Known for his sharp memory, Ka Paeng admitted that he deliberately memorized the facts and figures about agrarian reform programs of all the administrations.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – It was both a happy and sad occasion.
In an emergency national council meeting of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) held yesterday, June 28, Rafael Mariano, incoming agrarian reform secretary, resigned as KMP chairperson.
Mariano or Ka Paeng/Kaps to his fellow farmers and peasant advocates headed KMP since 1994. He relinquished his post and bequeathed it to Joseph Canlas, KMP vice chairperson and chairperson of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL).
“We are sad that Ka Paeng is leaving but we know that he has a big role to play at DAR [Department of Agrarian Reform],” Canlas told Bulatlat in an interview.
First in Philippine history
Ka Paeng who came from a poor landless peasant family in Quezon, Nueva Ecija, is the first farmer to be appointed as DAR chief.
Ka Paeng started helping out on the two-hectare land tilled by his father for a landlord in Nueva Ecija during his elementary-school years. At an early age, he experienced first-hand the landlord’s rapacity. His father would usually be left with only a very small portion of the harvest, the bulk ending up with the landlord. The family incurred a lot of debts.
When Ka Paeng was in college, his father was stricken ill and he had to quit school and take up the responsibility of being a breadwinner. He became a full-time farmer.
Throughout the years, Canlas said Ka Paeng ably led KMP and all its 15 regional chapters all over the country in the campaign for genuine agrarian reform and against other forms of feudal and semifeudal exploitation.
Ka Paeng survived the 1987 Mendiola Massacre. He and his wife Ka Lita named their only daughter Mendiola as a tribute to the 13 fallen martyrs.
Roda Gueta, long-time staff and project coordinator of KMP, said they would miss Ka Paeng’s valuable contributions during meetings, especially about campaigns and projects for farmers.
Fellow farmers would also miss Ka Paeng’s songs about the Filipino peasants. Gueta said that from one song, “Patak ng Ulan,” Ka Paeng has added three more songs to his list.
Known for his sharp memory, Gueta said Ka Paeng admitted that he deliberately memorized the facts and figures about agrarian reform programs of all the administrations. He did this with the help of his wife Ka Lita, also a longtime leader of the peasant movement.
In his last speech as KMP chairperson, Ka Paeng exhorted fellow peasant leaders to continue strengthening the peasant movement.
Canlas said they are looking forward to the new DAR under Ka Paeng’s leadership. “He knows by heart the issues of farmers and he vowed to be biased for the farmers,” Canlas said.
Canlas described the outgoing DAR officials as “walanghiya.” Asked to expound, Canlas said DAR officials would face them during dialogues but would later decide in favor of the landlords, canceling certificates of land ownership award, emancipation patents, certificates of land transfer and exempting land from agrarian reform coverage.
Canlas said that with Ka Paeng at the DAR, there would be opportunities to gain concrete victories for farmers.
Early on, Ka Paeng declared “no farmer should be evicted from his/her land.”
Ka Paeng, who also served as Anakpawis Representative, is the author of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill. Canlas said they would continue to push for GARB in Congress.
Canlas knows he has some big shoes to fill. He said he would be taking the cue from Ka Paeng’s examples in serving Filipino farmers.