Court orders arrest of 54 farmers
Bail too stiff for peasants charged with stealing coconutsBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—At least 54 farmers in the Bondoc Peninsula are facing arrest and have turned fugitives after they were charged with qualified theft for doing what they thought was normal for them—harvest coconuts from trees that they had planted.
A leader of a farmers’ group in Quezon said the farmers are in hiding because they can’t afford to pay the P60,000 bail each ordered by a court that issued the arrest warrants for them.
They have been charged with qualified theft for harvesting coconuts from trees that the farmers said they planted on land being subjected to agrarian reform.
Jansept Geronimo, campaign officer of Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services, said the charges filed against the farmers were part of tactics by landlords resisting agrarian reform.
Maribel Luzara, head of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in Bondoc Peninsula, said landlords in the towns of San Francisco, San Andres, Buenavista and San Narciso often resort to filing charges against farmers to stop them from claiming land under the government’s agrarian reform program.
She said farmers subjected to this kind of harassment often are forced to hide or spend on litigation which eats up money for food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs.
According to Geronimo, the 54 farmers who are now wanted need at least P3 million for bail.
He cited the case of one Irel Endiape, a farmer in San Andres town, who was arrested last Sept. 11 on charges of stealing coconuts. Endiape is a tenant in the estate owned by the Reyes clan in Bondoc Peninsula.
Last week, farmer Francis Hermosora and his mother Minda, of Buenavista town, were also arrested and detained at the provincial jail on charges of coconut theft. Also tenants of the Reyes family, the two were freed on Sunday upon intercession of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), said Geronimo.
Quezon Board Member Victor Reyes, who belongs to the Reyes clan, said the land where the farmers were arrested legally belonged to his family but that it had long been divided among his siblings.
The Reyes clan owns vast pieces of property in the towns of San Narciso, San Andres and Buenavista.
Board Member Reyes, however, said all of the family’s landholdings have been subjected to agrarian reform.
Geronimo appealed to President Benigno Aquino and the DAR to immediately resolve all pending cases that delay distribution of farm lands, particularly in the 1,716-hectare Hacienda Matias in San Francisco town.
The Matias family petitioned for exemption from agrarian reform, declaring their land to be a “ranch.” The petition has yet to be acted upon by Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes.