“They treat us like dogs. We may be poor but we also want to live decently.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
CEBU CITY — Estan Sepada, 21, only wanted to continue cultivating a small parcel of land to help support his family. This simple wish, however, is being denied to him and to his family.
Estan, his parents and some of his siblings have been working as tenants on a three-and-one-fourth hectare of land in Magdugo, Toledo City, Cebu since 1991. They planted palay, coconut trees and other crops.
The peasant family shouldered all the expenses in the production. Every harvest season, they would, without fail, give their landlord his share of the produce. They were content with their simple life. When the landowner died in 2011, however, and his son took over the land, things have changed.
Estan said the landlord, Domingo Segismundo, ordered them to leave the land. They refused. “We have nowhere to go,” Sepada said in Filipino. “Farming is the only way we know to survive.”
On April 13, at around 11: 30 a.m., Domingo’s brother, Billy, along with two others, went to the house of Estan’s sister Cerilina.
“Billy told them to leave or else they would experience something worse than what happened before,” Estan said.
On April 26, 2012, the house of Estan and his parents, located a few meters from house of Cerilina, was demolished by Billy’s men and elements of the 78th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army.
After the incident, Estan and his parents and siblings built a small hut in the area. Not too long though, Estan said the house was set on fire by Billy’s armed goons, and elements of the 78th IBPA.
“Mama was the only one at the house when they arrived,” Estan said. “They told her to get out of the house or else, she would also be burned to ashes. Mama just wept as she watched them burn the house.”
Before these incidents, Billy and his companions, without any consent, also harvested coconuts from the land cultivated by the Sepada family. In one instance, Billy’s men cut mahogany and gemilina trees and harvested fruits from the land.
Billy apparently made true his warning. In the wee hours of the morning on April 14, Cerelina, her husband and their three children were awakened by smoke. The children were traumatized, Estan said.
“Why are they doing this to us?” Estan said. “We did nothing wrong.”
Last year, Estan and his sister, with the help of Karapatan-Cebu, filed a complaint against the landlord, the 78th IBPA and village councilors, who were involved in the incidents, before the regional office of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
In a resolution dated December 11, 2012, the CHR Region 7 declared that the rights of Sepada family were violated.
The CHR noted that the demolition took place without a court order. The commission also stated that although the Sepadas do not own the land, they own the coconuts harvested and the trees cut down by the landowner’s brother.
The CHR regional office, however, did not recommend charges against the 78th IBPA for colluding with the landlord’s brother in harassing the peasant family.
Estan said they intend to file charges in connection with the recent incident.
“They treat us like dogs,” Estan said. “We may be poor but we also want to live decently.”
The family has put up a temporary shelter made of tarpaulin in the area. They also continue to work on the land despite the threats.
“We will not give up,” Estan said. “Land has been our life. We are ready to die for it.”