Farmers to solons: ‘Give us our lands now’
Violence mars peaceful protest vs gov’t inaction on agrarian reform bills
Security clashed with peaceful protesters part of an estimated 200 farmers at the House of Representatives on Tuesday calling for the passage of bills to complete land acquisition and distribution.
“This was not the response we expect from government,” said Rene Cerilla, president of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), who spoke today at the rally. PAKISAMA is one of four national farmer federations present during the clash, including Task Force Mapalad (TFM), PESANTE, and Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP)-KATARUNGAN.
The farmer groups, together with civil society organizations and religious groups working on agrarian reform, comprise the national multi-sectoral alliance Sulong CARPER, whose calls for both Congressional houses to pass the necessary legislation to extend agrarian reform work in the country was supported by 81 bishops. The Senate has already passed the necessary bills to create an Agrarian Reform Commission and extend the period for the distribution of Notices of Coverage (NOCs).
On Wednesday morning, the 21 who sustained injuries from the pepper spraying headed to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to file their complaints against culpable House personnel also under investigation by the House leadership.
Meanwhile, the House passed late Tuesday evening one of two agrarian reform bills pushed by the farmers, House Bill No. 4375 creating the Agrarian Reform Commission. The other awaiting passage is House Bill No. 4296 seeking to extend indefinitely, or at least until the end of the term of President Benigno Aquino III, the period for issuance of Notice of Coverage (NOC) on ‘CARPable’ lands.
Cerilla says the farmers remain undeterred in pushing for legislation. If the other bill, HB No. 4296, is passed, the DAR can resume the issuance of Notices of Coverage and correct or reissue, if necessary, previously issued Notices of Coverage, and accept Voluntary Offer to Sell, involving all remaining agricultural lands subject to agrarian reform coverage under RA 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform law.
“The next step is to pass a unified bill to extend the date for the issuance of NOCs indefinitely, or until all lands that should be under CARP are included,” says Cerilla.
Without the law, the hard-fought ownership of lands by farmers across the country is put at continuing risk, and their impoverished condition is worsened by government inaction.
Cerilla cites the case of Bugsuk and Pandanan islands in south Palawan where 10,800 hectares of lands grabbed via forcible ‘land swaps’ by the late dictator Marcos crony Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco were issued NOCs by DAR in June 2014; DAR unfortunately has not followed up on this for almost a year now, and farmers are asking when will they get back the lands taken away from them, or from their parents, at gunpoint in the mid-1970s.
Cerilla cites a similar case in Casiguran, Aurora where farmers have been displaced by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), a development project backed by the Angara political clan. Construction on their agricultural lands is still under way despite an agreement with affected farmers for APECO to freeze it. The DAR has not acted on discontinuing operations and distributing the lands, though it is within the agency’s power, as expressed in the opinion issued by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In San Ysiro, Antipolo, farmers are wondering why a draft NOC issued on Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) land has not been signed for more than two years now by DAR officials. Non-issuance of NOCs have also been reported in Cagbalete, Bondoc Peninsula, Tagbakan, and Catanuan in Quezon.
“Give these farmers their lands now,” says Cerilla. “They’ve waited long enough.”
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