Still Fighting for the Land They Till

They came from different places. One farmers’ group tries to eke out a living farming the land they have been tilling in Bukidnon in Mindanao, and the other farmers’ group is in Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon. They may be miles apart, but their stories are the same.


They came from different places. One farmers’ group tries to eke out a living farming the land they have been tilling in Bukidnon in Mindanao, and the other farmers’ group is in Nueva Ecija in Central Luzon. They may be miles apart, but their stories are the same.

A land that was almost theirs

Florentino Macote, Jr. is president of the Buffalo Tamaraw Limus Farmers’ Association (BTL) in Bgy. Musuan Dulogon, Maramag, Bukidnon. He is among the 378 farmers tilling the 400 hectares of land inside the Central Mindanao University (CMU).

During the Aquino administration, in 1987, the BTL applied for coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In 1991, the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) issued certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) to the farmers.

A year later, however, the Supreme Court issued a decision declaring the land inside the CMU as exempted from CARP coverage.

In 1993, DARAB issued a demolition order against the farmers.

Macote said, “Gusto na nila kaming paalisin noon kahit walang relocation. Naghugas-kamay agad ang DAR, wala na raw iyon sa jurisdiction nila.” (They wanted us to leave the place even if there was no relocation site ready for us to transfer to. The DAR said it could not do anything for us, saying it is already outside their jurisdiction.)

Macote said they asserted their right to stay. “Pinagtibay namin ang aming samahan. Natutunan namin na sa pagkakaisa naming magsasaka, di agad nila kami mapapaalis.” (We consolidated our organization. We learned that when we are united, they could not easily remove us from the land we till.)

In 2001, the BTL, through the help of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement of the Philippines), held a dialogue with the CMU administration. As a result, a memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed by the two parties. The farmers agreed to pay P4,000 ($78.446 at the 2001 exchange rate of $1=P50.99) per hectare per year as rent to CMU. The MOA’s effectivity was from 2002 to March 2007. During the period of five years, Macote said, the government agreed to find a suitable relocation site for the farmers.

When the MOA expired, there was still no relocation site for the farmers, Macote said. The CMU security guards, goons and elements from the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (Cafgu) have since guarded the land heavily. Since January this year, Macote said, they could not go to the farms and till the land.

Macote said that by September, the CMU administration agreed to negotiate again with the BTL. A new MOA is in the offing. Macote, however, heard that the CMU administration plans to lease the land to them for P10,000 ($208.246 at the current exchange rate of $1=P48.02) per hectare for one year, and that the next MOA’s effectivity will only be for a year.

A military reservation?

Pascual Guerrero, 77, is an officer of Alyansa ng Magbubukid na Nagkakaisa 3,100 (ALMANA 3,100 Alliance of United Farmers 3,100). The 3,100 refers to the hectares of land in Bgy. San Isidro, Laur, Nueva Ecija.

Presidential Proclamation No. 237 issued on December 19, 1955 declared the area, then Sitio Matatalahib ng Bgy. Masagana, as part of the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation.

By 1991, the said area was declared outside the military reservation by virtue of Executive Orders 407 and 448. The said issuances ordered the distribution of land to the farmers for free. These executive orders also paved the way for a deed of transfer in favor of the Department of Agrarian Reform issued by the Department of National Defense (DND).

In 2005, however, then Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Mike Defensor questioned the disposition of ‘patrimonial lots’ inside the Fort Magsaysay. The DENR filed for the cancellation of the CLOA before DARAB. The DARAB ruled in favor of the farmers.

Guerrero said that subsequently the 7th Infantry Division stationed at the Fort Magsaysay also filed for the cancellation of their CLOA.

Joseph Canlas, chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL or Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon) said the military does not recognize the deed of transfer and is pushing for the deferment of the continuing implementation of CARP.

In September 2007, an inter-agency dialogue was held. The DAR, DENR and Department of Justice talked with the farmers. The DND, though invited, did not attend, said Canlas. The dialogue, said Canlas, upheld the rights of the farmers to till the land.

Military harassment

Both Macote and Guerrero complained of military harassment.

Since Sept. 24 this year, Macote said that elements of 103rd Infantry Battalion have been staying in their community inside the CMU. The soldiers, he said, conducted ‘census’ and have been patrolling every night.

Whenever the BTL would hold a meeting, Macote said, the soldiers would be around listening and taking down notes.

On October 13, Macote said that while he was away from home, soldiers went inside their house and took video footages. “Ginawa nila iyon sa halos lahat ng miyembro,” (They did this to almost all of our members) he said.

Macote said the soldiers are there to frighten them. The soldiers, said Macote, showed them the powerpoint presentation “Knowing the Enemy,” which brands legitimate organizations as ‘front organizations’ of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Included in the list is the KMP, of which the BTL is an affiliate.

In Nueva Ecija, Guerrero said, soldiers destroyed and burned some of the farmers’ nipa huts. He also said that soldiers transformed the barangay (village) hall into a military outpost.

“Wala namang order na binabawi na ang aming CLOA, bakit nila kami hina-harass?” (There has been no order canceling our CLOA, why are they harassing us?) asked Guerrero.

Development projects?

The farmers said they are driven away from their land to make way for so-called development projects.

Macote said that he learned from the Sangguniang Bayan ng Maramag (Municipal Council of Maramag) that Lapanday and Dole Philippines, two giant agri-corporations, are interested in the CMU land.

“Gusto nilang i-convert ang lupa bilang taniman ng saging at pinya. May krisis sa bigas pero gusto nilang bawasan pa ang mga palayan,” (They want to convert the land into a banana and pineapple plantation. There is already a rice crisis and yet they want to decrease the land devoted to palay.) said Macote.

Macote said the CMU has 3,080 hectares of land. Agricultural corporations have been renting a part of it.

Guerrero’s group, meanwhile, suspects that the Ft. Magsaysay and the land they occupy would be part of the Metro-Luzon Urban Beltway. The so-called development project will include a jathropa plantation and the construction of highways.


Macote said, “Malaki naman ang lupa [ng CMU], bakit di pa ibigay sa magsasaka ang maliit na bahagi?” (CMU owns a large tract of land, why can’t they just give a small part of the land to the farmers?)

Macote also demanded the immediate pullout of soldiers from CMU. “Bakit may sundalo sa unibersidad?” (Why are there soldiers inside the university?)

Macote said CMU Acting President Rodrigo Malunjao told them that the order to deploy soldiers inside the university came from Malacañang.

Guererro and the Fort Magsaysay farmers are also demanding for the distribution of the land to them and for a stop to the military harassment targeting their members.(

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