By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – On August 29, three students of the University of the Philippines in Cebu have been arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) for supporting farmers calling for genuine agrarian reform. The three students, Melanie Montano, Remy Jade Manzon and Januelle Rontos are currently detained at the PNP precinct in Toledo City and Pinamongajan. The three are members of the League of Filipino Students UP Cebu chapter; Karatula UP Cebu, and the Nagkakaisang Kusog ng mga Estudyante, a political party in UP Cebu.
The three were arrested by the PNP after the police violently attacked a protest camp put up by farmers in Sitio Camarin, Brgy Bonbon, Aloguinsan, Cebu. Montano, Manzon and Rontos were in the camp as part of an immersion program by their respective campus-based organizations. There is currently an ongoing campaign in the Aloguinsan against the land grabbing actions of a local landlord family.
According to reports from Anakbayan Cebu, the Gantuangco family is planning to convert 168 hectares of corn fields in Aloguinsan into a shipyard and economic zone. An estimated 86 households are expected to lose their homes and sources of livelihood.
Based on a fact sheet sent by LFS Cebu, at around 5:30am on August 29 some 300 members of the PNP including elements of their SWAT unit arrived at the camp and declared that they were arresting everyone there. The police came from various areas such as Pinamungahan, and Balamban and Toledo City.
The PNP was joined by the Philippine Army’s 78th Infantry Battalion and arrested a total of 39 civilians, including a few minors and elderly. When a bulldozer truck was used to run over the houses, the farmers and students attempted to block it and it was then that the police started to randomly arrest individuals.
By 10 am, the three students along with other youth and farmers were taken to the Toleda City Jail and Pinamongajan Municipal precinct. The three were part of an 11-youth contingent. Those arrested stand to face charges of obstruction of justice. All 39 detainees will stay in jail until Wednesday when regular office work resumes. The PNP said it will file charges before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office on the same day.
According to reports, there was already an existing land dispute case between the farmers and a certain Jufil Sato Gantuangco, the land claimant. The Temporary Restraining Order issued to stall the fencing of the land declared alienable and disposable under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with reforms (Carper) was due for implementation on August 29, but a hearing had been scheduled for August 30.
Reports from the Cebu Daily News reveal that a sheriff brought a court order to allow laborers to start fencing the land. The Hacienda Gantuangco, the report said, has been a flash point of agrarian reform dispute for several years with organized farmer groups and activists fighting off efforts to have it sold off to investors.
A lawyer from the Farmer’s Development Center (Fardec) in Cebu City has already said that Fardec might file charges of police brutality. The lawyer Kim Mendoza told Cebu Daily News that they are asking the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the dispersal and arrests.
The land is government-owned
According to Fardec, in an an article posted on its website, the farmers of Aloguinsan and their organization the San Roque Farmers Association (SRFA) comprise more than 86 farming households who have been tilling the 168 hectares of land since the 1910s.
In the 1970s, the farmers were given Certificate of Land Transfers and made beneficiaries of the government’s agrarian reform program PD 27 Operation Land Transfer.
In the early 1990s,however, farmers were threatened with eviction by the Gantuangco family who ordered them to stop harvesting their corn produce.
In 1993, the farmers established their organization and have since then asserted their right to till the land. They continued to seek the help of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to complete the processing of the land under agrarian reform so that they could get their land titles; but in the late 1990s the DAR claimed that the land was publicly owned and that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) actually has jurisdiction over it.
The SRFA farmers later got hold of a DENR – certified cadastral claim certificates as cadastral claimants. According to Fardec, the farmers experienced “relative peace and security of tenure” when the Gantuangco administrator left the community. They continued their lobbying efforts with the DENR and DAR. The SRFA farmers engaged in sustainable agriculture practices as well as managed their own potable water project.
“Since the first quarter of the year 2011 however, threats of an impending eviction became more glaring. SRFA farmers have no choice but to brace themselves in facing this threat. On March 30, 2011, truckloads of fencing materials, fully armed security guards and armed goons came and attempted to fence their farms. But SRFA farmers successfully stopped them.
Since March 30 until now, SRFA have been holding a camp – out and are keeping their vigilance. There were several attempts since then to put up the fences to which the SRFA farmers succeeded in warding it off through their collective efforts. The peasant women played a big role since every human barricade they formed, it’s the peasant women who were in the front lines,” the group said.
The Fardec said on June 29, 2011, the Gantuangcos mobilized more than a hundred armed goons and workers, security guards and K9 dogs. The Gantuangcos also mobilized the 78th IB “The SRFA farmers sought the help of the municipal mayor, the barangay captain and the police to keep the peace and prevent untoward violence. But, the mayor and barangay captain were tentative. Sadly, the police sided with the Gantuangco’s. The DAR and DENR seemed helpless as well,” it said.
On August 10, 2011, Fardec received a court order from RTC Branch 59 of Toledo City as it was one of the defendants with the SRFA in an Injunction Case filed by the Gantuangco’s for a TRO.
The TRO is for the farmers, Fardec and other support groups; it was to keep them away from the disputed land area so that the Gantuangcos hired help could begin fencing the land.
On August 11, the summary hearing on the TRO were held , but even before a decision on the TRO’s extension could be laid down more than a hundred armed goons and security guards with the Aloguinsan police tried to fence the 168 farms invoking the court’s order for TRO. The conflict has since escalated until the violence erupted on August 29.
“These acts of connivance between the Gantuangco, the court, the police and the military inflicted so much injustice to the lives of farmers who are already suffering from poverty and who only have this land as their only means of survival. Where will they go if they will be evicted?,” said Fr. Crispin Mostajo, Fardec chairman.
” How can the court simply issue a TRO against farmers when in fact, the Gantuangco could not even present a legal proof of ownership of the land? If the Gantuangco’s can successfully get rid of the farmers in the 168 hectare land, will this be another case of land use conversion losing such a prime agricultural corn lands to pave the way for a “ship building, ship breaking industry” at the expense of the farmers, our food security and the environment? How and when can the government such as the DAR and DENR truly make a decisive stand and side with the famers?”
PNP violated human rights
LFS Provincial Coordinator Jed Bautista said the PNP committed human rights violations in arresting the students and attacking the camp and those in it.
“The farmers of Sitio Camarin have all the right to defend their land, more so continue to till it, but the PNP has become the enforcer of the will of corporate powers in undermining the rights of farmers, not only to own the land but to peaceably assemble and seek redress for grievances committed against them,” he said.
Bautista said that all over the country, hundreds of thousands of peasant families are being subjected to the same vicious demolition attacks and displacement.
“Again and again they are being betrayed by their own government that would not lift a single finger to implement genuine agrarian reform. The Aquino administration is devoted to serving the cause of corporate profit and support the business agenda of the local ruling elite and foreign corporations,” he said.
The youth leader said even as the Aquino government continues to attack the rights of farmers and the rest of Filipino people, youth and students will continue to join the peasant’s fight for genuine land reform and the people’s fight for a government that will truly serve its interests.
A lawyer from the Farmer’s Development Center (Fardec) in Cebu City said Fardec would file charges of police brutality. The lawyer Kim Mendoza told Cebu Daily News that they are calling on the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the dispersal and arrests.
Salute to the youth
In the meantime, Vencer Crisostomo, national chairperson of Anakbayan gave a salute to the “Cebu 3” and the other youth who were arrested for helping the farmers of Aloguinsan in their defense of their livelihood and homes.
“It is ironic that those who are truly ‘serving and protecting’ the common people like the Aloguinsan farmers are the ones who are being arrested,” he said. ” “We urge other youths to emulate the heroism of Melanie, Remy Jade, and Januelle. By going to the ranks of the poor to concretely learn their problems, and then joining the life-and-death struggle of the farmers, even at their own risk, they have shown qualities few of our politicians possess.”
Crisostomo said the Aquino government’s lack of genuine concern for the Filipino youth is also evidenced by its seeming indifference to the issue of youths abducted by the military.
“While the likes of Karen and Sherlyn have yet to be surfaced, the very same institution guilty of abducting them are claiming new victims like Maricon Montajes, Romiel Caniete, and the Cebu 3,” he said.
Crisostomo was referring to UP students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan, members of the LFS and Anakbayan, respectively. The two were abducted by soldiers in Bulacan last 2006. Montajes, another UP student, was taken by the military last year with Caniete, a member of the Anakbayan chapter in Brgy. UP Campus.
“Blame rests ultimately on Aquino’s feet because he has failed to act on the issue of human rights violations in the country. Not a single member of the military has been arrested. On the other hand, the AFP continues to get a large chunk of the national budget and a ‘green light’ to order whatever equipment it wants. In other words, Aquino is giving the military all the signals to ‘carry on,'” he said.