Friday, June 22, 2007

DAR Chief urged to relieve DAR Negros official

LA CASTELLANA, Negros Occidental—Farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Velez-Malaga in Barangay Robles here have called on DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman to relieve Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Stephen Leonidas for alleged dubious acts that created the condition leading to the June 4 shooting incident in which two farmer-beneficiaries were killed.

Jose Rodito Angeles, Task Force Mapalad president, said Pangandaman should immediately relieve Leonidas for entering into an unauthorized negotiation with former landowner Roberto Cuenca, which resulted in a three-month delay in the conduct of a demarcation survey for the 53 hectares where 57 CLOA (certificate of landownership award) were installed last March 22.

“Mr. Leonidas negotiated with Cuenca for reimbursement of the latter’s expenses on the standing crops. He kept telling the CLOA holders not to enter and cultivate their land while the negotiation was going on,” Angeles said.

Angeles said the negotiation was pointless because DAR had three times ordered Cuenca to stop cultivation of the 114 hectares already covered by the collective CLOA of the 122 farmer-beneficiaries belonging to the TFM-affiliated Hacienda Velez-Malaga Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization (HAVEMARBO).

“Mr. Leonidas himself wrote one of the three stop-cultivation orders, but suddenly he was negotiating with Cuenca on the standing crops when the DAR secretary’s order to him was to immediate conduct the demarcation survey after the March 22 installation,” Angeles said.

He said that when the CLOA holders insisted on the demarcation survey after more than two months of delay, Leonidas made himself scarce, that is why they decided to enter their land last June 4.

Angeles further said that during last Wednesday’s demarcation survey of the 53 hectares, Leonidas entered into an agreement with the local Philippine National Police and the Philippine Army contingent to prevent farmer-beneficiaries from cultivating their land.

“After the delineation survey of the 53 hectares conducted in the morning of June 20, Leonidas, together with DAR Regional Director Alexis Arsenal, DAR legal officer Vicky Delgado, and La Castellana Mayor-elect Alberto Nicor,Jr. met with officials of the PNP and the Army who assisted in the survey. Leonidas in a phone conversation with TFM leaders said the farmer-beneficiaries could already enter the delineated area and cultivate it,” he said.

However, when the farmer-beneficiaries started to assemble and cultivate their land, they were blocked by the Regional Mobile Group (RMG) and were told that they would be arrested if they entered the area.

It was also at this time when a driver of DAR arrived and handed over to the farmer-beneficiaries a letter signed by Leonidas and addressed to CLOA holder Pedro Santillan, et al. telling them that the “DAR- PNP and AFP decided not to allow anybody to enter the delineated areas in order to prevent untoward incidents.”

Cuenca's workers have no right to make any offer

Farm workers of Roberto Cuenca have no right and are not in a position to offer any portion of Hacienda Velez-Malaga in exchange for the 38 hectares that already belong to the 57 CLOA (certificate of landownership award) holders who were installed in the property last March 22.

This was the position taken by Task Force Mapalad in response to Romulo Tupas, president of Hacienda Velez-Malaga Independent Workers Union, who was reported the other day to have offered to give 53 hectares of the hacienda to the 57 CLOA holders on condition that they will leave the 38 hectares to the union and its cooperative.

TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles said the 38 hectares is already titled to the CLOA holders and Cuenca’s workers have no right to prevent the CLOA holders from entering and cultivating the property.

“My suggestion to the union workers is to stop being used as pawns by Cuenca, to stop resisting the right of CLOA holders to their land, and to start working for distribution among themselves of the remaining 301 hectares of the hacienda,” Angeles said.

Gerry Cahilig, spokesman of the TFM-affiliated Hacienda Velez-Malaga Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization (HAVEMARBO), said they would not entertain any offer from Cuenca or his workers that would result in the abandonment of their right to the land already awarded to them.

“Tupas and the other union workers should understand that we have fought Cuenca for 11 years and we have made substantial victories, including the battle in court. We will not give up on our victories. Why should we entertain any offer now after 11 years of hard struggle?” Cahilig said.

Cahilig added: “We have endured a lot of hardship, including hunger. During those years of our hardship, the union workers enjoyed the fruits of the land that was awarded to us. They should now stop being selfish and should let us enjoy the fruits of our struggle,” Cahilig said.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

TFM denounces Independence Day dispersal of farmers in DAR Region 10

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY -- Task Force Mapalad, a federation of agrarian reform beneficiaries, denounced the dispersal on June 12 of some 20 farmers from Bukidnon who gathered in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform Region 10 office to demand the conduct of an ocular inspection at Fortich Farm in Valencia City.

TFM president Jose Rodito Angeles said the dispersal was an indication of DAR's growing inability to address agrarian reform issues and to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

"Day after day the will of DAR to address agrarian issues and to fulfill its mandate of implementing CARP is growing weaker and weaker, that is why it has to resort to dispersal of farmers who were trying to air their just demands," Angeles said.

Constantino Sales, Fortich Farm Landless Farmers Beneficiaries Association (FLFBA) President, said that the farmers gathered in front of the DAR Region office at around 7 a.m. on June 12 to press DAR to conduct an ocular inspection of the 300-hectare Fortich Farm owned by Carlos Fortich Sr.

The farmers also denounced the decision of Pangandaman affirming the exemption of more than 856 hectares from coverage because the area is allegedly used for livestock. The area is agricultural land because it is devoted to pineapples for export and Cavendish bananas, the farmers insisted.

Sales said DAR had backtracked on its effort to conduct the survey after farm security guards twice blocked the entry of DAR and Land Bank of the Philippines personnel on November 15 and December 4 last year.

"DAR officials are using the security guards as excuse not to conduct the survey, which is necessary before the CARP process in the Fortich Farm can proceed. But if they really want to, they can ask police assistance to conduct the survey. Instead, they called the police to disperse the farmers," Sales said.

He said that after the protesting farmers had conducted a noise barrage to amplify their demand, a police vehicle with 12 policemen in full battle gear arrived and asked the farmers to get away from the gate.

When the farmers refused, saying they wanted to have dialogue first with DAR officials, the police started to disperse them and confiscated their streamers and materials.

Archbishop: Velez Malaga killings show need to fulfill CARP

A Catholic archbishop said over the weekend that killings such as those that occurred in Hacienda Velez-Malaga in Barangay Robles, La Castellana, Negros Occidental underscores the need to fully implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Speaking at the Second National Rural Congress at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro City said: “The killings last [June 4] of two Mapalad farmer leaders on the land that had recently been given to them as agrarian reform beneficiaries after a protracted struggle of more than ten years highlight the many obstacles to the full implementation of CARP.”

Three farmers-beneficiaries have already died of agrarian violence in Hacienda Velez-Malaga. Pepito Santillan Sr., 59, was killed last January 25 by suspected followers of former landowner Roberto Cuenca, while Alejandro Garcesa, 70, and Ely Tupas, 52, were killed last June 4 by Cuenca’s security guards.

“What is happening in Hacienda Velez-Malaga is only a microcosm of what has been taking place in several other conflict areas of agrarian reform,” said Ledesma, who is also vice-president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

Ledesma said that obstacles to full implementation of CARP include “myriad legal loopholes, repeated delays, adamant landlord opposition that pits small farmers against small farmers, lack of political will of government agencies, and inadequacies on the part of local government and law enforcement units to provide security for agrarian reform beneficiaries.”

Citing a report by a consortium of non-government organizations, Ledesma said that since the extension of CARP in 1998, “387 cases of human rights violations victimizing 18,872 farmers and rural organizers he been recorded.”

“Human rights violations take the form of extra-judicial killings, frustrated murder, illegal arrests and detention, physical assault, destruction of private property, arson, violent dispersal, etc.,” he said.

Echoing the pastoral statement entitled “The Dignity of the Rural Poor: A Gospel Concern” issued by the CBCP early this year, Ledesma said that CARP, although defective, “must be completed next year, and if not sufficiently implemented, should be further extended and funded more seriously and generously.”

In said pastoral statement, the CBCP had expressed concern over the “inequitable distribution of the nation’s wealth and the endemic social injustices that underpin that evil.”

Ledesma said CBCP is convening diocesan-level rural congresses to push for continued implementation of agrarian reform.

“We are ready to listen to the various local sectors, to discern with them, and to plan how we must as a people come together to work for the common good of the country,” he said.—(30)

Upholding the sanctity of life

(The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission-Association of the Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines or JPICC-AMRSP issued this statement on June 10, the 19th anniversary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.)

The sanctity of life is a universal and gospel value that every human being is asked to embrace as affirmation of (our) love for the Creator God and other created beings. Time and again though, we see its desecration by the many “faces of death” in our country.

The Lord said (to Cain): ‘What have you done? Listen, your brother’s blood cries out to me from the soil. Therefore, you shall be banned from the soil that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood. If you till the soil, it shall not give you its produce. You shall become a restless wanderer on the earth!’ (Genesis 4: 10-12)

We have yet to settle and confront the evils of extra-judicial killings in the country. Yet nothing has been done about the continuous bloodshed happening in the rural areas, especially the on-going saga of the struggling farmers of Hacienda Velez Malaga.

The violent deaths committed against the Task Force Mapalad farmers Alejandro Garcesa, 70, and Ely Tupas, 52, including the wounded Jude Capitania, 32, Jobert Malayas, 25, Rene Florendia, 27, Alan Hagocoy, 26, Norberto Diamante, 47, and Andre Barcoma, 17 are “clear as day” manifestations of the loss of value for sacredness of life.

The Church clearly teaches that:

Whatever is opposed to life itself, what-ever violates the integrity of the human person... They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practice them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator. (Gaudium et Spes, 27)

Even with a Supreme Court Ruling in favor of the farmers and their historic installation last March 22, 2007 with no less than the presence of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Nasser Pangandaman, the side of "the least among us” has remained battered.

The actions of a few capitalist and profit-oriented Filipinos in society acting without thought and without respect for the rule of law have caused the continuous oppression of many Filipino farmers. They have been legitimately and morally granted their piece of land if only to free them from a miserable and poverty-stricken condition. However, they remain not enjoying the victorious fruit of their struggle.

The Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission-Association of the Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (JPICC-AMRSP) strongly denounces the series of violence committed against farmers just as we also condemn the seeming inaction of some members of the peacekeeping-mandated 6th Regional Mobile Group (RMG) headed by Senior Supt. Pedro Merced based in La Castellana, Negros Occidental.

We therefore call upon our Philippine institutions to seek just and peaceful solutions to bring an end to such trends of desecration of life in the country! In particular, we call upon the authorities of the DAR to abide by the rule of law and hasten the implementation of the provisions of a post-installation process like the demarcation of the boundaries of the declared 53 hectares.

We also encourage our fellow religious priests, brothers and sisters to pray and act for the speedy resolution of the long-delayed justice of our sister and brother farmers in Hacienda Velez Malaga. We especially call upon those who are in Negros or within the area(s) to be part of the campaigns to overcome the experiences of fear and death.

We urge all Filipinos, Christians and believers to join in upholding a culture of peace based on justice and respect for the integrity of creation!

Contact Persons: Ms. Charito Jocson Pinalas, Executive Secretary (02) 436-2561; Sr. Angelina Villanueva, RC, JPIC Coordinator, Congregation of Our Lady of the Retreat in the Cenacle

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Two farmers killed, 6 hurt in new violence in Hacienda Velez Malaga

(This was released shortly after violence broke in Hacienda Velez Malaga on June 4 following TFM farmers' attempt to peacefully cultivate the lands on which they were supposedly installed on March 22. Veteran photojournalist Jimmy Domingo was able to capture images of the tension and violence that gripped the hacienda.)

Two farmer-beneficiaries were killed and six others were wounded when security guards of former landowner Roberto Cuenca fired on some 100 farmer-beneficiaries who tried to cultivate their land on the morning of June 4 in Hacienda Velez-Malaga in Barangay Robles, La Castellana, Negros Occidental.

The incident occurred as elements of the Philippine National Police-Provincial Regional Mobile Group (PNP-PRMG) merely watched, according to farmers.

Killed on the very same land where they were installed nine weeks ago by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) were Alejandro Garcesa, 70, and Ely Tupas, 52, both holders of a certificate of land ownership award (CLOA).

Wounded were Jude Capitania, 32, Jobert Malayas, 25, Rene Florendia, 27, Alan Hagocoy, 26, Norberto Diamante, 47, and Andre Barcoma, 17.

Garcesa and Tupas were both participants of a month-long hunger strike in front of the DAR central office in Quezon City held by 25 Velez-Malaga farmer-beneficiaries to demand their immediate installation in the 114-hectare portion of the 446-hectare hacienda.

The hunger strike, which started on February 23, was lifted on March 22 after DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman installed 57 of the 122 CLOA holders in 53 hectares of the property, amid much media publicity.

However, despite the installation, the CLOA holders were prevented by DAR from occupying and cultivating their land on the excuse that a segregation survey of the property still has to be conducted.

There is, however, no legal impediment to the farmers cultivating their land pending the parcelization among themselves of the land which they own collectively.
Task Force Mapalad (TFM) president Jose Rodito Angeles condemned the incident, saying it showed that the DAR was not serious about the installation and the distribution of hacienda land to farmer-beneficiaries.

Angeles blamed Secretary Pangandaman for the incident, saying it was the result of his failure to immediately conduct the segregation survey which he promised to undertake within one week after the installation.

Since then, DAR had promised four times to conduct the segregation survey, and each time it was postponed.

Angeles also said that instead of conducting segregation survey, Pangandaman held negotiations with Cuenca for the standing crops.

“Pangandaman and the local DAR officials used the so-called negotiations for standing crops to delay the segregation survey and to prevent the CLOA holders from occupying and cultivating their land. There was actually no point in holding the negotiation because the DAR had previously ordered Cuenca three times to stop cultivating the 114 hectares already awarded to the CLOA holders,” Angeles said.

He said that after more than two months of waiting for DAR to conduct the survey, the farmer-beneficiaries decided to cultivate the 5-hectare portion of their land where they were installed last March 22 by Pangandaman.

Angeles also condemned the PNP-PRMG stationed in the hacienda for doing nothing to prevent the shooting.

The PRMG is headed by Senior Supt. Pedro Merced, who, according to farmers, is sympathetic to Cuenca.

“The PRMG station was just in front of the guard house of Cuenca’s security men, but the policemen merely watched. They also did not bother to assist the farmer-beneficiaries who were already wounded,” Angeles said.

TFM Bukidnon farmers march for land rights

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The torrential rains did not stop the 100 Bukidnon farmers belonging to Task Force Mapalad, a national federation of landless farmers, to camp inside the compound of Agrarian Reform Regional Office in barangay Macanhan here since Wednesday.

And they would continue to stake out until their demands would be granted by the Agrarian Reform office in Northern Mindanao .

The farmers braved the rains and had a sleepless night on Wednesday and vowed they would never disperse their camp-out until their demands are met.

A commotion took place after the security guards forcibly drove out the farmers on Wednesday night.

However, the farmers stood their guard and never budged despite the threat to shoot at them.

“The guards said they would shoot us if we don’t get out of the DAR’s premises but we told them that we are not afraid since we have already staked our lives when we started our struggle to claim our lands,” Luz Cometa, spokesperson of the protesting farmers, lamented.

These farmers are waging their long and arduous battle against six vast landholdings in Bukidnon province which are liable to distribute lands to their farmer beneficiaries.

Powerful and influential families owned these vast landholdings in Bukidnon like former Bukidnon governor Carlos Fortich, Luis Guingona, the brother of the former Vice-president Teofisto Guingona, Sebastian, Valero and Ocaya.

The government’s 19 year-old agrarian reform law has not yet achieved the genuine land reform in the country.

“The Agrarian Reform office has not done anything to the long overdue yet failed ocular inspection for the valuation of the three Fortich landholdings in barangays Lorugan, Colonia and Mailag in Valencia City ,” Cometa said.

Farmers belonging to other haciendas in Bukidnon who are also waging their struggle to own the land due them also joined in the mounting protest and camp-out to press the Agrarian Reform Office to act on their pending petitions for these various landholdings.

Constantino Sales, president of the Fortich Farm petitioners and a farmer leader of TFM, said that Northern Mindanao Agrarian Reform Director John Maruhom failed to fulfill his promise and the plans made during the farmers camp-out in February.

“The farmers are afraid that DAR is not seriously performing their tasks and its continued reluctance to perform their mandate to accomplish what they are supposed to do,” Sales said.

The farmers arrived at the Agrarian Reform office on Wednesday morning and held out placards bearing the following demands – for the said office to proceed the coverage of Fortich Farms despite the landowner’s protest, to relocate the Central Mindanao University farmers, to extend the implementation period of the comprehensive agrarian reform program after its term ends on June 2008, to install all agrarian reform beneficiaries with CLOAs like the Hacienda Cuenca of Velez Malaga in Negros Occidental and ARCAL Estate of Magdug, Gov. Generoso of Davao Oriental and justice to the harassments and right violations of landowners against these farmer beneficiaries.

While the farmers were on picket on Wednesday afternoon, Director Maruhom together with the provincial agrarian reform officer and his legal officers met the 10 leader farmers to discuss their demands.

Sales disclosed that Maruhom and his staff admitted their weaknesses and reluctance over the land issues in Bukidnon and even expressed their sympathy over the killing of the two farmers in Hacienda Velez Malaga in Negros Occidental on Tuesday.


However, the conference ended into a deadlock considering the farmers did not agree on Maruhom’s decision to wait for the resolution on the landowner’s petition protesting the 300 hectare land claims of the farmers.

The farmers would want the ocular inspection to be conducted within the week as against DAR’s July 9 schedule.

“During the conference, Director Maruhom gave us the hand to strategize the next ocular inspection after the resolution of the protest that the Fortiches filed would come out but we did not agree considering that waiting for that resolution takes time,” Sales said.

Sales cited that the Agrarian Reform Law does not prohibit the ocular inspection despite the landowner’s protest.

The Agrarian Reform conducted an ocular inspection at Fortich Farms on March 13 but the landowners did not allow the presence of the police. And on the next day, the ocular inspection and the land segregation survey did not prosper after the Fortiches barred the team.

“Why would Director Maruhom be afraid of the Fortiches? He kept on telling us that he is afraid he would be sued by the landowner and that he wants to avoid unnecessary actions, he does not seem to trust the Law,” Cometa said.

Cometa allayed fears that Maruhom’s reluctance and fear would just result to a more prolonged farmers struggle and might eventually might end up in violence.

“We don’t want this to happen but if we are pushed to the walls, what can we do,” Cometa sighed.#