalan “is a move by the LFC to harass officials of the DAR.”
Punzalan filed the graft and corruption charge against Mariano and DAR undersecretary for legal affairs Luis Meinrado Pangulayan before the Office of the Ombudsman for “unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference” to Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Inc. (MARBAI) on the day the farmers were formally installed in the property last May 18.
Punzalan sought a preventive suspension against Mariano and Pangulayan “due to the seriousness and depravity of the acts they committed.”
Punzalan also alleged that Mariano’s successive Cease and Desist Order (CDO), Writ of Installation and Break Open Order from December last year to this month violated a Writ of Execution by the Regional Trial Court of Davao City.
“Mariano’s CDO disregarded the fact that LFC’s possesion and management of the area is by virtue of a prior and final and executory order issued by the RTC of Davao City,” Punzalan said.
The embattled secretary however countered, saying “Lapanday’s contract is not binding to MARBAI as it was executed with the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 which already ceded the disputed portion of the banana plantation to MARBAI farmers.
He said he also served the writ of installation after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered him to proceed with the installation during his visit at the MARBAI farmers’ protest camp in Mendiola.
Pangulayan for his part said the DAR just executed its quasi-judicial powers and gave no undue benefit to MARBAI farmers.
DAR said Republic Act 6657 (the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) gives DAR the sole authority to determine if a case in Court is an agrarian in nature.
“This is the reason why all Courts are required by Section 50-A of RA 6657, as amended, to automatically refer all such cases to DAR,” it said.
He also denied that the agency committed gross negligence and bad faith in installing the farmers.
“The charges are just selfish corporate interest manifesting itself,” Pangulayan said.
“We will reply to the charges when required by the Office of the Ombudsman,” he added.
Lapanday is liable
Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao for his part said LFC should in fact be grateful to Mariano who gave the agri-business corporation more leeway than it deserved, more so in light of its continuing violence against the farmers.
“DAR could have filed contempt charges against the company for refusing to comply with the agency’s lawful orders,” Casilao said.
The charges against Secretary Mariano and Undersecretary Pangulayan are “weak, baseless and should pave the wave for disbarment complaints against Punzalan for ignorance of the law,” he said.
“We call on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to be impartial, as (another Lapanday counsel) Mans Carpio is her nephew as we also condemn LFC’s continuing harassment of the farmers,” Casilao said.
Casilao said Philippine National Police personnel in Tagum City have noticed 100 LFC guards near the MARBAI property a day after Mariano installed the farmers.
DAR also said that armed LFC security guards have positioned themselves near the MARBAI farmers’ campout with military amphibian vehicles stationed within the 70-meter radius.
The farmer-beneficiaries have expressed alarm over their security with fears of being ejected again from their government-awarded lands.
Meanwhile, Mariano and the DAR received support from other government officials who attended the agency’s flag-raising ceremony and installation of murals at the DAR Central Office lobby.
Murals on agrarian reform, national industrialization, social justice, self determination and other social issues by progressive artists have been installed along the main stairwell of the main DAR building in Quezon City.
Department of Social Work and Development secretary Judy Taguiwalo as well leaders of progressive groups, farmers and peasant organizations attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.# ( Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)