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