[Statement] on the mass displacement and filing of criminal cases against farmer-members of SANAMABASU | KATARUNGAN

February 7, 2023

The Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (KATARUNGAN) strongly condemns the man-made humanitarian crisis affecting more than 70 farming families in Brgy. Sumalo, Hermosa, Bataan. These farmers organized under the Samahan ng mga Nagkakaisang Mamamayan sa Brgy. Sumalo (SANAMABASU) are literally under siege from relentless attacks on their right to land, housing, and basic freedoms through the criminalization of their land rights movements. Their situation highlights the cavalier treatment and continuing marginalization of farmers in the country. Many small farmers and producers who are reeling from the negative impact of trade liberalization and smuggling are also being driven forcibly from their land and livelihoods and are deprived of their right to live peacefully and with dignity.

The members of SANAMABASU have been tilling the land for many years before the Litton family acquired the area through a Sales Patent in 1979. The 214-hectare land was subsequently transferred to Riverforest Development Corporation (RDC) owned by the Litton family. RDC successfully applied for conversion despite the petition of farmers for land redistribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of the RDC in 2007, the land remained eligible for acquisition and redistribution under the CARP due to the RDC’s non-compliance with the reglementary period for conversion. Hence, in 2019, the Office of the President ordered that the property be taken over and given to qualified beneficiaries. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) later covered 155.6 hectares of the property under the CARP.

Since the farmers petitioned for land rights, the RDC has used various tactics to evict the farmers from their homes and land, including conflict-stirring among residents, hiring armed security guards, and filing of criminal and civil cases against them. The Barangay Captain, who has been leading the petition for land reform, has also been targeted with sustained administrative complaints and suspended from office, hindering his ability to serve his constituents. As of last count, farmers and their leaders already faced more than 50 criminal and civil cases. And cases against them are counting.

KATARUNGAN believes that the situation of the farmers and residents of Sumalo can be considered a man-made humanitarian crisis; 76 families, 52 of whom are SANAMABASU members have been rendered homeless by the recent demolition of houses after the court ruled to eject the long-time residents; 21 more are threatened by ejectment in the coming days. The demolition of their houses left them homeless; they were forced to take temporary refuge in the barangay’s covered court. As if this is not yet enough, the Municipal Mayor has notified them to vacate the covered court after they refused to relocate in a temporary shelter that has no access to water and no electricity in a place far away from their community and livelihoods.

Moreover, the latest criminal case filed against nine SANAMABASU farmers in the last quarter of 2022 shows the weaponization of the justice system to further oppress ordinary farmers to force them to give up their land rights. The false accusation of syndicated estafa, a non-bailable offense, stemmed from the allegations of RDC supporters that the leaders of SANAMABASU collected money with a promise to secure the implementation of agrarian reform and include the complainants as agrarian reform beneficiaries. The nine criminalized farmers include eight women, four of whom are senior citizens aged 72, 69, 68, and 61 years old. The farmers assert that the allegations against them are false and fabricated just to harass them. Fortunately, the judge hearing the case has not issued the warrants yet. Just the same, the accused evacuated their communities for fear of being arrested.

It is unjust that these poor farmers, who have been tillers of the land for decades, have to endure a prolonged and arduous struggle to secure their rights while also facing baseless charges that could result in their lifetime imprisonment. Such attacks are apparent attempts to silence their efforts and force them to give up their land claims.

As a mass movement of small farmers, landless peasants, indigenous peoples, and other people working in rural areas and the agriculture sector, KATARUNGAN demands a fair, speedy, and just resolution of the cases filed against them.

KATARUNGAN also calls on the government to expedite the implementation of the agrarian reform program to end injustices being experienced by the farmers. We also urge the public to support the farmers and to demand that the government fulfill their fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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