By DOMINIC GUTOMAN, AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA, AND SHARLYN VIVO
MANILA — For Christmas, the only ‘aguinaldo’ (gift) that the Tartaria farmers wish is to reclaim their land from the Aguinaldo clan.
Nanay Elvie, 60, an active member of Ugnayan ng mga Ina sa Tartaria (UGIT), fears the day that they will have to buy their own crops. “If there is no farmer, who will feed us? We are most afraid of the day that we will no longer have a choice but to buy our own products. That is why we will continuously fight for our rights.”
Recently, the people of Tartaria have successfully resisted the demolition of shops in their area, forming a barricade to protect around 100 homes and entrepreneurs in the second week of July.
However, Ka Bon, a member of Samahang Magsasaka ng Tartaria (SAMATA), said that they consider the burning of two shops in August as a sign that the fight is far from over. For them, Christmas is when they strengthen their unity, reminiscent of their decades-long struggle.
History of resistance
Tartaria’s history is an account of the long-fought struggle for land ownership and sustainable livelihood of the local farmers.
Tartaria, a part of Lupang Aguinaldo, is a barangay located in the province of Silang, Cavite. The area is known for its fertile soil and land, making it possible to grow plants, trees, and crops such as coconut, coffee, pineapple, and banana. In the late 1890s, people started living in the area formerly known as Sitio Pasong Kaong.
Renato “Ka Atoy” Alvarez, 77, the current chairperson of SAMATA, narrated how the land was rich in forests and greens, and the residents’ sole adversaries were animals and calamities.
Ever since the Taal Volcano erupted in 1911, a lot of people migrated to Tartaria who eventually became the land tillers planting food and products for the people. However, the same food producers from the area are experiencing decades of injustice and harassment from the landlords and state forces who are continuously seizing their lands.
Years after the eruption, the residents were appalled when a certain “Aguinaldo” went to the area, claiming that Tartaria belongs to his family even without any document. Emilio “Orange” Aguinaldo, great-grandson of Emilio Aguinaldo, was claiming 300 hectares of land.
Alvarez narrated how the Aguinaldos made the residents fight each other by hiring foremen from the same locale who became one of the farmers’ oppressors. The hired agents made the farmers plant almost a thousand coconuts from Laguna, telling them that they will benefit from this.
However, after the coconuts grew, the foremen suddenly prohibited the peasants from using the fruit and confiscated the scraper while the local landlord milked the farmers’ produce.
The residents fought for their rights through the Plum Workers Association. However, the association did not fight for their interests, leaving the farmers’ demands hanging. The Aguinaldo family paid the farmers P8,000 ($159.25) per hectare, getting at least 10 hectares of Tartaria lands. Aside from this, they made the farmers pay taxes: P30 ($0.60) to those who plant rice grains, and P50 ($1) for coconut farmers. They have also acquired the land where the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) currently stands by giving P100 ($1.99) to P200 ($3.98) compensation to the farmers and residents who lived in the area.
These continuous attacks against the Tartaria farmers prompted them to fight for their lands and livelihood. By 1978, at the height of Martial Law, SAMATA was founded. Aside from SAMATA, the women of Tartaria became one of the forefronts of the struggle for land, aid, and justice of the tillers, eventually creating Ugnayan ng mga Ina sa Tartaria (UGIT) by 1990.
UGIT is affiliated with Gabriela Women’s Party and Amihan Women. This women’s organization also broadened to Silang, Cavite through the Talibang Ugnayan ng Kababaihang Magsasaka (TUKLAS).
Through the years, the farmers who fought the Aguinaldos experienced harassment from the landlord’s goons. Among the attacks are incineration of their lands, stealing their horses and other animals, and aiming guns at the residents.
The Aguinaldos also filed in court recovery of possession with damages and criminal charges against SAMATA members.
“It is more frightening to lose the land we till. If we no longer have our lands, we will die of hunger. And not only us, but the Filipino people will also be deprived of food if the farmers do not have lands anymore,” Ka Bon said.
Bon and Alvarez said that the trumped-up charges were mainly used against the peasant women leaders since 2012.
Women’s role in Tartaria’s struggle
Tartaria’s women farmers have a significant role in safeguarding their land. Aside from taking care of their families, the women’s primary role is financial management, particularly amid the increasing prices of basic commodities, Nanay Elvie said.
Farmers group Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama TK) said that the criminal charges against the peasant women are usually estafa, murder, and recovery of possession with damages. Despite such harassments, they vowed to unite and fight for their rights.
“We would rather risk criminal charges than surrender our land.” Nanay Elvie told Bulatlat.
Throughout the history of Tartaria’s struggle, women led mobilizations along with the youth and elders to block the unwanted presence of invaders.
“Whenever there is harassment, women face them because they cannot easily attack us, unlike when men farmers do, it leads to chaos and bloodstains,” said Nanay Tessie, 66, chairperson of UGIT.
On July 14 this year, a bulldozer was attempting to demolish a parcel of land in Ilaya but was halted by the quick response team initiated by the women farmers.
The series of attacks and harassment strengthened the unity of women farmers as they firmly believe that their struggle for land is not separate from their fight for women’s rights and gender equality.
Ka Bon said that a missionary named Sister Anita from Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) helped them in the past. With her guidance, they achieved different milestones such as having their own community-led water source, establishing the organizations to assert their rights, and uniting more farmers.
The futility of law
The legal battle of the Tartaria peasant community has long been pending in the courts. According to Ka Bon, the advent of the Aguinaldo family’s legal dispute can be traced back to 1968. On the community’s part, the cases were handled by Plum Workers Association but the community failed to assert their rights as their appointed secretaries would turn their backs against them.
SAMATA was later established in 1978 to continue asserting their rights. The organization led the fight of Tartaria agricultural workers in claiming their lands as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of then-President Cory Aquino was implemented.
Initially, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) approved 137 farmer-beneficiaries, mainly due to their series of protests. However, the family of Aguinaldo, through Emilio “Orange” Aguinaldo, contested the approval. The Aguinaldos submitted a Motion of Exemption for Land Reform to the Office of the President. They filed petitions to reverse the decision of the DAR to exempt the lands from agrarian reform coverage because they claimed that they were “no longer an agricultural land.”
In the Office the President Case No. 95 L-6338, the Aguinaldos cited that the grounds of the case was the Department of Justice (DOJ) Opinion No. 044, stating that the case was already beyond the purview of DAR, since only the lands converted on and before June 15, 1988 are subject to DAR’s decisions.
For three consecutive attempts, the appeal of Aguinaldos was denied because even if the National Housing Agency (NHA) allowed the conversion of the entire landholding, some conditions should be followed. For example, Sec. 20 of PD 957 states: “Every owner or developer shall construct and provide the facilities, improvements, infrastructures and other forms of development, including water supply and lighting facilities which are offered and indicated in the approved subdivision or condominium plans, brochures prospectus, printed matters, letters, or in any form or advertisement, within one year from the date of the issuance of the license for the subdivision or condominium project or such other period as may be fixed by the Authority.”
Alvarez said that the community of Tartaria has long led its initiatives without the facilitation of Aguinaldos. They have two independent and community-led irrigation which they have been spearheading ever since. He also shared that the mode of production remains backward as they depend on their traditional farming tools, “Even carabaos are rare in our community.”
The local government of Cavite adopted and approved the General Land Use Plan on March 14, 1980, reclassifying the lands as “non-agricultural.” However, the farmers of Tartaria remain assertive in cultivating and tilling their lands, which can be traced to the decision of DAR which ruled that the lands remain agricultural in character and deliberately underdeveloped during the span of dispute in 1994.
However, through the former President Fidel V. Ramos and his then-Executive Secretary Ruben Torres, the legal struggle of the farmers would be reversed, declaring the exemptions of the lands from CARP distribution.
The grounds for the decision were allegedly the NHA’s registration of the landholding as residential lands, supported by the impending Aguinaldo Heights Subdivision at the time. Ramos ruled that the lands are beyond the purview of the DAR, and shall no longer be distributed to the supposed 137 farmer-beneficiaries.
“We are already the fourth generation of farmers fighting for our right to our lands and livelihood. But our legal fights amount to nothing. They treat it with no value. But we will continue to assert and fight back because we have no choice,” Ka Bon said.
Bon said that they already learned their lessons. “Those government officials are headed by the landlords themselves. The laws are under their control. They will never have the initiative to easily distribute the lands to us, the farmers.”