“A genuine agrarian reform scheme will address the centuries-old problem of peasant landlessness, which the CARP has not solved and in fact worsened. Up till now 7 out of 10 farmers do not own the land they till, in some regions like Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon it is 8 out of 10.” – Bayan Muna Rep Neri Colmenares
By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — For the third time in a row, the Philippine government is extending the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which marked its 26th anniversary this June. While the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Benigno S. Aquino III administration lauded the CARP and its supposed achievements, Filipino farmers are saying that another CARP extension is a waste of time and money. Groups like the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, for instance, point out the case of the Hacienda Luisita farmers, which exposes how the CARP’s notice of coverage is no guarantee for land distribution
The DAR wants to extend the CARP program through the issuance of notices of coverage (NOC) until June 30, 2016. Aquino’s allies in the House of Representative recently filed House Bill 4296, a bill that seeks to extend the CARP through the issuance of NOCs for two years.
Former congressman and chairman of KMP Rafael Mariano argued that the Tarlac Development Corporation’s (Tadeco) continuing denial of access to land to farmers in a 258-hectare land in Barangay Balete and Cut-cut inside Hacienda Luisita, despite the DAR’s issuance of an NOC in December 2013, proves that that the NOC is useless.
“Pres. Aquino’s relatives have built concrete walls encircling the 258-hectare land inside Hacienda Luisita. This is proof that an NOC is not a guarantee to land distribution”, Mariano said. He explained that DAR undersecretary Anthony Parungao issued a decision denying the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita’s (Ambala) petition for a cease and desist order on Tadeco’s illegal conversion in Hacienda Luisita.
In a May 22, 2014 decision, Parungao said,“It needs to be emphasized that the issuance of an NOC does not contemplate the actual taking of property for purposes of land acquisition and distribution process under the CARP. Rather the issuance of an NOC only commences the process of acquisition of private agricultural lands coverable under the CARP, which must always be subject to corresponding statutory rights, if any, of the affected landowners, i.e. right to protest coverage, right to exercise retention, or to receive just compensation, among others.”
Parungao further said that “the earth-moving activities undertaken by Tadeco appeared, at this point, to be merely for the preservation and protection of its properties and that it has all the right to protect its properties from trespassers.”
According to Mariano, this shows that the DAR itself knows that an NOC would not necessarily lead to land distribution. “What is certain is that the issuance of a NOC signals the start of a long-drawn legal battle to further strengthen landlord control over the lands,” he said. “The DAR along with the main proponents of the CARP extension bill should stop giving false hopes and deceiving farmers that a two-year extension on the issuance of NOC’s would lead to land distribution and breaking landlord monopoly over vast tracts of lands. Extending the CARP for another two years is a waste of time and money.”
In the DAR’s latest NOC published last May 29, listed are lands smaller than 24 hectares. Mariano said that lands smaller than three hectares should have been covered ages ago by the CARP.
“What this means is that within the next two years of the CARP extension, vast haciendas will never be covered by agrarian reform,” he said.
Farmers all over the country organized under the KMU have launched a series of protests they’ve dubbed “Lakbayan ng mga Biktima ng CARP para sa Tunay na Reporma sa Lupa” (CARP Victims’ March for Genuine Land Reform) to emphasize their call for the government to distribute land to landless farmers.
Cases of agrarian unrest also continue and peasant rights advocates point how the government neglects disputes involving the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita; the 8,650-hectare Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas; the more than 2,000-hectare Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga; and the more than 3,500-hectare Araneta Estate in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan.
The Cojuangco-Aquino family continues to control Hacienda Luisita while Hacienda Looc is being targeted for land-use conversion for leisure and tourism by Henry Sy’s SM Land Inc. The Ayala Land Inc. plans to turn Hacienda Dolores into a self-styled “green township project” dubbed the Alviera Project. According to the Alviera website, Ayala Land together with Leonardo-Lachenal-Leonio Holdings Inc. (LLL or LHI) and FL Property Management Corp. (FL Corp.) are set to convert Hacienda Dolores into “an integrated mixed-use development envisioned to be the growth center of Central Luzon which will have commercial district, business and industrial park, university zones, retail centers, a country club, recreational areas and residential neighborhoods.” The Araneta Estate, on the other hand, is being controlled by the Aranetas, relatives of Secretary of Interior and Local Government Mar Roxas.
The LHI has staked its claim on 298 hectares covering Purok 3 to 8 of Hacienda Dolores, while FL Corp. is taking over 456 hectares, some parts of which are considered ancestral lands of Ayta communities. Ayala Land has publicized their plan with Hacienda Dolores, covering 1,000 hectares to be developed similar to the Nuvali project in Sta. Rosa city in Laguna province. Nuvali is an eco-residential and tourism project catering rich foreign and local businesses. LHI and FL Corp. has already barred at least 350 farmers from attending to their their farms.
CARP in Hacienda Luisita
From 1988 up to 2004, CARP had allowed the implementation of the stock distribution option or SDO in Hacienda Luisita. Farmworkers of the hacienda were declared “stockholders” of the vast sugar estate even as they continued as landless tillers. The farmworkers’ campaign against the SDO reached a pinnacle in the Hacienda Luisita massacre of November 2004 where seven farmworkers were gunned down. The succeeding years saw a series of extrajudicial killing of peasant activists and land reform advocates.
The original land area of Hacienda Luisita was measured to 6, 453 hectares. Of this, however, only 4,915 were declared by the Cojuangcos to be agricultural in use when the SDO was implemented in 1989. Of these thousands of hectares, 500 hectares were approved for land use conversion. The Supreme Court then ordered to subtract the latter figure along with 80.5 hectares of the Subic Clark Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) to come up with 4,335 hectares for land distribution in its 2012 ruling to place under land reform “other agricultural lands originally held by Tadeco that were allegedly not transferred to HLI but were supposedly covered by RA 6657 (CARP)”.
According to Ambala chairperson Florida Sibayan, under CARP and through the implementing mechanisms of the DAR, the erstwhile landmark 2012 Supreme Court ruling to finally distribute Hacienda Luisita has been subjected to various legal actions that favored the Cojuangco-Aquinos and their aim to evade land distribution and retain control of thousands of hectares of agricultural land.
“Because CARP gives unqualified premium to the right of the landowner to so-called ‘just compensation,’ the government has readily disbursed an anomalously generous sum of almost half a billion pesos (P471.5 million or $10.7 million) to the Cojuangco-Aquinos for 4,500 hectares of supposedly distributed lands. Even before any nominal land transfer to land reform beneficiaries could be completed, the lands are now well on the way of being reconcentrated back to the Cojuangco-Aquinos through unfair and illicit land-lease deals – or the arriendo system – pushed by the President’s kin through deployment of loyal sugar cane production financiers,” she said. She said that among these “financiers” are former chief of the Land Transportation Office known Aquino “kabarilan” Virgie Torres and Tarlac Rep. Noel Villanueva of Tarlac.
Peasant killings and agrarian violence
The peasant struggle for agrarian reform is also said to be behind the recent spate of killings and violence against farmers.
Last May 2, a farmer leader in Hacienda Dolores in Porac town in Pampanga was killed. Menelao “Boy” Barcia, 57, a barangay councilor (kagawad) and an official of the Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Hacienda Dolores (Aniban or Alliance of United People of Hacienda Dolores) was shot dead by unknown men.
On May 2, at around 10:00 p.m. Barcia met up with his wife Maria at a gas station in Angeles City where she worked. While driving their jeep back to Brgy. Hacienda Dolores, two motorcycles drove alongside them. There were two unidentified men on each of the motorcycles. The men fired at Barcia’s vehicle, killing him instantly. Barcia sustained four gunshot wounds—three in the chest and one at the back of his head. Maria was also injured and taken to the Mt. Carmel Hospital in San Fernando, Pampanga.
Barcia had been monitoring the status of administrative charges filed against Barangay Captain Antonio Tolentino. With Tolentino, Barcia was also involved in uniting the farmers of Hacienda Dolores against the moves of the Triple L Company to take over their lands.
Earlier in January, armed goons and security guards of the Arsenal Security Agency manning the hacienda allegedly open fired on Arman Padiño, Noel and Reynold Tumali while on their way to their farm. Padiño who was shot in the head died while Noel and Reynold were seriously wounded.
On May 16, Vicente Sambu, a member Ambala was arrested for the second time by Tarlac City police between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Friday from his home in Asturias village, Tarlac City. He was not shown any warrant of arrest, was detained at the San Sebastian police station in Tarlac City. He had to post bail for P3,500 on charges of direct assault.
Sambu, along with four others, was first arrested on December 21, 2013 when they attempted to stop the security guards hired by the Cojuangco-Aquinos from bulldozing agricultural lands in Balete village. They were charged with physical injury and detained at Camp Macabulos, provincial headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The five were released after two days; the prosecutor reverted the case to preliminary investigation for lack of probable cause. After he was released, Samba was again charged with trespassing.
At least 51 Ambala members were accused of trespassing by Tadeco in relation to the Dec. 21, 2013 incident. On that day Tadeco security guards and members of the local police destroyed the crops of farmers in Balete village. When Tarlac City councilors Emily Ladera-Facunla attempted to intervene, she was also charged with trespassing.
According to reports from LuisitaWatch, hundreds of farmer-beneficiaries have also been slapped with various criminal charges, including malicious mischief, grave coercion and physical injury during the course of their fight for land reform.
Rights Commission investigates
In the meantime, last April 29, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) led by Commissioner Norberto dela Cruz and Region III Director Jasmin Navarro Regino confirmed various reports of grave rights violations in Hacienda Luisita during its field investigation. The regional CHR branch, the government’s official human rights desk headed in the national level by a known Aquino ally Etta Rosales, was purportedly prompted to investigate rights violations in Hacienda Luisita after it received letters from international human rights organizations based in Canada.
Local CHR officials were able to monitor renewed rights violations against Luisita farmers in September 2013 when Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap was arrested by Tarlac police along with 10 others who were delegates of a fact-finding mission. The CHR, however, never conducted any ground investigation until April 29.
One of the farmworkers who was interviewed was the 58-year old Florida Sibayan. Sibayan is a survivor of the Hacienda Luisita massacre. She told the CHR that since the SC laid down its ruling in 2011, she had been “mauled” by security guards of the hacienda at least thrice and unlawfully detained twice. Bulldozers destroyed her family’s hut and crops, and killed their livestock.
The farmers told the CHR officials that their rights continue to be violated with impunity by government agencies such as the DAR and the local PNP.
Officials of the CHR Region III promised to closely monitor future incidents and all active trumped-up charges filed against farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita. The most recent incident involved the incredulous filing of physical injury charges against the very farmer-victims of a “Martilyo-Gang”-type attack allegedly instigated by hacienda hirelings last March 28 in Barangay Cutcut.
No genuine agrarian reform, no food security
In Congress, there are lawmakers who argue that there is a need for long term solutions to the country’s food security woes. The Philippines also has to prepare for the inevitable impact of El Niño that will hit the country in 17 years.
“What we need is a genuine agrarian reform program,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
“A genuine agrarian reform scheme will address the centuries-old problem of peasant landlessness, which the CARP has not solved and in fact worsened. Up till now 7 out of 10 farmers do not own the land they till, in some regions like Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon it is 8 out of 10. It will also be the basis for agricultural planning that can address the food security problems of the country. We will not be again caught off guard by the El Niño and La Niña phenomena,” he said.
Colmenares said that if there was a genuine agrarian reform program, when the first forecast for El Niño or La Niña surfaces, plans for irrigation, crop planting decisions, seed selection, and fertilizer application in agriculture will already be formulated to mitigate the impact of the drought or deluge.
“Fluctuations in agricultural products can also be reduced by conducting crop inventories so as to prevent a food crisis, but another extension of the CARP does not have anything on these types of measures and would only prolong the wrong approach to these problems,” he said.
“The Aquino administration should learn its lessons in dealing with climate induced disasters like El Niño and strong typhoons. Its stop-gap measures to deal with El Niño, like expensive cloud seeding and rice importation are very myopic. The government should build a strong agricultural base that will start from planting to putting up post-harvest facilities as well as a rehabilitated irrigation system. The CARP has done nothing to alleviate these problems and it would be for the country’s interest that any efforts to extend any of its provisions be shot down. How can we ever have food security and a comprehensive plan for disaster mitigation when vast tracks of land are owned by a few under the CARP.