[Press Release] On Christmas Eve, Farmers’ appeal to government: Defend us from landowners’ harassment -SARA

On Christmas Eve, Farmers’ appeal to government:
Defend us from landowners’ harassment

Sumalo, Bataan: A farmer from Barangay Sumalo, Hermosa, Bataan may spend Christmas inside the prison for harvesting three (3) pieces of coconut in the land that he has been occupying and tilling for the past thirty (30) years.

Jose Laysa, a forty-seven year old farmer, who was identified as a potential agrarian reform beneficiary by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in the 214 hectare property was arrested by the security guards of Riverforest Development Corporation, owned by James Litton, et. al. Litton is claiming the 214 hectares as his own, which was initially subjected to a voluntary-offer-to-sell (VOS) by Litton in 1989. VOS is a scheme under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), in which the landowners voluntarily offers to sell his land to government for land distribution. Later on, Litton withdrew the VOS and filed for land use conversion.

“Panggata lang sana sa uulamin namin ngayong Pasko dahil wala naman kaming perang pambili dahil pinagbabawalan kaming makapagsaka ng mga Litton”, lamented the wife of Jose Laysa.

Laysa was accompanied by his 17-year old son while harvesting the coconuts. They were then approached by the security guards of Riverforest Development Corporation and accused of theft and trespassing. Laysa resisted and told the security guards, “ Paano ako magnanakaw sa sarili kong tanim at sa lupang aking binubungkal?” At this point, one of the guards pointed his gun and brought Laysa to their barracks. Laysa was later brought to the Hermosa Police Station.

The controversial landholding is being petitioned by the farmers of Sumalo for CARP coverage since the Littons violated all the Rules on Conversion, specifically the non-development of the land or conversion within the five year period as provided in RA 9700 or the CARP Extension with Reforms Law.

“They do not have a conversion order, conversion plan and worse they maliciously and willfully violated the Permanent Injunction Order issued by the Regional Trial Court of Bataan (Branch 5), which clearly stated that they cannot construct fences within the property and therefore the corporation does not have the right to prevent the farmers’ access to their farms,” said Barangay Captain Rolando Martinez, a supporter of the farmers’cause.

“Naging protektor nila ang mga pulis kaya nabakuran nila ang aming mga taniman at ayaw nila kaming papasukin para maani ang aming mga tanim. Ang masama pa, sinusunog, sinisira at ninanakaw pa ng mga tauhan ni Litton ang aming dapat pagkakitaan. Ginigiba nila ang aming mga bahay at tinatakot pati ang mga bata sa pamamagitan ng lantarang pagbandera ng kanilang matatas na kalibreng baril., lamented Fe Andulan, president of Samahang Nagkaka-isang Mamamayan ng Brgy. Sumalo.

Last Dec. 21, in a dialogue, DAR Secretary Virgilio “Gil” delos Reyes told them that he cannot grant the Sumalo farmers’ request for a cease and desist (CDO) or status quo order since he said this is outside his jurisdiction. The farmers were told to seek relief in regular courts.

“This is outright abandonment by the Secretary of his mandate under CARP. The petition for CARP coverage of the Sumalo farmers has been languishing in his office for more than two years now. We cannot understand why he said that the case is outside his jurisdiction, when there is a clear legal basis for our claims,” said Martinez, who was at the dialogue with Sec. delos Reyes.

The Sumalo farmers are worried that there may be truth to the claims of a certain Retired Colonel Renato R. Rapisura, the administration manager of the Riverforest Development Corporation, who uttered “Wala na kayong magagawa, amin na si delos Reyes”.

“We hope that Sec. delos Reyes has not sold himself to the Littons and instead heed our demands. If delos Reyes delivers on his agrarian reform mandate, this will be the best Christmas gift for us.”, added Martinez.

The Sumalo farmers are seeking the help of almost anyone from government and civil society. They have already sought an audience with the Commissioner of Human Rights, Loretta Rosales, CBCP-NASSA and Representatives in the House of Representatives; hoping that the landowners’ harassment and intimidation can finally stop.

Contact Persons:
Ka Elvira Baladad, PARAGOS-Pilipnas-SARA, +63.905.668.3780
Joann Fernandez, Katarungan-SARA, +63.915.377.1068

24 December 2012

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