CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Farmers who legally own a 57-hectare piece of land now pin their hope on President Rodrigo Duterte.
Their group hopes they can rightfully till the land they fought for more than 15 years to own through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and subsequently the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER).
CARP is a social justice program of the Philippine government designed to distribute lands to farmers. It served as a counter-revolutionary program of then-president Corazon Aquino.
CARP resulted in landlords holding on to their lands, leading to a long, costly battle to retain landholdings. Many farmers, farmworkers, and landless farmers were killed in their fight to regain their land.
Landless farmers belonging to the Fortich Farm Landless Beneficiaries Association (FFLBA) fought for a piece of land under CARP in 2005. The organization has 149 farmer members.
The FFLBA first claimed 1,176 hectares of land considered as Alienable and Disposable (A&D) land in Barangay San Carlos, Valencia City, Bukidnon.
Task Force Mapalad (TFM), a nongovernmental organization, assisted the farmers in their fight to claim the land. Nelfa Gonzalez of TFM said that of the original 1,176 hectares of land claimed, only 55 hectares of land were awarded to the farmers in 2016, after 11 years of land rights claim under CARPER.
Around 845 hectares of land under the Maria Theresa Pilar and Carlos Corporation (MatherPilCa) were issued a CARP exemption by then-Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary Benjamin Leong. Leong served as DAR secretary between April 6, 1990 to June 30, 1992.
Gonzales said that TFM started working with FFLBA in 2005.
in 2016, DAR awarded FFLBA with a 55 hectares of land under the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). CLOA is a land tenurial instrument land title given by DAR.
Danilo Batuto, chairman of FFLBA said that since 2016, they have not been able to set foot on the land they rightfully and legally own.
“Since we got the award, we have not set foot in our land, it has been 3 years since we got the land title, but it is for nothing,” Batuto said.
Asked why they were not able to set food and till the land they owned, they said that the land they owned is guarded by hundreds of armed security guards.
“By law, 90 months after the CLOA is awarded, farmers should be installed to their lands,” Batuto said.
One member, a woman, said their CLOA is just a piece of paper that they can wipe their asses with. “Without the land, CLOA is useless,” she said.
Minda Nasino, a board member of FFLBA, said many of their members were not able to see the end of their struggle for their land.
“Some passed away without seeing the CLOA. Now we have the CLOA, it is still useless as we are not able to see our land,” Nasino said.
Gonzales said that their were 4 attempts to install the farmers to their lands but all of these were not successful as the landlords, heirs of Carlos Fortich, through their security guards would not let the farmers enter the land.
Carlo Fortich was once governor of Bukidnon for 6 times starting in 1968. He is also the Carlos in MatherPilCa corp.
The FFLBA’s latest attempt to enter the land they owned was on April 10 this year – along with an officer of the DAR-Bukidnon, escorted by at least 20 personnel from the police.
Still, their attempt was futile. They were met with security guards armed with long firearms.
Gonzales identified Tony Paglas, chief security operations officer of Cowboy Security Agency.
Paglas, according to Gonzales, would not allow the entry of farmers and law enforcement officers in a a land they continually to occupy illegally.
“Paglas kept on taunting us, they were armed with long firearms and harassing us,” Gonzales said.
Paglas’ security even rammed and ran over the bamboo poles the farmers brought with them to mark their land.
Paglas was already told by DAR officials in Bukidnon lead by Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer Bert Paquingan that the 55 hectares of land belongs to FFLBA and not to the Fortich family.
All 4 attempts to install the farmers were in vain.
Duterte, in his speech during the Kaamulan Festival in Malaybalay City on April 13, said he will distribute lands to the farmers.
“I am not mad at you rich people. But I told you before, I am for the people,” Duterte said.
“My order to DAR, I still have 3 years (in my term), all government land will be given to the people… that’s what I want to do,” Duterte added.
“All rich multinational (corporations), you all took all the lease, expired or not, consider (your land) canceled because your land will be in land reform,” Duterte said.
Duterte also said that their will be no more land acquisition, as “all the people who are given land by the government through the land reform must be installed, weither you like it or not.”
It is through this pronouncement that the farmers of FFLBA pinned their hope that, after 14 years of struggle, they will be able to till their land freely without fear and intimidation from the landlords, the Fortich family. – Rappler.com