Sixty-year old Alexander Viernes’s blood pressure shot up by noon of June 26 while they were in Pulilan, Bulacan, after beginning their march from Aurora province the day before. He rested for an hour and resumed walking. “This is for all the farmers who yearn for genuine agrarian reform,” he said.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
PULILAN, Bulacan — Why are farmers marching against the government’s agrarian reform program? Why do they shun the proposal to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program extension with reforms (CARPer) for another two years?
For 60-year-old Alexander Viernes, the reasons are both personal and political.
Viernes started farming at a very young age. He helped his father cultivate a piece of land in Reserva village, Baler, Aurora. “It was in the 1950s when my parents cleared the land to make it suitable for agriculture. It used to be a virgin forest,” Viernes told Bulatlat.com in Filipino.
When his father got sick in 1975, he and three of his siblings took charge of a four-hectare farm. Palay is their main crop and every harvest yields 80 to a hundred cavans per hectare. A cavan is equivalent to 50 kilos.
In 1980, Viernes said the family was issued a certificate of land transfer (CLT) from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Under the Presidential Decree 27 of then Ferdinand Marcos administration, tenant-farmers who were qualified as agrarian reform beneficiaries were given a CLT.
For 15 years, Viernes said they religiously paid their landlord Eduardo dela Cruz 50 cavans of rice every harvest. In 2002, they went to DAR to get their true copy of certificate of land transfer only to be told that dela Cruz’s land is not covered by agrarian reform due to retention limits set under Republic Act 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. “The DAR told us we could not own the land and we would remain as tenants,” Viernes said.
In 2007, Viernes received an eviction notice from DAR. At that time, he was told that a certain Lily Teh purchased the land from the landlord Eduardo dela Cruz in 2004. “Teh showed as a document to prove she purchased the land. It stated that the land is not cultivated by any agricultural tenant. How could that be? We asked DAR to issue a certification that we were given a CLT but the DAR refused and instead favored Teh,” Viernes said.
“We were the ones who developed the land. Why give it to someone who did not work on the land?” Viernes said.
Viernes said many of his fellow farmers in Aurora are also “victims of the government’s agrarian reform programs.”
On June 25, some 50 farmers from the province went to the provincial office of the DAR in Aurora. “We brought to their attention our concerns but the officials could not promise us anything,” Viernes said.
The next day, they joined the farmers from different towns of Nueva Ecija in Cabanatuan City. There they started their five-day journey to Manila dubbed as “March of CARP Victims for Genuine Agrarian Reform.”
On the first day of Lakbayan, they walked for 14 kilometers from Cabanatuan City to Sta. Rosa town. They rode their vehicles on their way to Gapan City where they spent the night.
The following day, before the sun rose, they left Gapan and travelled to Baliwag, Bulacan. From there, they walked again for 15 kilometers going to Malolos.
Viernes’s blood pressure shot up by noon of June 26 while they were in Pulilan, Bulacan. He rested for an hour and resumed walking. “This is for all the farmers who yearn for genuine agrarian reform,” he said.
With him are farmers from Mammbayu, Guimba, Nueva Ecija. Mammbayu refers to the villages of Guimba namely Manggang Marikit, Bagong Barrio and Yuson.
Nilo Miligrito, 44, is the chairman of Mammbayu farmers’ organization. Mammbayu, Miligrito said, is composed of 138 peasant families who cultivated 82 hectares of land in Mammbayu in 1992.
“We cleared the land in 1992. At that time, only tall grass grew there. We did it in response to President Cory Aquino’s call to clear and cultivate lands suitable for agriculture,” Miligrito recalled. Cory Aquino is the mother of President Benigno Aquino III who signed the CARP into law.
Each family cultivates half-a-hectare of land, mostly planted to palay and vegetables. The farmers also have a fishpond measuring three hectares, which they collectively own.
After two harvest seasons, Miligrito said, the DAR came in and on November 18, 1993, it issued certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs).
“The DAR gave CLOAs to 64 beneficiaries called Lista Saka. Not one of those are actual tillers of the land in Mammbayu,” Miligrito said.
Mammbayu farmers went to DAR several times seeking the cancellation of CLOAs to what they call as “fake beneficiaries” but the agency, until now, has not acted on their demand.
Miligrito said the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer offered to divide the land for the two groups, Mammbayu and Lista Saka. “If DAR would give Lista Saka half of the land, little would be left for us? Our families would get hungry,” Miligrito said.
“For 22 years, we have been cultivating the land. We may not have any piece of paper like CLOA but we will stand our ground. Land should be for the tillers,” Miligrito said.
Legitimate beneficiaries, however, are facing cancellations of CLOA, CLT and Emancipation Patents (EP) and foreclosure, according to data gathered by the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon).
CARP claims that 36 percent of the total number of farmer-beneficiaries (FBs) in Central Luzon or about 95,855 farmers are in Nueva Ecija. DAR records show that 169,375-hectares have been placed under CARP.
A 2011 AMGL research revealed that many farmers from Quezon-Licab-Sto. Domingo-Aliaga (QLSDA), south Nueva Ecija and other towns are now facing cases of cancellation of CLOA, CLT and EP, foreclosure by Land Bank and direct ejectment by landowners. These include the 238.34-hectares of land in Hacienda Rueda in San Andres I village, Quezon town where farmers received notices of foreclosure from the Land Bank and the 455.33-hectares in Pulang Bahay village, Quezon, where farmers are facing problems caused by inaccuracies caused by the Land Bank.
In Bicos village, Rizal, Presidential Decree 27 covered 412-hectares of land but farmers are facing cases of cancellation of CLTs. Some farmers said the Land Bank committed errors in calculation, thus, increasing the amortization. The AMGL also cited the 822-hectares covered by CARP-PD 27 in Pacac village, Guimba, Hacienda Gabaldon, Hacienda Kilantang and Hacienda Anggara where farmers are also facing cases of cancellation of CLT and EP. In Sta. Rosa, Jaen, Cabanatuan City, San lsidro and other southern Nueva Ecija towns, farmers are facing land cases, usually ejectment cases filed by landowners, the group said. Some already have their EPs but landowners filed petitions for retention.
On June 26, the farmers who travelled from Cabanatuan City joined the farmers from Pampanga, Tarlac and Bulacan.
Other victims of CARP such as the farmers from Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga and Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation have joined the March for Genuine Agrarian Reform.
Together, they will proceed to DAR on January 28, two days before the expiration of CARPer.
“Twenty-six years of CARP is too much,” Joseph Canlas, AMGL chairman, said during a program in Malolos, June 26. “CARP, CARPer only benefited landlords, not the farmers.
According to independent think-tank Ibon Foundation, the government has paid a staggering P192 billion from 1988 to 2012 to landlords but, still, much of the landholdings remain undistributed. Farmers could not afford to pay for the amortization under CARP/ CARPer. Data from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) shows that only 9.7% of agrarian reform beneficiaries awarded lands for amortization have already paid their lands in full. Only 14.5% are paying and 75.8% are not paying.
Citing government data, Ibon said leasehold farmers have increased from 555,232 in 1988 to 1,216,430 in 2012 and lands under leasehold arrangements increased from 582,476 hectares in 1988 to 1,740,345 hectares in 2012.
“What we want is genuine agrarian reform,” Canlas said, echoing the sentiments of Viernes, Miligritos and thousand other farmers joining their march that will end in Malacanang.