False raps keep farmers, kin apartBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—Farmers from the Bondoc Peninsula district, center of agrarian unrest in Quezon province, spent Christmas and New Year in fear and hiding after landowners charged them with theft of coconuts, a leader of a farmers’ group in Quezon said on Tuesday.
The farmers, said Jansept Geronimo, are being framed up by their landowners to prevent them from benefiting from the agrarian reform program.
Geronimo, campaign officer of the Quezon Association of Rural Development and Democratization, said the farmers spent the holidays away from their families.
To help defuse the tension involving agrarian disputes, Senior Supt. Valeriano de Leon, Quezon police chief, said every municipal police station would soon have agrarian desk officers to handle cases involving land reform.
The agrarian desk would be manned by policemen, especially trained and knowledgeable on agrarian laws, and would handle all agrarian-
Geronimo said the farmers who went into hiding all face charges of coconut theft and trespassing filed by landowners in the towns of San Francisco, San Andres and Buenavista.
The farmers, he said, are being harassed into giving up their claims on land under the agrarian reform program.
At least P2.5 million is needed for bail to keep the farmers from being jailed.
Records of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP) said a total of 303 criminal cases, mostly involving theft of coconuts, have been filed against 223 tenants by landlords in the Bondoc Peninsula.
Most of the cases are still pending in court and some of the accused are out on bail provided by peasant protection advocates, nongovernment organizations and allied farmers association.
“The supporters of the farmers have no more bail money for them so the cases and the warrants of arrest have been serving as a Damocles sword hanging over the head of the peasants,” said Maribel Luzara, KMBP president.
Geronimo reiterated an appeal to President Aquino to come to the farmers’ rescue. He also called on Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to speed up the distribution of land to beat the deadline of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.