By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In 1972 peasants in Mascap, Rodriguez of Rizal province thought they had already won their right to the land they have been tilling. However, in 2006, a landed family once again started claiming it.
The 1,644-hectare land currently being tilled by the Mascap peasants was owned by the Araneta family, a wealthy and landed family in the Philippines, until Ferdinand Marcos enacted the Presidential Decree No. 27 in 1972. It provided for the “emancipation of all tenant farmers working in private agricultural lands” producing rice and corn. Under PD 27, more than 1,300 hectares were distributed to farmers.
Since then, said Zen Soriano an organizer of Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Mascap, Rodriguez, (Farmers’ Association in Mascap, Rodriguez), the Araneta family has been using every trick in the book to reclaim the land. They filed an appeal before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 1992 but lost.
During the late 1990s, the Aranetas brought the issue before the Court of Appeals (CA). This time, the peasants in Mascap were not informed about the petition filed to reverse the DAR decision. Thus, they were unable to attend the hearings. The Appeals Court ruled in favor of the Araneta family in 2003, but the farmers only learned of the appeal and decision in 2006. The next year, on February 2007, the peasants filed a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) to reverse the CA decision.
As of this writing, the High Court has yet to decide on the case. Soriano said they are hopeful the SC will rule in their favor especially since former Chief Justice Reynato Puno had endorsed their appeal to the justices in May 2010.
(link to Presidential Decree No. 27) http://www.lawphil.net/statutes/presdecs/pd1972/pd_27_1972.html
“We cannot just leave our fate to the legal system. We need to pressure the government to side with the peasants on this matter,” Soriano told Bulatlat. The peasants formed a group called SAMMARO in September 2007.
The peasants persisted with their struggle for the land they are tilling, but now their organization SAMMARO is being accused by the military of being a “front organization” of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
This red-tagging heightened during the campaign for the 2010 elections, as SAMMARO campaigned for Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza, two progressive party-list representatives who ran for senator. Pasted outside Mascap Elementary School were posters that read, “Do not vote for NPA candidates Satur and Liza.”
Soriano said they believe soldiers from the military detachment near their village did that. During the campaign, soldiers asked Soriano to remove Ocampo’s and Maza’s campaign posters from their homes.
The threats reportedly alarmed many peasants living and working in Mascap. “Most peasants in Mascap are now afraid of joining our organization because soldiers are warning them not to join,” Soriano said.
But despite the threats, the peasant group managed to organize more than 200 residents. Because of the dialogues they had with concerned government agencies to assert their right to the land, they also gained the trust and support of village officials.
Soriano said they know that newly-installed President Benigno Aquino III and his family also have a pending case in the Supreme Court regarding the temporary restraining order barring the Department of Agrarian Reform from distributing Hacienda Luisita to farmers. She said the peasants in Sitio Mascap may harbor doubts because of this, but they definitely hope Aquino will address their land dispute. (Bulatlat.com)