The House Committee on Agrarian Reform, chaired by Bohol First District Representative Rene L. Relampagos, conducted its second meeting on the proposed bill aiming to strengthen the regulation and operation of agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs).
The bill will also ensure that the rights and interests of agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) are protected by institutionalizing and streamlining the establishment and implementation of the AVAs.
The measure also seeks to maximize the use of distributed agrarian lands without compromising the farmers’ tenure rights.
House Resolution No. 919, on the other hand, calls for the investigation on the impact of AVA’s in the country in view of the observation that a number of cooperatives have sought the revocation of AVAs due to mounting debts, compromise of democratic rights and other reasons.
During the last hearing, the committee noted that AVAs, as presently implemented, do not usually redound to the benefit of ARBs and that there is a need to safeguard the constitutional guarantee of promotion of social justice while ensuring the security of the country’s food production.
Relampagos noted, “the AVA system is encouraged as a means by which investment of financial and other resources of the private sector can be channeled to agrarian reform areas through productive and collaborative ventures between the private sector and the ARBs.”
In this second meeting on AVAs, members of the committee were given time to propound questions and seek clarifications from the resource persons. “We are all in agreement that AVAs are not wrong or bad in itself, only that there are issues that need to be threshed out so we can maximize its benefits not only to the ARBs but to the corporations as well and the country as a whole, of course,” Rep. Relampagos emphasized.
Among the issues discussed was the level of review of AVAs which, in the present set-up, is with the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council which hardly convenes. It was suggested that review of AVAs should only be at the regional or provincial level. This will ensure that AVAs are easily reviewable. Another issue is that there should be a minimum cap that will ensure an income for the ARBs regardless of whether or not the corporation will profit from the venture. And with the income of the corporations, the ARBs must be given a percentage. This will stall corporations who, while otherwise gaining profit, yet declare losses.
There were also recommendations for a study to determine which lands could be subject to AVAs while maintaining the remaining land for regular farming; ARBs should also be given alternative sources of income. Some observed that the AVAs are private transactions between private persons and that ARBs should not rely on the defense that they were not made aware of the contents of the contract itself. All agreed that the problem lies on the implementation of AVAs. Hence, one of the recommendations is to put criminal and civil liability to officers of corporations who employ deceit in engaging ARBs to enter into AVAs, in implementing the AVAs and in managing the accounts of AVAs.
On the part of the Department of Agrarian Reform, they reported that there are 433 existing AVAs in the country as of July 2017. In terms of crops, the top three allocations are: 329 hectares for bananas, 44 for palm oil and 23 for pineapple. The rest of the AVAs are for cacao, citrus, bell pepper, lettuce and cucumber, pomelo, rice, sugarcane and papaya, among others. In terms of geographical location, 192 AVAs are found in region XIII, 93 in region X, 72 in region XI, 60 in region XII, 10 in region IX, 3 in region V, 2 in region VI and 1 in region II. DAR also said that the Department is currently in the process of reviewing past issuances and drafting a comprehensive administrative order on AVAs.
In view of the matters discussed, the committee created a technical working group to discuss in detail the proposed bill. Members of the said TWG are representatives from DAR, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Justice, Landbank of the Philippines, Cooperative Development Authority as well as representatives from farmers, ARBs and corporations. “The committee is also organizing a site visit in Davao to determine, first hand, the implementation of AVAs,” Rep. Relampagos reported.