SONA 2023 | Agrarian reform beneficiaries await the fruits of their struggle

Graphics by Jo Maline Mamangun/Bulatlat



HACIENDA TINANG, Tarlac – Farmers of the disputed Hacienda Tinang started to arrive around 7:00 a.m. in a makeshift hut that serves as their protest center. They spend the day cooking, eating, cracking jokes and discussing updates of their case pending at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

That morning, Abby Bucod, daughter of one of the agrarian reform beneficiaries and an officer of their local organization, received a copy of a pleading filed by a cooperative that seeks to annul the DAR’s earlier decision to install them.

“If they are planning to give us more documents in time for SONA, then we want them to know that we have more than enough,” Bucod said.

Last year, the struggle of Hacienda Tinang farmers received national attention when state forces arrested them and their supporters while holding a bungkalan (collective farming) to protest their non-installation as agrarian reform beneficiaries.

DAR has issued a writ of execution in 2018 and ordered with finality in 2019 the distribution and installation of the beneficiaries. These orders, however, never took effect.

Read: Land reform beneficiaries, supporters violently arrested for holding collective farming

Following the mass arrest in 2022, the Philippine government promised to install them in 45 days. Bucod said that instead of getting the land, they ended up getting more documents.

Magtoto began working in the hacienda during her teenage years. This was where she met her husband Juanito. Both of them are agrarian reform beneficiaries. (Photo by JJ Ellao / Bulatlat)

At this point, she stands to show more documents to Bulatlat. “What we want is land to till. And we have been waiting for that to happen since Marcos Jr. [became President].”

Earlier this year, DAR said that the Marcos Jr. administration plans to subdivide 4,500 certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) covering 345,089 hectares of agricultural land and the issuance of 134,000 titles to beneficiaries.

This includes the distribution of CLOAs to 184 beneficiaries and 124 emancipation patents in Tarlac City, Tarlac and City of San Fernando, Pampanga earlier this month.

But for Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), there are at least seven million hectares of agricultural land not yet covered by the government’s agrarian reform program. The landlessness besieging Filipino farmers – estimated at six to nine out of every 10 farmers by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura – has contributed to their continued suffering.

Agricultural workers, for one, receive less than the family living wage. UMA said that sugar workers in Negros receive about $5 on a good day while lowest recorded under the previous Duterte administration was a measly $0.16 for a 10-hour work in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.

These, according to farmers groups, are the reasons they remain fervent on the call for the government to pass a new agrarian reform law.

“Ensuring a truly redistributive and free land distribution program will fulfill the genuine emancipation of farmers and ARBs,” KMP said in a statement.

Long years of injustice

The waiting game is uncertain. Magdalena Magtoto, an agrarian reform beneficiary of Hacienda Tinang who spends her day at the protest center every day, worries that the injustice will be passed on to their children.

Resting is also part of their struggle. (Photo by JJ Ellao / Bulatlat)

Now 56, she started working in the estate in her teenage years where she would bring food and water to the workers, as well as remove weeds. Her day would end by riding the gareta on their way home. This, she added, was where she met her husband Juanito, also an agrarian reform beneficiary of the hacienda.

“One day, the priests looked for us and said that we will receive a blessing someday. Others did not believe them. But we did and signed,” she said, adding that the list eventually became the basis for who will be considered as an agrarian reform beneficiary.

But it was not until the late 1990s that she learned that they have the right to land.

Erlinda Aboy, 60, widow to Hacienda Tinang agrarian reform beneficiary Marcelino, used to have a small vegetable patch along the road in 2007 that helped put food on the table. This, Aboy said, was removed by the security personnel of the Villanueva family. “We were told that they wanted to see their estate, not knowing that this is ours.”

In 2016, she began to gather kangkong (river spinach) and sell it in the local market. This brought her additional income of about P300 daily.

“The land here is very fertile. Imagine what we can do if we can till the land and with sufficient [government] support,” Aboy said.

What about other agrarian cases

Just a tricycle ride away from Hacienda Tinang, farmers in Hacienda Murcia are also fighting for their right to land.

“Unlike those in Hacienda Tinang, we do not have papers yet,” Jocelyn Manlupig told Bulatlat in a phone interview, “lakas ng loob lang ang mayroon kami (strong will is all we have).”

Hacienda Murcia used to be part of the disputed Hacienda Luisita, according to Anakpawis Partylist. In 2019, the Cojuangco family sold the 132-hectare agricultural lands to Landfactors, Inc. a subsidiary of SM Development Corp, a big real estate company in the Philippines.

Protest hut at the heart of Hacienda Tinang (Photo by JJ Ellao / Bulatlat)

In March this year, DAR held a validation of all the claimants of Hacienda Murcia. But for Manlupig, it felt more like an interrogation with government officials asking them questions like “Where is your land?”; “Who is your spouse?”; and “Why are you tilling the land when you do not have papers?”

The validation process, Manlupig explained, was also held alongside a public consultation. “We were hoping that we would be asked what our demands are, or the situation we are in right now. But the public consultation was all about the planned land-use conversion.”

Manlupig said that they are demanding that DAR hold another round of validation for the claimants, which they expect this year.

As a result of their struggle for land, Manlupig said that they were slapped with 33 trumped-up charges, including trespassing, malicious mischief and unjust vexation. They were told that some of the charges have been temporarily archived but can be revived any time. Only four charges remain for now, with their last hearing held last June 30.

Every day, Hacienda Tinang farmers gather in their protest center for updates on their fight (Photo by JJ Ellao / Bulatlat)

On some days, they will discover parts of their vegetable patches in the cultivated lands or their huts destroyed. Even the water pipes for their irrigation, she said, were not spared. One time, Manlupig said that the guards were taking videos of her while she was fixing their gate. “I am not a film for you to watch,” she remembered telling them.

Manlupig said that the attacks against them have left her on the verge of tears, adding that they are up against those who have the means to pay those who can undermine their struggle. “If I stop now, it is like me saying that I have surrendered to the whims of the powerful. My pride will not be able to take that. I will never quit.”

Like the Murcia farmers, Aboy of Hacienda Tinang said they also face attacks. “We were told that we will never be able to reach the finish line. Our leaders receive death threats and we are unfairly judged even by our own loved ones for this fight we are waging.”

“Where should we go now when the government [that] is supposed to help us is not giving us due attention?” she asked.

Fight continues

Alberto Cawigan, 65, said that working in the fields of Hacienda Tinang was the only way of life he ever knew. He knows nearly everyone in the protest center as they practically grew up working in the estate.

Hacienda Tinang farmer tilling the land they are cultivating as part of their protest (Photo by JJ Ellao / Bulatlat)

That Tuesday morning, Cawigan cracked a joke or two before finally agreeing to be interviewed by Bulatlat. Describing himself as the “joker” of their circle, he said, “Our struggle is already difficult. Why make it boring?”

Their camaraderie, he said, helps them to get through the tough days when time seems to have stood still, when there are no updates on the case.

But the struggle has also made them even more determined. Through their lawyers from the Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), they were able to have a better understanding of where they stand in their fight “instead of just allowing the government to dribble our pleas.”

Under the Marcos Jr. administration, Republic Act No. 11953 (New Agrarian Emancipation Act) was signed into law only last July 7. This legislates the condonation of P57.557 billion ($1.05 billion) principal debt of more than 600,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries tilling more than one million hectares of land.

KMP welcomed what they considered a “long overdue” move as it would provide relief to the more than 600,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries. The group has long been pushing for condonation measures to assert free land distribution and a genuine agrarian reform program, specifically pushing for the inclusion of more than 10,000 agrarian reform beneficiaries under Voluntary Land Transfer or direct payment schemes for condonation, to name a few. “It took the government 35 long years to recognize the sheer incapacity of farmers to pay for the land and realize that amortization is a counterproductive burden to [agrarian reform beneficiaries].”

KMP stressed the need for a law to replace the current agrarian reform program. Apart from the amortization, UMA said that lack of production support (e.g., subsidies and access to mechanized farm tools and irrigation services) makes it more difficult for agrarian reform beneficiaries.

“When the land was subjected to agrarian reform and farmers became beneficiaries, the government imposed a heavy financial amortization with a six-percent per annum interest. It seemed the government replaced landowners as they collected the amortization,” Danilo Ramos of KMP said.

In the afternoon, Hacienda Tinang farmers find a comfortable spot to rest. Others lie down in the kubol, while some tie their hammocks in the mango trees by the village road as the soft afternoon breeze makes it inviting to take a nap.

Rest, after all, is also part of their struggle.“We need to regain our strength. Tomorrow, we will have to wait here again for some good news,” one farmer said.

Aboy said that their arrest last year only made them even more determined to see the fruits of their struggle. “The promise has so far remained a promise. So we continue to fight.” (RTS, DAA, RVO) (

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