By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Read: Bulatlat’s 2014 Two-part special report on the Yulo King Ranch | Peasants of Yulo King Ranch face landlessness, eviction | Poverty, landlessness made peasants vulnerable to scam
MANILA – Peasant groups assailed the killing of a farmer leader in the 39,000-disputed government-owned lands sprawling the towns of Coron and Busuanga in Palawan.
On Sept. 20, Arnel Figueroa was shot dead by Dan Nelson Mayo, a “blue guard,” or private security guard employed by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) to secure the Yulo King Ranch. BAI is under the Department of Agriculture.
A report of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) said Mayo was escorted by four members of the Philippine Marines and several government personnel when he uprooted the crops of farmers. The victim attempted to talk to Mayo, who then shot him pointblank.
The killing was caught on video and had recently gone viral in social media. Palawan police has arrested and detained Mayo and two other guards, Ronald Paguntalan and Salvador Manlabao Jr., said a Palawan News report.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Anakpawis partylist leaders denounced the brutal killing.
“Farmers who assert their right to till through land cultivation activities are either killed, arrested and jailed, or subjected to various forms of abuses,” said KMP secretary general Antonio Flores, citing recent peasant killings in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Isabela and North Cotabato.
Flores described the Yulo King Ranch as the “biggest agricultural anomaly of our country.” Coron and Busuanga farmers have long tilled the nearly 40,000 has. lands even before 1975, when President Ferdinand Marcos declared these as pasture lands and put under control of the Yulo King Ranch (YKR). Two known Marcos cronies, Luis Yulo and Peter Sabido, controllred YKR.
After Marcos’ ouster, the land was sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government as part of the former dictator’s ill-gotten wealth. The management of the disputed lands had since passed from one government agency to another, but not to the farmers.
The bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, said Flores, “rendered farmers landless and poor.”
Attacks against peasants are result of bogus land reform
Flores said the absence of a genuine agrarian reform, landlords and landgrabbers gain “control over the lands by attacking farmers using hired goons, security guards and state security forces turned private armies.”
In a 2014 fact-finding mission, peasant rights advocates learned that the disputed pasture land, subject of request for land reform coverage, “if distributed and cultivated, could ensure food security, economic sustainability and self-sufficiency not only for the people of Coron and Busuanga but also for the entire country.”
Under CARP, however, the Yulo King Ranch was declared as “unfit” for farming.
Today, under the guise of the Busuanga Pasture Reserve, the government continues to deprive farmers of the disputed lands. Flores said among those affected are the communities of Tagbanua, Calamianes, and Cuyonin, who are being displaced to give way to the establishment of business and economic activities like grazing and pasture activities, agro-forestry, tourism, and industrial development.
‘Distribute YKR lands’
Anakpawis partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao said the YKR dispute is “a vital agrarian issue” in the whole country. “This involved the government itself as the landlord who oppresses the poor farmers,” he said, adding that it is in conflict with President Duterte’s pronouncement about fundamental reforms.
In a press statement dated Sept. 26, Agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano called on its regional officials to fast track the distribution of the Yulo King Ranch lands to its farmer-beneficiaries.
Mariano said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have yet to turn over to DAR the jurisdiction over the 8,000 of the nearly 40,000 hectares that are subject for petitions by various farmer groups.