Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume 2, Number 28 August 18 - 24, 2002 Quezon City, Philippines
A water irrigation project by Bayan Muna Party-List Representative Satur Ocampo in a neglected Bulacan village is expected to boost both the farmers’ productivity and bid to own part of a disputed land.
decades, the farmers of Sitio (sub-village) San Isidro in Tungkong Mangga, an
upland farming village in the municipality of San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan, have
relied on two deep wells for water. From these wells, they get water for their
crops, as well as for their families’ drinking and household needs.
Farmers here literally pray for the rains so they can irrigate their crops, which include indigenous rice varieties, vegetables and fruits. In the dry season, nothing grows except root crops and the farmers are forced to take on odd jobs in the poblacion (town center).
support for the sitio is hard to come by. No irrigation facilities,
farm-to-market roads and livelihood projects have been implemented in the area.
A three-kilometer dirt road leads to the village from the town proper which only
big vehicles can traverse, especially during heavy rains.
the security of the farmers to the lands is under constant threat, as agrarian
reform remains largely unimplemented. The reason: San Isidro, measuring some 311
hectares, is right at the heart of a controversial property being claimed by the
family of Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta III, son-in-law of the late strongman
so-called “Araneta Estate” measures around 3,500 hectares of mostly
undeveloped agricultural lands and rolling hills. A tall, barbed wire fence
surrounds the perimeter, dotted with guard posts manned by the Aranetas’
private security personnel. These guards are supposed to prevent the entry of
squatters, although San Isidro residents claim that the guards are also being
used to eject them.
these factors have virtually turned the sitio into a forgotten village.
Ironically, Tungkong Mangga is right in the backyard of Metro Manila. The town
of San Jose Del Monte is only 30 minutes away from Lagro, an urban district
north of Quezon City. Novaliches and Kalookan City border it on the west and San
Mateo, Rizal on the east. Such location makes San Jose Del Monte an attractive
expansion market for real estate developers and has prompted massive speculation
and conversion of farmlands.
Araneta Estate itself is reportedly being eyed for industrial and commercial
use. Sequestered by the Aquino government and placed under the receivership of
the Central Bank in 1987, the property was supposed to have been under agrarian
reform through the compulsory acquisition scheme. But actual distribution was
stalled since landowners questioned the legality of agrarian reform coverage.
delay has affected around 85 farmer-members belonging to the Sandigan ng
Samahang Magsasaka (SASAMAG) and the Tungkong Mangga Unified Farmers
Association, Inc. (TMUFAI). The farmers have been waging a decade-old struggle
against the Aranetas for the right to a portion of the sprawling property.
years ago, Tungkong Mangga made the headlines when four SASAMAG farmers were
killed and two others wounded by some 20 armed men in broad daylight of June 18,
1999. To this day, not a single perpetrator in the “Tungkong Mangga
Massacre” was brought to justice.
peasant leader and SASAMAG chair Melencio “Ka Miling” Cañete himself has
been subjected to severe harassment. He has been arrested by the police twice:
first in December 1998 and then in February 2000 on suspicions of killing a
security guard in 1998. On both occasions, the cases against Cañete were
dismissed for lack of evidence.
said the irrigation system would allow them to grow palay and corn at regular
intervals, adding that the farmers have had difficulty growing these crops in
the absence of a water source, a situation compounded by the land dispute. He
disclosed that in the last two years, the security guards have disallowed them
from growing palay and corn due to the “permanent nature” of these crops.
Chair Rod Flores said irrigation would give farmers extra hours which they
should maximize to strengthen their organization. “If it took us half a day to
water our crops before, now it will only take a few hours,” Flores said in
Filipino. “We should make full use of the freed up time to strengthen our
unity and claim for genuine land reform.”
pork barrel for needy sectors
said that for a long time, the PDAF has been called ‘pork barrel’ since it
is considered a source of corruption. “Lawmakers are criticized for using the
(PDAF) as a vehicle for re-election and rewarding political allies.”
he stressed that his party-list group has resolved to use these funds for
genuine development projects that would benefit needy sectors. “Bayan Muna’s
funds are public funds and these rightly belong to the people,” Ocampo told
the farmers. “Don’t consider this (project) as a reward. This is yours. This
is your right.”
explained that local farmers have long been petitioning the government for
irrigation, but their requests have been turned down as authorities cite
right-of-way problems that may arise from the land dispute.
The struggle of the Tungkong Mangga farmers for water may have been won for now, but their bigger struggle for land remains uncertain. More than just water, the irrigation project has brought them hope. Bulatlat.com