More than 200 farmers and farmworkers of eleven haciendas controlled by business tycoon Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr. in Negros Island Region are holding a camp-out at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) regional office in Bacolod City to demand the termination of ‘corporative scheme’ and ‘joint venture agreements’ that tied 5,030 hectares of government-distributed landholdings to Cojuangco.
Farmworkers expressed their demand for DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano to terminate the corporative scheme and revoke the join venture agreements in Danding’s Negros haciendas.
“Danding used the corporative scheme to evade actual land distribution and maintain control of thousands of hectares of land in Negros, Isabela and parts of Mindanao,” said KMP secretary general Antonio Flores.
The camp-out is led by the ECJ Farmers and Farmworkers Alliance in Negros (EFFWAN) from eleven haciendas in central and southern Negros.
Non-land transfer schemes under CARP
In October 1998, Danding Cojuangco has placed the following haciendas under corporative scheme –Hda. Balatong, Hda. Nieva, Hda. Bonifacia, Hda. Soledad, Hda. Candelaria, Hda. Fe, Hda. Caridad and Candaguet, Hda. San Antonio, Hda. Ara-al, Hda. Kaiyaman and Hda. Adelina. It was at this time that Danding was hailed by his close ally and then President Joseph Estrada as the “Godfather of Land Reform.”
Providing the legal framework for Danding’s corporative scheme is DAR Administrative Order No. 2 (AO2) issued by then agrarian Secretary Horacio Morales in 1999.
The corporative scheme is a modified version of the Stock Distribution Option, a non-land transfer scheme that was allowed by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
In 1997, the said Negros landholdings were covered by CARP through the Voluntary Land Transfer (VLT) and Direct Payment Scheme. The corporative scheme is a combination of the VLT and joint-venture agreement wherein cooperatives of agrarian reform beneficiaries were required to form joint venture corporations (JVC) with Danding’s agribusiness corporation and other investors to produce high value export crops, including mango, pili nuts, durian and cut flowers.
“Danding Cojuangco has made the ‘corporative scheme’ his brand of land monopoly. Through this scheme, he was able to control majority or 70 percent of the joint venture corporation while 1,706 agrarian reform beneficiaries control only 30 percent or four board members. Bigay bawi ang ginawa sa mga magsasaka. Ibinenta at pinabayaran sa kanila ang lupa, sila pa ang nagtrabaho, sila pa ang pinagkakakitaan ni Danding,” Flores said.
Under the corporative scheme, Danding and other investors provided farm support facilities and capitalization required for the development and use of the awarded landholdings, while farm workers and agrarian reform beneficiaries would allow the corporation to use the lands in exchange for minority shares of stock in the corporation.
The cooperatives that entered into joint venture agreements with Danding were required to pay P350,000 per hectare for 15 years with an additional grace period of five years. The said agreements were then encouraged by the DAR, giving the reason that the government has no more funds to pay for the price of the land under other schemes of the CARP, contrary to the mandate of DAR to ensure that ARBs are made fully aware of and understand the options available to them in land redistribution.
The farmworkers were also asked to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) wherein they received advance dividends or bonus amounting to P50,000 payable in 10 installments within 5 years. However, the MOU they signed was actually a buy-back scheme wherein in exchange for the amount they received, they will give up their rights to the land.
“For many years, Negros farmers have strongly opposed and launched protest actions against the unjust and erroneous corporative scheme that was used by Danding to fortify his ownership and control over the vast tracts of hacienda lands,” said KMP’s Flores.
“No actual land distribution happened. Farmers who were forced to pay for the land were buried in debts. Worse, they are constantly harassed by Danding’s private armies.”
Break-up Negros haciendas
“So much like what the Cojuangco-Aquinos did in Hacienda Luisita, Danding delisted and removed legitimate and potential agarian reform beneficiaries and replaced them with dummy beneficiaries to bloat the number of ARBs that are under his control and influence.”
“Based on available records, there are 2,703 registered ARBs in the 11 haciendas, but on DAR’s final list, there were 1,206 approved ARBS which ballooned to 1,706 ARBs, majority are kabos and enkargados of Danding,” said KMP Negros chairperson Dolly Celedonio.
“The past two decades of corporative scheme in Negros highlights the failure of CARP and the absence of genuine land reform. It’s time to break-up the Negros haciendas and deliver justice to poor farmers, farmworkers and sacadas,” KMP’s Flores said.
Celedonio said that farmworkers in Danding’s Negros haciendas receive very low wages (P170 per day) and almost no benefits at all. They work for long hours in plantations and orchards under precarious working conditions. The farmworkers’ cooperatives also incurred millions in debt due to high interest rates.”
The farmworkers also questioned the local DAR for placing the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) under the ECJ Farmer Beneficiaries Cooperative (EFARMBEMCO), which they said is controlled by Danding. ###