By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Amplifying the outcry for free distribution of land to the tillers and an end to extrajudicial killings and martial law, various groups formed CLAMOR, or the Coalition for Land Against Martial law and Oppression on Oct. 19 at the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines in Manila.
Peasant and fisherfolk groups, the religious, artists and development workers composed CLAMOR, which they said will campaign to resist the “tyrannical acts” of the Duterte administration.
Under President Duterte, 91 farmers were killed, mostly farmer leaders in communities resisting landgrabbing or the entry of mining and agribusiness plantations.
In Southern Mindanao region alone, 50 activists have been killed, majority were farmers.
Progressive peasant groups estimate seven out of 10 farmers who are still landless, a situation that barely changed 45 years since the implementation of Martial law-era Presidential Decree No. 27 or Land Reform Act, and the succeeding Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Peasants continue to be denied of their right to the land they till, and worse, they are killed for fighting for that right.
Among the conveners of the coalition were former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, Bishop Broderick Pabillo, the Auxiliary Bishop of Manila, Bishop Deogracias Iniguez, Jr., Sr. Elenita Belardo of the Religious of the Good Shepherd Sisters, and Bishop Reuel Marigza, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines secretary general.
“We firmly believe that life is sacred, thus, it should be valued, respected, and defended. For the farmers, land is their life. The right to own a land is a basic human right based on social justice. Hence, everyone has the right to own land, especially those who labor and produce food for the population,” read the CLAMOR statement of unity.
‘Land is life’
Among those at the launch was Jose Benemerito Jr., of BTL or Bukidnon Free Farmers and Agricultural Laborers Organization (BUFFALO), Triad Agricultural Manpower of Rural Active Workers (TAMARAW) and Landless Tillers Inhabitants of Musuan (LIMUS). The group is here in the capital together with other farmers to assert their right to land claimed by the Central Mindanao University. They came last Oct. 12 for the Lakbay Magsasaka campaign.
Benemerito was an agrarian reform beneficiary under President Cory Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp) in 1989. At least 400 hectares were approved for distribution by the DAR Adjudication Board to 252 farmers. However in 1992, the Supreme Court orders the cancellation of the CLOAs “on the grounds that the land is exempted from Carp for educational purposes.”
In April this year, CMU guards filed grave coercion and grave threat against Benemerito and 11 farmers who refused to allow the construction of a guard house in their land. Violence erupted between the farmers and guards that led to the destruction of the guard house.
“Hindi talaga kami papayag na makapagtayo sila doon dahil ipinaglalaban namin ang lupang sa amin,” he told Bulatlat. (We will not allow them to put that up because we are fighting for our land.)
Their children also faced discrimination because the CMU won’t allow children of the BTL farmers to study in the university.
“The children would just make up stories. Some would not admit that they are children of the BTL farmers,” he said.
They have been battling the land dispute for more than two decades. But Benemerito said the struggle continues “because land is life,” he said.
‘Support our farmers’
Fr. Rudy Abao of Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Patria) said farmers are among the poorest in the country. He called on other sectors to unite to help the farmers intensify their call for free land distribution and genuine agrarian reform program.
Mariano, in his closing remarks, said that free land distribution is important to improve the lives of the farmers, and end the sufferings of farmers. He said there will be no genuine agrarian reform if there is no free land distribution. He calls on every organization and individuals to join the coalition and support the farmers’ calls.
The Movement Against Tyranny also expressed their support to Clamor. The group said in a statement that the killing of farmers under Duterte has reached alarming levels.
“We join CLAMOR in their call on the President and the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop the attacks against farmers and their communities and for government to address the peasant demand for genuine agrarian reform as the key to resolving the armed conflict in the countryside,” said the group.
The coalition also invites the public to join the solidarity lunch on Oct. 25 at the University of Santo Tomas along with peasant leaders of the Pambansang Lakbayan ng mga Magsasaka para sa Lupa. Peasant groups from different regions from Luzon will arrive in Metro Manila for the big mobilization, which is the culmination of the nine-day peasant protest caravan.