Farmers’ groups gather signatures for CARPER passage

In the struggle between land tillers and landowners, farmers’ groups gathered signatures at the University of the Philippines (UP) on March 12 for the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reform (CARPER) bills.

“Makatarungang batas ang CARPER at tunay na nagmamalasakit sa mga magsasaka (The CARPER is a just law and it truly cares for the farmers),” said Virgie Malaluan, spokesperson of the Calatagan farmers from Batangas in an open forum at the Malcolm Theater, Malcolm Hall.

In behalf of their group Malaluan appealed to the government to pass House bill 4077 and Senate Bill 2666, two bills moving for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), before its expiration on June 30 and expressed her group’s disappointment in the national government, in particular with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

“Sa halip na tulungan ang magsasaka, ito (DAR) pa ang nagiging dahilan ng paghihirap ng mga magsasaka (Instead of helping the farmer, the DAR has become the cause of their suffering),” Malaluan said.

The bill will return the compulsory land acquisition provision that was not extended by Joint Resolution 19, which extended CARP for another six months after December of last year.

Aside from the fact that six months is too short compared to the 5 years mandated in HB 4077, farmer groups staunchly reject the resolution because land owners are no longer required to surrender their lands to the reform program and only voluntary land transfers will be undertaken.

They bewail that because of this resolution, around 700,000 hectares of private agricultural lands or around 64% of the remaining 1.1 million hectares were excluded from being distributed.

The CARPER bills will also provide for increased support services for farmers-beneficiaries, protection from harassment, collateral-free credit, prohibition of agriculture land conversion and increased penalty for hindering CARP implementation.

The Calatagan farmers support CARP in light of their plight to defend the right to their land being claimed by mining firm Asturias Industries, Inc.

Through Presidential Decree (PD) 27, the 507 hectare-land in Brgys. Baha and Talibayog, Calatagan, Batangas was distributed among 312 beneficiaries in 1989.

In 1995, the mining firm bought the land from the heirs of Ceferino Ascue, who by using the original certificate of the land title sold the property even if the farmer-beneficiaries were already awarded with Emancipation patents (EPs) or land titles for the distributed land.

In 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the DAR decision that the 508-hectare property was "mineral land," citing DAR findings, the mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) and environmental compliance certificate (ECC) issued by the DENR to Asturias Industries, thus ruling that the land was erroneously covered by PD 27 and is not distributable under the land reform program.

The Calatagan farmers claimed that out of the 2,000 hectares covered by the MPSA, which includes the land the farmers are claiming, Asturias Industries intends to use only 50 for mineral quarrying.

The Calatagan farmers added that the rest of the farmlands will be used to build a cement plant, F1 race tracks, a resort and yacht club which will not only deprive the farmers of the land they already paid for, but also destroy the environment within and surrounding the Baha and Talibayog barangays.

In April 2008, 55 farmer-beneficiaries marched 300-kilometers from Calatagan to Manila and rallied in front of the DENR and DAR to protest the conversion of their lands into mining areas.
In June of the same year, DENR secretary Lito Atienza issued a certification that the disputed land was classified as “mineral land”. This pushed the Calatagan farmers to stage another march to Manila in September 20, but Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles convinced them to allow negotiations with Asturias Industries’ Ramon Ang.

In December, nine Calatagan farmers joined others in a hunger strike to pressure Congress to pass the CARP extension bills before it went into recess in 2008 and to express their disgust over the passage of Joint Resolution 19.

"It is completely diluting, if not killing, the heart and soul of the program. I might as well have the program lapse. It is actually a burial of the program," said Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, one of the authors of HB 4077.

The open forum was part of the campaign “Lupang Hinirang, Lupang Hinarang: A Farmers’ Pilgrimage for CARPER” spearheaded by 50 members of the Sumilao farmers who marched to reclaim their land from Sumilao Bukidnon to Manila in October 2007.

▪ Article by: Alexandra Gabrielle Francisco

*The article had previously been attributed to Alex dela Cruz. The necessary correction had been done. Apologies for the misinformation. ~administrator