activist groups in PH

Makisama-Tinang leader Cunanan dies without seeing the dawn

Joann Manabat

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Makisama-Tinang leader Cunanan dies without seeing the dawn

LONG WAIT. Felino Cunanan, MAKISAMA-Tinang chairman in an interview on July 6 narrates the long process of getting recognition as an agrarian reform beneficiary.

Joann Manabat

Felino Cunanan Jr. dies a day after a military officer in plain clothes visits MAKISAMA-Tinang to ask about their links to groups allegedly affiliated with the New People's Army

PAMPANGA, Philippines – Agrarian reform activist Felino Cunanan Jr. died on Sunday morning, November 6, still waiting for the installation of beneficiaries on 200 hectares of land in Hacienda Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac.

Cunanan, leader of MAKISAMA-Tinang, died a day after a military officer in plain clothes dropped by the 93-member organization’s hut, inquiring about the group’s links to activist organizations that he tagged as supporters of the communist New People’s Army.

MAKISAMA-Tinang member Abby Bucad said Cunanan was meeting with fellow members on November 6 when he complained about a pain in his stomach before losing consciousness just before 9 am. 

He was rushed to the Atanacio Hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival.

Bucad, who was one of three companions who rushed Cunanan to the hospital, said blood had seeped out of one of his ears during the trip. Cunanan had previously been diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, she added.

Just after the soldier’s visit on November 5, Cunanan told Bucad and other members of the MAKISAMA-Tinang that he would die fighting for their right to the land their families had tilled for generations. 

He had regularly railed about the long wait for installation, a struggle punctuated by their arrest in June during an assertion activity called bungkalan.

ARREST. Members of the Philippine National Police in Concepcion town in Tarlac province arrest MAKISAMA-Tinang leader Felino Cunanan Jr on June 9. Mark Saludes

The Capas 2nd Municipal Circuit Trial Court junked the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges on June 27, noting that the farmers’ Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was “sufficient proof to entitle the holder the right to possess the lands.”

The court decision followed the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)’s June 20 reaffirmation that 178 farmers were rightful owners of the disputed 200-hectare land. 

Bucad recalled how Cunanan fretted that he would die without seeing the dawn for each of them tilling their own land, which Concepcion Mayor Noel Villanueva is also claiming on behalf of a cooperative his family controls.

“Sabi niya sa akin, sa amin, na makuha na niyang mamatay, hindi pa rin kami mai-install sa sobrang bagal ng proseso,” Bucad said, adding that they were recently promised installation by the end of October.

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The stress of their struggle, Bucad said, was recently compounded by efforts to link their 34-year old fight to the communist New People’s Army, by red-tagging allied farmers’ organizations.

The sergeant who visited on November 5 asked them if Anakpawis, a former partylist group, was helping them, claiming it was a communist front organization.

“Nagkakaphobia na kami. Pilit nila dinidikit ang laban namin sa NPA, na sila daw ang tumutulong sa amin,” Bucad told Rappler in a phone interview. (We’ve gotten a phobia because they insist on linking our struggle to the NPA, that it is the NPA helping us.)

“Eh pano kami hihingi ng tulong sa kanila kung kumpleto naman kami sa documents. Ang alam lang namin party list yang mga yan. Wala naman kaming alam na mas malalim na connection, lalo na di namin alam na NPA sila. Party list nga eh di ba, nasa tao yan kung iboboto sila tuwing eleksyon,” she added. (Why should we have to ask the NPA for help since we already have complete documents. All we know is Anakpawis is a party-list group, we have no knowledge of any links to the NPA. They’re a party list, and it depends if people vote for them.)

Bucad said the death of their leader would only strengthen their fight.

Cunanan will be laid to rest on Saturday, November 12.

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