Bungkalan:

In the absence of a genuine agrarian reform program and not wanting to wait for more decades,

farmers in Negros collectively cultivate idle lands,  the concretization of their struggle for land and justice

 

 

October. 31, 2010

 

 

■    A forum on the peasant struggle in Negros and Hacienda Luisita

 

■    Video of Forum lectures

 

■    Solidarity Night with Negros farmers

 

 

 

 

“Bungkalan”

 

“Bungkalan” is the widely coordinated, organized and simultaneous cultivation of idle lands that used to be sugarlands. Despite the constant threat and danger, farmers have, for the first tiem,  pushed through their cultivation and  succeded in transforming sugarlands into productive agricultural lands..

 

But it was not an easy task. The first attempt of the farmers on December 2, 2008 to cultivate lands in Bago city was blocked by armed guards hired by landlords. The failed first attempt taught them many lessons.

 

On December 22, 2008, the farmers were came in much bigger number and were more determined .   With only bare hands and feet, they were able to prepare the lands for rice farming.  Everyone participated, including the women and youth.  They triumphed.

 

Initial results of bungkalan:

 

■   24 bungkalan sites in Negros that used to be idle  hacienda lands,

■   1,381-hectares  cultivated

■   933 farming households or more than 2,000 farmers benefiited.

 

Bungkalan is the concretization of the peasants' struggle for land and jujstice, long denied to them by landlords and the land-lord controlled state.

 

See video of bungkalan

 

 

 

 

   
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Photos courtesy of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
           
     

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Land cultivation campaign spreads like fire in Negros Island

By Roy Morilla, special to www.allvoices.com

 

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines- The peasant movement in the country has been shaking up government institution for decades to implement genuine land reform. Genuine land reform for peasants concretely means the free distribution of lands they have cultivated for generations but remained under the feudal control of big landlords, agro-businesses and foreign corporations.

 

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) is continuing its waging of an all-out legal and democratic campaign at the national center for people from different sectors to learn that Philippine’s society has been long overdue feudal, the peasant majority under oppression and exploitation and agriculture remained backward.

 

Since the 1980s, KMP has faced 2 publicly-witnessed massacres perpetrated by the state, particularly the Mendiola Massacre on January 22, 1987 and Hacienda Luisita Massacre on November 16, 2004. Human rights abuses, recently through extra-judicial killings have also targeted their leaders and members and countless have been displaced due to landgrabbing and land use conversion. KMP’s struggle for Genuine Land Reform is still vital and opportune.

 

“Land Reform” has been mystified by pseudo-peasant groups, landlords, lawmakers and other reactionary forces, depicting it as mere services to the Filipino peasants, while deviating from the main issue of control and domination over vast lands. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), in its 22 years of implementation has served big landlords, agro-business and foreign corporations and kept peasants into deep poverty and misery.

 

It is now stretched by CARP Extension with ‘Reforms’ or CARPer and remains to threaten farmers out of their lands. Amidst the massive lies and deception launched by the landlord-dominated state, KMP affirmed that Genuine Land Reform is an attainable cause and only possible through the massive participation of landless peasants, through a strong and united peasant movement.

 

The very concrete actions of the peasants are the only means to achieve Genuine Land Reform in clear contradiction of state-sponsored sham land reform program such as CARPer and other anti-peasant laws, program and policies. The argument that Genuine Land Reform is only a “fantasy” and impossible is shattered by the recent victories and gains of the peasant movement, particularly from Negros. KMP Negros, who affirmed the correct line that peasants would only participate in a struggle if their very interest is at stake, which is land.

 

Amidst the pluralist environment fuelled by reactionary institutions, Negros farmers have broken through the centuries-old domination and control of sugar barons, hacienderos and landlords and stood their ground that it is now time for them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Negros lands have been chained to the world market dictated sugar industry for centuries, traceable since the Spanish colonial period. Through the long period, farmers have been brought up that there is no alternative to a feudal system, alongwith the constant repression of those who struggle and oppose.

 

On December of 2008, Negros farmers smashed that outdated belief.

 

“Bungkalan”

 

“Bungkalan” or cultivation is the centerpiece campaign of KMP Negros. It is the widely coordinated, organized and simultaneous cultivation of idle lands that used to be sugarlands and only serving the interest of Negros sugar barons and US imperialism. In the midst of constant threat and danger, farmers have pushed through their cultivation and came out successful in transforming sugarlands into productive agricultural lands, for the very first time.

 

Through the normal course of development, Negros farmers’ first attempt on December 2, 2008 to cultivate lands in Bago city has been marked as a setback as they were blocked by armed guards employed by landlords. Consequently, farmers assessed their weakness and limitations, learned that they lacked coordination and strength. Though unsuccessful, the December 2 attempt was a learning experience as it served as basis for their next course of actions. On December 22, 2008, armed with the lessons learned from the prior attempt, farmers who are more agitated, bigger in numbers and ample readiness have again attempted to cultivate the lands.

 

The farmers were triumphant. With only bare hands and feet, they have prepared the lands for rice farming. Everyone participated, including the women and youth. The armed guards were not prepared to prevent them from cultivation as they were overwhelmed by the peasant action. As the farmers have anticipated, they have set-up their camp-out, lived together organized and coordinated, added satellite tents that served as guard posts against incoming threats and maintained their committee and command structures. On the first phase of their bungkalan, they were able to cultivate more than 40-hectares of the 81-hectares targeted lands.

 

The lands were planted with rice and vegetables that more than 300 farmers have attended through an organized manner. Though initially successful, the farmers continued to educate their ranks as imminent deceptive efforts of the landlords, in collusion with the Dept. of Agrarian Reform officials were in the offing. On their 53rd day of bungkalan, they remained resilient and organized, thus, earning support from various sectors such as from the workers, youth, women, professionals and supporters. They were able to hold many solidarity programs and missions, some attended by foreign medical personnels. As the campaign shape to be fruitful and legitimate, the landlord-DAR camp continues to be on the defensive. Within the first phase of their campaign, about 24 sites across Negros turned out a success. These sites involved hacienda lands that were idle as the demand for local sugar has long continued to dwindle down. The campaign totaled to cultivate 1,381-hectares, benefiting 933 farming households or more than 2,000 farmers.

 

From semi-feudal to Genuine Land Reform

 

As KMP Negros, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and other peasant groups were successful in realizing Genuine Land Reform, they have coincided their campaign with their full support of the passage of then-House Bill 3059 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB). Thus, during the maintenance stage of the rice crops, then-Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo visited their farms and participated in weeding out the crops.

 

On October of 2009, then-Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod was able to participate on the first harvesting of the rice crops. The first harvest was a very significant period for the Negros farmers as for the very first time, Negros lands served the interest of the people and not the interest of landlords and US imperialism.

 

This very moment was the real-life picture KMP aims to be realized across the country. The first harvest was a real deal success as the farms yielded to about 80, 90 to 100 cavans per hectare. Their cultivation was also of less cost as labor has been through cooperative effort or “bayanihan.” In addition, the variety they have cultivated was not of those new high-yielding or hybrid, thus, required minimal input. For the very first time, Negros farmers have directly enjoyed the very fruits of their labor, a giant leap of difference from working on sugarlands.

 

Landlords’ retaliation

 

As the farmers’ anticipated, landlords would not easily give up their control of the lands. At present, landlords and landowners launched to criminalize agrarian cases or the charging of petty crimes against the farmers. Farmers who burned left-over crops has been charged with arson, those who harvested with theft, those who cultivated lands with trespassing and other crimes. Under the leadership of KMP Negros, farmers would not step back from their victories.

 

They arrived in Manila to further drum up their issue and seek support for their cause. Leaders of KMP Negros and NFSW have joined the recent Lakbayan ng Magbubukid para sa Lupa at Hustisya (Peasant March for Land and Justice), the annual protest against CARPer coinciding the anniversary of Marcos’ bogus land reform program PD 27. They are also in camp-out in front of the DAR Central Office in Quezon City to pressure the department and expose local officials who colluded with the landlords.

 

They were also able to dialogue with the office of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to request the junking of the charges against them. The peasant leaders were also able to speak to forums organized by the church sector, hold a solidarity visit in Hacienda Luisita, discussion groups with different sectors and protest during the World Food Day and at Mendiola. They are in close coordination with their legal counsels that handle their agrarian case.

 

Noynoy challenge

 

The Negros farmers are also challenging the presidency of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. As they are aware of Aquino’s landlord stance on the issue of Hacienda Luisita, they are challenging him to work for the distribution of 11 hacienda lands controlled by his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. They claimed that Danding Cojuangco is the model icon of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and US imperialism. KMP Negros and NFSW are campaigning to junk CARPer and SDO, Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership program and to pass the House Bill 374 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).

 

The Negros farmers are firm and determined to preserve their gains and victories. But as any chapter of the peasant movement, they need the support of many sectors who also aim for Genuine Land Reform and fundamental change in the country. They vow to maintain their organization as united and strong at the highest degree in the name of Genuine Land Reform. #

 

     
     
     
     
     
     
           
     
           
           

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Negros farmers urge Noynoy to distribute Danding lands in Negros


Manila, Philippines- Sugar workers and landless farmers in Negros identified with the National Federation of Sugar Workers in Negros (NFSW-Negros) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) today challenged President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to make a black and white statement declaring the 11 haciendas in the island province own by his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. shall be immediately distributed for free to landless peasants all over Negros.

The peasant protesters staged a mini Maskara Festival rally at the foot of Mendiola Bridge, and were led by KMP-Negros spokesperson Greg Ratin and Rebecca Bucabal, NFSW- chairperson in Escalante City who took turns in berating President Aquino for protecting the land monopoly interest of his uncle in Negros province.

“It appears to us President Aquino is the principal protector of his uncle’s 11 haciendas in Negros Island. As far as the President is concerned, Danding is an untouchable feudal aristocrat not only in Negros but all over the country’s 7,100 islands and he is de facto puppet of his uncle,” the two Negros farmer leaders said in a joint statement.

Ratin recalled, during the dark years of Marcos dictatorship, Danding as the no.1 crony of former President Ferdinand Marcos managed to accumulate 5,000 hectares of land in the island and his landed estate continue to expand and it is now pegged at more than 20,000 hectares of prime agricultural lands which is about two thirds of Negros Island’s total agricultural lands.

“We travel all the way down here from Negros to challenge Mr. Aquino for him to turn the tables around and state an open declaration that will subject his uncle’s 11 haciendas in the island under free land distribution to benefit tens of thousands of landless peasants in the island,” the KMP-Negros spokesman added.

Bucabal, a sugar worker from Escalante City said Danding had openly supported the presidential bid of Aquino in the May 2010 elections and part of the exchange deal she said would be Aquino’s hands off policy on the 11 haciendas of Danding in Negros Island.

“In Negros, sugar workers and landless farmers in Cojuangco lands knew that such exchange deal between the nephew and the uncle exists and still in effect in the name of common feudal interest and political agenda. The deal is that Noynoy won’t touch Danding lands and would even expand his uncle’s land holdings under his watch. This is the real score between Aquino and Cojuangco,” she added.

“If Noynoy has balls and great amount of courage for landless farmers, we will call for the urgent and unconditional free distribution of Cojuangco lands in Negros, nothing more, nothing less,” the NFSW-Negros leader added.

The KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros chapter of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) also pressed President Aquino to stop big landlords, local powerful officials and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) from criminalizing agrarian cases arising from ongoing land disputes across Negros province.

The groups said criminal charges are filed against landless farmers in defense of their rights to land. According to data gathered by KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros, about 256 sugar workers and farmers are facing criminal charges in different municipal, city and regional trial courts in the island. The groups said 56 of these have standing warrants, and 18 sugar workers and farmers are currently in jail for criminal offenses which stemmed from purely agrarian issues.

The KMP-Negros and NFSW-Negros said the criminalization of agrarian disputes is part of the military’s over-all counter-insurgency game plan known as Oplan Bantay Laya. They said, aside from extrajudicial killings, the military has been very active in filing criminal charges against leaders of militant rural organizations in Negros.

They said the latest victim of military’s fetish for filing trumped up charges in the name of Oplan Bantay Laya is fisherfolk leader Editho Namion Jr.- secretary general of the activist fisherfolk group Pamalakaya-Negros. Namion was implicated in the attack of New People’s Army inside Victorias Milling Corporation (VMC) in Victorias City on Oct. 5.

Despite the attestation made by the chief of police of Escalante City that he saw the Pamalakaya leader attending a farmer’s rally dialogue with a landlord in Escalante City on land dispute in the city on the same day and same time the attack was staged against the sugar mill.

Likewise, the group slammed Aquino over his failure to disband death squads in Negros Island trained and supported by the Philippine Army in the island province. The KMP and NFSW leaders said they leaders and organizers continue to be targets of extra judicial killings by “death squads”.

Since 2001, the victims of extra-judicial killings coming from our ranks have already reached 45, the last four of them, as mentioned earlier, coming in the month of October which highly suggests that there is a renewed wave of escalating the political killings in Negros Island. The latest victim of politically motivated assassination in Negros province is Rene Quirante who was gunned down by alleged military assassins last month.

Quirante, is the leader of Kaugmaon peasant organization, the provincial chapter of KMP in Negros Oriental. #

 

     
     
 
Complete video of Bungkalan
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In Manila, a forum about

the Experience of the Peasant Struggle in Negros  and Hacienda Luisita and How they have Transformed Lands into A Major Source of Food and Livelihood
 

Featuring the
· Testimonies of farmers who used to work at sugarlands from Negros and Hacienda Luisita
· Critique of Carper
 Highlights and features of the House Bill 374 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB)

Sponsored by

KMP-Negros, United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU), 

Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA),

 ANAKPAWIS Party List, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP)

 

De Meester Hall,St Theresa’s College, D. Tuazon, Quezon City

Oct. 27, 2010

 

The Filipino Peasants Struggle for Land is a noble cause to Uplift them from Poverty and Hunger, Produce Food for Man and Free them from the Bondage of Feudal Control of the Few Rich and Powerful Landlords.

 

A forum about the Experience of the Peasant Struggle in Negros and Hacienda Luisita and How they have Transformed Lands into A Major Source of Food and Livelihood

 

 
           

 

Brief Background
The Fruits of the Struggle for Land

On November 6, 2004, farmworkers from Hacienda Luisita launched their strike against the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that they saw kept them in poverty and misery. They were massacred on November 16, but they stood their ground. They continued their struggle and began cultivating vast lands with crops such as rice, vegetables and fruits. The lands that for many decades have only been planted with sugarcane and only served the demands for sugar of the world market has for the first time served the farmworkers who toiled heavily on it. It was the moment that man and land have concerted in existence. Land served the man’s needs and provided them with food and source of livelihood. Both land and man were liberated.

At present, at least 2,000 hectares were planted with rice by the farmworkers, with hundreds more for fruits and vegetables. This is the very CONCRETIZATION OF GENUINE LAND REFORM. THE STRUGGLE IN HACIENDA LUISITA IS A MODEL STRUGGLE FOR ALL FILIPINO LANDLESS PEASANTS TO BE INSPIRED WITH.

About 5 years ago, when liberalization of agriculture took its toll to the local sugar industry, hundreds of thousands of sugar farmworkers were affected by the declining demand for Philippine sugar, resulting the corresponding decline for the opportunity to work in the Negros island. Those farmworkers who were earning P50 to P80 per day, alongwith the “sakadas” who earn much lower, have finally learned that the feudal control of sugar barons pulled them down to poverty.

With the inspiration of struggle for Genuine Land Reform in other regions, they launched their “Bungkalan” (cultivation) campaign, converting idle lands that used to be sugarlands into rice farms and for vegetables and fruits. They have also set-up their tent cities in order to protect each other from the possible harassments of landlords and landgrabbers. From only a few hectares, to 2,000 hectares a year after, up to 6,000 hectares across Negros, farmers have finally brought out the full potential of the land from only serving the interests of a few landlords into serving the interest of tens to hundreds of thousands farmworker families.

Farmers from both regions are now defending their concrete victories. At present, Hacienda Luisita farmers are being deceived by the Cojuangco-Aquinos into agreeing with a compromise deal that is essentially within the framework of the SDO. Moreover, leaders and members of peasant organizations in Negros are being accused of crimes such as trespassing, arson, malicious mischief and more. They are now facing criminalization of agrarian cases.

Their rich experience in struggle for land is the living proof that land and man should exist in harmony, free from greed of a few landlords and serving the people. Their struggle is democracy at work, real democracy led by the people, thus, they are worthy of our support and solidarity.
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Ka Lito Bais, ULWU, Chairperson
Ka Greg Ratin, KMP-Negros, Spokeperson
           
     

 

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas - Southern Mindanao Region (KMP-SMR)
Press Statement
October 24, 2010
October Peasant Month
 

Situation of Farmers in Davao, Mindanao detailed in situationer

As landlessness, hunger, militarization, and rights abuses mark the plight of the Filipino farmers, we from local peoples organizations under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP – Southern Mindanao) affirm our unwavering commitment to advance the struggle for genuine agrarian reform, food sovereignty, social justice, and national patrimony.

The first 100 days of the Aquino administration have affirmed the fears of the peasantry that the P-Noy Administration has no heart nor the political intent to uplift the plight of the farmers.

Despite its avowals of revitalizing the agricultural industry, the Aquino administration has no concrete policies that are being implemented to reverse the past administration’s economic and political mistakes. The Arroyo regime has put in place the mechanisms for the demise of the local agricultural industry, the dis-empowerment of the Filipino farmers, and the violations of their basic human rights.

Instead, the Aquino administration’s 20–year peace and development road-map, which identifies energy generation, “responsible” mining, aqua and marine culture, and infrastructure all foretell that this policy hence, is no different from the Arroyo administration’s creation of Mindanao as a super region.

This road-map will further subject the farmers and the local agricultural industry into a deep crisis and will further undermine their right to land and to life.

The massive conversion of agricultural lands into mono-crop plantations for agri-business ventures of transnational corporations such as Del Monte, DOLE, STANFILCO, LA PANDAY, to name a few, have turned self – reliant farmers and village economies like “slaves” to foreign corporations. As of 2005, 26,000 hectares of agricultural lands have been documented to have been converted into banana plantations while more than 40,000 (estimated figure based on 91% production share of Mindanao in pineapple prod & the 70,000 has land allotted to pineapple in the country) hectares were converted into pineapple plantations and processing plants.

Contract growership agreements have only favored the profit – oriented interests of the TNCs/MNCs. Crops are bought at unreasonably low prices and worse is that the growers alone suffer the losses brought about by calamities like El Nino, pest infestation and others. Mindanao, from where 40% of the country’s food products come from, have suffered from food and rice shortage in 2009.

Farmers – turned workers in crop processing plants suffer from wages that are below the minimum wage, and from government-dictated minimum wages that barely compensate their labor. Worse, contractualization, union busting, and other labor-related abuses continue to be rampant today.

Large-scale Mining affects the peasantry in Compostela Valley

The encroachment of large scale and foreign investments by foreign mining TNCs, in Mindanao have disenfranchised farmers and indigenous peoples from their rights to land, and their basic human rights as a whole . In Compostela Valley Province alone, which is known for its large deposits of gold, mining applications have gobbled up 214,715.14 hectares of land, while agricultural development covered only 119,600 hectares.

Compostela Valley is also host to the large-scale operations of Echo Bay, Toronto Ventures and Crew Minerals, to name a few, which are all Canadian-owned mining corporations. Meanwhile, mineral rich lands Diwalwal and Pantukan are targeted by large scale mining operations in order to address the increasing demands for minerals of 1st world countries. Amidst this, mining TNCs have continued to evade paying reparation to the people and communities affected by mining – related environmental destruction and tragedies such as those that happened in Kingking, Pantukan, Masara, New Leyte, Compostela Valley Province.

The deregulated and export-oriented mining operations in the country has also posed environmental and economic risks --- the impact of toxic pollution caused by lead, arsenic and mercury that come from the processing of gold and minerals and landslides in mining areas have been well documented problems caused by large scale mining.

Failure of CARP

Amidst this, the failure Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which was extended for another 5 years under the Arroyo administration is ominous.

In the Davao Region for instance, where population of farmers would account for 60-70% of the total population, the DAR on the other hand has only distributed lands to as much as 140,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries.

70% of the “landed” farmers in Davao region till only about 2 hectares of land, whose yields are hardly able to sustain their basic needs for food. While generally, 7 out of 10 farmers do not own the land they till. 90% of the farmers in Lomundao, Marilog and Paquibato District in Davao City, for instance, who have been tilling the land for around 30 to 50 years have only been awarded stewardship rights and are now threatened to be displaced by mining, and massive land conversion due to a jathropa plantation and state-declared reservation area.

Militarization and Human Rights Abuses

The lack of social services such as access to primary and secondary education and access to medical health services in rural poor communities have worsened the situation of hunger and poverty experienced by the peasantry.

On top of these, we, farmers also suffer from the dehumanizing consequences of militarization patterned after the military counter insurgency plan Oplan Bantay Laya 2. In the 3rd Quarter of this year in Davao Region alone, two farmers from Paquibato District and one farmer from Mawab have been brutally slain.

Justice continues to evade the families of Farmers Association of Davao City (FADC) farmer leader Celso Pojas and of Ludinio Monzon, an anti-mining activist and a lumad farmer from Davao Oriental; both were slain by military agents in 2008 and 2009, respectively.

Hamletting of our communities where military reign with terror continues unabated despite the dangers that this military practice posed on the civilian populace. The military has indeed lost any sense of morality and respect of dignity as the rights women, men and youth are consistently violated.

Peasants continue to struggle for land and Justice

Under the PNoy Administration where the Filipino peoples had banked on for social and political change, we see no sense of hope, peace nor justice coming for the Filipino peasantry.

In the very own backyard of President Noynoy, the Cojuangco’s hacienda where 7 Hacienda Luisita farmers have been massacred in 2004 , justice is dead. So goes in the rest of the country. So goes for the whole nation.

With this, the Filipino peasants affirm its continued militant struggle for land and the right to till. We avow to renew our strength at each time that the threats to our life and democratic rights are also intensified by this puppet, unjust and anti-people government.

We enjoin all Filipino farmers, the Filipino workers, and our fellow Filipinos to stand by our side as we continue the struggle for genuine land reform, social justice in defense of our patrimony against the ever sharpening attacks of US imperialism through its vassals of power in the bureaucracy and feudal system. #

FOR REFERENCE:

Pedro Arnado
Chairperson
KMP-SMR

 

Atty. Jobert Pahilga Executive Director-SENTRA
Ka Toto of Teatro Obrero
     
     
           
     
     

 

Negros farmers protest against Criminalization of Agrarian Cases, Extra-judicial Killings and Militarization

in front of DOJ, October 26, 2010 (Original Message) oct 27 doj abante3

 

     
     
     
Solidarity Night with Negros farmers

Photos by UMA Pilipinas

     
     
VIDEO CLIPS
   

 

Twisting the Justice System to Render Agrarian Reform Inutile

http://www.bulatlat.com/main/2010/10/30/twisting-the-justice-system-to-render-agrarian-reform-inutile/

 

Big landowners in Negros Occidental have found another way to retain and re-concentrate the land in their hands: file criminal cases against peasants and farm workers.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO


Bulatlat.com

 

MANILA — Early morning of November 15, 2009, 22 peasant families went to Lot No. 1156 of Hacienda Filomena in Escalante City, Negros Occidental to demand what was due to them. They cultivated the land because the landlord has not paid the monetary claims they have won in the case they filed before the National Labor Relations Commission. In return, however, the landlord filed several criminal cases against them.

 

Rebecca Bucabal, 56, one of the peasants who cultivated the five-hectare-Lot No. 1156, was aware of the possible criminal charges that might be filed against them. “But we do not have much choice,” she told Bulatlat in a mix of Tagalog and Visayan language, “We are hungry.”

 

Bucabal’s parents were already working in the 60-hectare Hacienda Filomena way before she was born. Bucabal later married Rufino, now 59 years old, who also works in Hacienda Filomena. Since the time of Bucabal’s parents until the present, farm workers in the hacienda endured the low salary being given to them, which was no more than P80 ($1.86) a day, depending on the type and amount of work being assigned to them.

 

In 1996, many farm workers were dismissed without prior notice by the Ocdenaria family, the landowners. Only 34 of them were brave enough to file a case against Ocdernarias before the National Labor Relations Commission for illegal dismissal and non-payment of their rightful salaries.

 

Two years later, the NLRC issued a decision favoring the farm workers. The Ocdenaria family was ordered to pay P1.5 million ($34,883) in back wages to the farm workers. But after more than a decade of waiting, “we have not received a single centavo,” Bucabal said. Worse, the 34 farm workers were still not given work at the hacienda.

 

Bucabal said this pushed them to occupy Lot No. 1156, “to recoup their (Ocdenarias) debt to us.” Only 22 of the 34 farm workers, who filed the NLRC case, and their families have returned to acquire and cultivate the land, calling their claim-making act as Balik Uma.

 

The struggle of the farm workers of Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453 real property co-owned by President Benigno S. Aquino, served as one of the inspirations of their Balik Uma. “Some of our farm workers would go there (in HLI) to work as seasonal workers,” Bucabal said, “So our Balik Uma is somehow patterned after their Bungkalan, only at a smaller scale.”

 

Filing of Criminal Cases

 

Bucabal and all her fellow farm workers are now facing criminal charges filed against them by the Ocdenarias.

 

She is facing six cases namely, Malicious Mischief, Usurpation of Real Right on Real Property, Grave Coercion, Other Forms of Trespass, Arson and Theft, though Bucabal admitted that the last two were the least that she expected.

 

A fire which burned the sugar cane planted at a parcel of land adjacent to Lot No. 1156 on March 17, 2010 around 2:00 p.m was made the basis of the arson case filed against Bucabal. On that day, she was sleeping in their camp-out, just outside Lot No. 1156 When she woke up. she related, “We called for firefighters and they managed to extinguish the fire,” she said.

 

However, as soon as the firefighters extinguished the fire, another end of the sugarcane plantation was, again, set on fire. “Even the firefighters were confused,” she said. She received a subpoena for the arson case in May.

 

The theft case, on the other hand, was filed after the farm workers attempted to sell the sugarcane they harvested on October 3, 2010. At around 4:00 p.m. that day, 10 farmworkers and their driver left Lot No. 1156 to sell the sugarcane, which Bucabal estimated at around 10 tons. Upon arriving in Escalante City, however, Ranil Pritos, a traffic enforcer, confiscated the sugarcane.

“Our driver was told that we were stealing g sugarcane from the hacienda,” Bucabal said. All 10 farmworkers and the driver were charged with theft.

 

“I am ready no matter what happens,” she firmly told Bulatlat, “I am not afraid.”

 

More Cases

 

Bucabal, however, is not alone. In a legal clinic organized by the Sentro Para sa Tunay nga Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), a peasant rights’ legal assistance group, on September 12 in Escalante, Negros Occidental, they found out that the filing of criminal cases against peasants involved in agrarian disputes are common in the province. The peasants and farm workers from 20 haciendas in Negros revealed that the most common cases being filed against them are Forcible Entry, Grave Coercion, Malicious mischief, Usurpation of Real Rights on Real Property.

In Negros, there are 50 peasants and farm workers who have been charged with criminal cases because they have been at the forefront of the struggle for genuine agrarian reform. Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentra, said that this is “very alarming.”

 

Pahilga told Bulatlat that the increasing number of criminal charges being filed against peasants and farm workers are “reflections of the poor agrarian reform system (in the country).” He said the filing of criminal cases are soon followed closely by the filing of ejectment cases against the peasants and farm workers. This, said Pahilga, results in the re-concentration of land to a few big landowners.

 

The Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which was refiled in the present congress, could have strengthened agrarian reform in the country and could have corrected the loopholes of the current Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) However, it is still pending and has not progressed even an inch.

 

Calls for Investigation

 

On October 26, peasants group from Negros wrote a letter to Justice secretary Leila de Lima, appealing for an urgent investigation of the “criminalization and resurgence of the filing of trumped-up charges by big land lords and local government, military and police authorities against farmer leaders and members involved in agrarian disputes.

 

“Farmers and farm workers’ acts of cultivating the land has become ‘usurpation of private property,’ cleaning the field has become ‘arson,’ harvesting the fruits of their labor has become ‘qualified theft,’ holding meetings has become ‘illegal assembly,’ and asserting one’s rights as (Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries) has become ‘grave threats’ or ‘coercion,” their letter read.

The peasant groups said that aside from the fact that farmers and farm workers who do not have the resources to defend themselves are charged in court, “it also disrupts their otherwise normal lives as many of those who are facing criminal charges have been jailed or threatened with arrest. Thus, many are forced to hide and stop working or to post bail, adding to their financial burdens.”

Bucabal said, “I challenge Pres. Benigno Aquino III to look into the situation of farmers like us. We are fighting for the future of our children and grandchildren.” (Bulatlat.com)

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
           
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