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

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Irrigation Project Brings
Water – and Hope – to a ‘Forgotten Village’

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.


For 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).

Rep. Satur Ocampo gives a speech at the turnover ceremonies of Tungkong Mangga's irrigation project last July 23.
(Photo courtesy of Bayan Muna)


Government 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.

Even 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 Ferdinand Marcos.

The 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.

All 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.

Bid for land

The 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.

The 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.

Three 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.

Local 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.

Tungkong Mangga, Bulacan --- Five diesel water pumps and installation  pipes are unloaded from a truck. (Photo courtesy of Bayan Muna)

More time for organizing

Last July 23, the farmers’ cause received a big boost when an irrigation project was turned over to San Isidro farmers through the efforts of local farmers and the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL), a region-wide alliance of peasants, and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).

The irrigation, worth P500,000, was coordinated with the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) and Ocampo’s office. It included five Kubota VS-100 diesel water pumps worth P75,000 each and installation pipes, funded through Ocampo’s Philippine Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

At the turnover ceremonies, local leaders emphasized the importance of the irrigation project, saying that a steady water supply will not only boost their productivity, but also their bid for land.

Cañete 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.

AMGL 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.”

Using pork barrel for needy sectors

Ocampo 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.”

But 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.”

Cañete 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

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