Too bad, that even before the massacre of nine farm workers in Sagay, Negros Occidental has been thoroughly investigated, President Duterte is already echoing the military and police line. Landless farmers, he said, were seizing agricultural lands from the “original tenants after the [sugar] harvest…using violence and intimidation, backed up by the New People’s Army (NPA).”
In a speech in Malacañang last Wednesday, Duterte warned the farm workers. “Please do not do it again. Kasi (because) the next time I hear a single incident, I will have you evicted.” Emphasizing that “I’m addressing now the nation, the communists, and the Left,” he added, ominously, “Please do not resist violently. I’m ready to do anything to establish order.”
AFP chief Gen. Carlito Galvez, seated beside Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana in a televised press conference, even claimed that the Sagay massacre was part of their imaginary “Red October” plot to oust President Duterte. (Supposedly it was to have been carried out in September but has now been moved to December, to coincide with the 50th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of the Philippines.)
The CPP and the NPA have both categorically denied having had a hand in the Sagay killings, and blamed it on a paramilitary group of the AFP and goons hired by local landlords. They had earlier dismissed “Red October” as a scheme to justify the state security forces’ intensified crackdown against progressive legal organizations and activists.
The fact is that the action taken by the slain farm workers – to cultivate (bungkal) a portion of Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon by planting vegetables and other food crops – was nothing new.
There existed indeed such a “bungkalan” or “farmlot program,” negotiated by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) with some landowners starting in 1971, when the NFSW was formed. As a social-action program, bungkalan entailed encouraging sugar landlords to allocate small portions of their haciendas for the planting of foodcrops by the farm workers. This was done particularly during “tiempo muerto,” the “dead season”between sugarcane harvest and the next planting season (May to September), when the landless, jobless peasants had no other income.
The bungkalan later evolved as an option for poor farmers across the country, led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), to take over idle lands for cultivation to feed their families.
With the repeated failures of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), bungkalan has become one of the modes employed by the peasants in pursuing their campaign to end land monopolization by a few big landlords and corporations. The end-goal, since CARP won’t do it, is the dismantling of the feudal haciendas and other big landed estates.
Already thousands of hectares of former sugarlands in Negros island have become more productive under bungkalan, as can be gathered from a compilation of investigative reports by the media outfit Bulatlat. com. For instance, the reports say that in North and Central Negros, bungkalan exists in 80 haciendas, benefitting 3,156 farming families. In Central Negros, 20 percent of bungkalan is done through communal farming, while 80 percent is under individual or family tillage.
In commemoration of the 13th year of the Hacienda Luisita massacre of striking farmworkers in November 2004, a book, titled Bungkalan, Manwal sa Organisadong Pagsasaka, was published last year by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). UMA was formed in 2005, in the aftermath of the Hacienda Luisita massacre. The NFSW was among the organizers.
The articles in the book dwelt mainly on the bungkalan experiences of the farm workers in Hacienda Luisita, owned by the family/clan of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, and those in Negros.
Among the recent cases inspired by bungkalan were the following:
• The MARBAI versus Lapanday case in Mindanao. In the first two weeks of May 2017, members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) encamped on Mendiola, near Malacañang. They were demanding their reinstallation by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) as owner-tillers of 145 hectares of farmland in San Isidro, which formed part of a 1,400-hectare banana plantation in Tagum City owned and managed by Lapanday Food Corp. Then DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano had already recommended positive action on their petition.
On May 16, President Duterte visited the encamped farmer-beneficiaries, and after hearing their appeals, directed Secretary Mariano to implement their reinstallation. It took some time before the presidential order was fully carried out, as Lapanday security guards hindered the entry of the farmer-beneficiaries apparently under orders by the firm’s management.
• A day earlier, on May 17 last year, 100 farmers entered and occupied 60 hectares of land within the Sanggalang estate in Barangay Baloc, Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija. The farmers were members of the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-NE, who had been forcibly driven out of the farms they tilled by Sanggalang security and goons in 2008. In 2001 they had succeeded in asserting their right to till their farms within the estate. The case has been brought to the DAR for resolution.
Still unresolved are the land disputes in Hacienda Looc in Batangas, the Yulo King farm and other farms in Coron, Palawan, among others.
I had my own little experience, during my first campaign in the 2001 partylist elections, in supporting the landless farmers who had occupied and cultivated an idle piece of land in Bago, Negros Occidental. Through the assistance of lawyers in fighting for their right to till the land, and my own intercession with then DAR Secretary Hernani Braganza, the disputed land was awarded to them.
With President Duterte’s ominous warning to landless farmers to stop making productive use of idle land to feed even just themselves and their families, this recurring problem all over the country is bound to continue. An indication of the president’s current inclination is the last-minute cancellation of his announced plan to condole with the Sagay victims’ families; instead, he was photographed visiting the wake of soldiers who died in an NPA ambush in Bicol.
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Published in Philippine Star
Oct. 27, 2018