Protests in the countryside show growing clamor for genuine agrarian reform.
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – More than a week after President Duterte’s promise to get them back their land, the farmers of Davao del Norte who camped out at Mendiola finally reclaimed their government-awarded lands yesterday, May 18.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (Dar) facilitated the installation of the 159 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai) into the 145-hectare San Isidro (Sanid) farm. The area is just a small part of the 1,400-hectare banana plantation in Tagum City, which is owned by agrarian reform beneficiaries but controlled by the Lapanday Foods Corporation. The corporation reportedly controls some 6,000 hectares in the region.
Accompanied by progressive groups and the police, the Marbai farmers broke open the gates to the plantation, which has been secured by private armed guards and littered with booby traps since last year, when the farmers began their assertion.
This was hailed as a victory for Marbai, and the thousands of other agrarian reform beneficiaries whose lands have been taken over by agribusiness corporations in Davao region. But it also brings to light the scores of landless peasants nationwide, whose growing ranks and restiveness shows the failure of the 29-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and the clamor for genuine agrarian reform.
Bungkalan: Nueva Ecija farmers assert right to land
Before the Marbai installation, some 100 farmers in Nueva Ecija entered the 60-hectare Sanggalang estate in Baloc village, Sto. Domingo, on May 17. The farmers, led by the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE), said they are reclaiming their land from which they were forcibly evicted in 2008. AMGL-NE is a chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Local station Radyo Natin Guimba reported that 13 farmers brought with them their emancipation patents (EP) – documents issued to farmer-tenants who became beneficiaries of the government’s agrarian reform program.
Despite being covered by PD 27, the group said, the former landlord, Romulo Sanggalang took over the land, located in sitio (subvillage) Saranay, Baloc village. One of the farmers, Loida Soriano-Arana, said she has completed payment for the full amortization to the land long ago, but in spite of this, agrarian reform beneficiaries like her were forced out of their land in 2007, when the landlord employed armed men.
In 2001, the peasants again asserted their right and tilled their farms. They were able to cultivate the land until 2007, when the landlord’s hired goons fired shots and chased them out. The group said they had brought their case to the Department of Agrarian Reform.
On Oct. 1 last year, in the nearby town of Nampicuan, also in Nueva Ecija, another group of farmers affiliated with AMGL-NE also asserted their right to till 98 hectares of idle land of the Hacienda Gallego. Some 200 farmers attempted to clear the land, which was overgrown with grasses and serve as grazing area for some 100 livestock.
From the 1950s, residents were tenants of the hacienda, until 1985, when it was fenced off into a ranch. In 1994, the land was exempted from CARP coverage, supposedly as an extension of a local private school, the Gallego Colleges.
Seeing the land uncultivated, the tenants have continued to petition for its compulsory acquisition and CARP coverage, until 2014, when the Department of Agrarian Reform decided in their favor and overturned the exemption.
The farmers were, however, forced to leave the area the next day, on Oct. 2, with the arrival of hundreds of police who were ordered by local government officials to secure the place. Like those in Sto. Domingo, the Nampicuan farmers have brought their case before Agrarian Reform Secretary and former KMP chairman Rafael Mariano.
Landlessness in Southern Mindanao
Those who accompanied Marbai in their two-week protest camp in Mendiola from May 1 to 13 were 10 other groups from KMP-Southern Mindanao Region. Most of them are agrarian reform beneficiaries in similar situation as the Marbai farmers who want to get out of onerous agreements that give control to corporations or new landlords.
KMP-SMR secretary general Pedro Arnado told Bulatlat that the Mindanao protesters are holders of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (Cloa) and have won their cases in the DAR Adjudication Board (Darab), but they continue to be kept out of their farms by unscrupulous cooperative officials who connive with government officials and corporations.
These include the following groups: the farmers’ cooperatives in the Tadeco-Marsman banana plantations, the Alberto M. Soriano Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization (Amsarbo) in Davao del Norte; and the Banarao Farmers’ Association in Talandag village, Tugboc District, Davao City.
A group of Moro peasants, led by Baret, are protesting the land-grabbing of their ancestral lands.
In Villa Abrili, in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur province, some 400 farmers are asserting the distribution of 116 hectares of agricultural lands, which in the past years were being claimed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr) as exempted from land reform. Arnado said former Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez had withdrawn the agency’s claim to the land, and Secretary Mariano had ordered an investigation on whether the area should be covered by CARP.
Arnado said these are just some of those they have organized among some 700,000 landless farmers in Southern Mindanao region, who have been mired in poverty and hunger. He lamented that landlessness for peasants only worsened with the implementation of various agrarian reform programs.
“If they will not intensify the struggle for the right to land, in 20 years, there will be no more land left to till,” he said.
Learn from Marbai
Anakpawis partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao said there are 2.7 million agrarian reform beneficiaries in the country. Many of them, however, have been deprived of their lands because of the cycle of indebtedness in production, or to various agribusiness arrangements under CARP. The success of Marbai’s struggle in reclaiming their land now serves as an inspiration to those waging agrarian struggle.
“This will have a domino effect, not only on ARBs in the 1,400 hectare-land claimed by Lapanday, but on a nationwide scale,” said Casilao, referring to President Duterte’s support to Marbai, and recent call to peasants to “occupy oligarch’s lands.”
Aside from the peasant initiatives in Nueva Ecija, KMP chapters in various provinces nationwide have continued to assert the right to land in varios bungkalan (cultivation) campaign, such as in Hacienda Luisita, where the farmers along with Dar officials reclaimed the RCBC compound on April 24.
KMP secretary general Antonio Flores had called on DAR to continue with land distribution and installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries in other vast landholdings controlled by oligarchs, like in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Hacienda Looc in Southern Luzon, Yulo King Ranch in Palawan, sugar land estates in Negros island.
But Mariano still faces an uphill battle in the Commission on Appointments, which is yet to confirm his position as agrarian reform secretary.
In retaliation to his order, Lapanday today filed graft charges before the Office of the Ombudsman against Mariano for pushing through with Marbai’s installation.
With or without support from Duterte or DAR, the organized peasantry will push forward the fight for social justice and against land monopoly.
“We call on all farmers with similar struggles to take important lessons in the Marbai case, to unite their ranks, firm up their resolve and persist in the struggle to resist and fight landlords and oligarchs,” Flores said. (This article was update Oct. 28, 2017. We corrected a few factual errors – Ed.)