Farmers facing coco theft raps stay in hidingBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr. |Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—Now it can be told.
More than 20 farmers from Bondoc Peninsula, who have long been wanted on what they said were trumped-up charges of coconut theft, came out of hiding and quietly attended the land distribution program in Mulanay, Quezon, on Wednesday.
“They witnessed how their respective families received the Cloas (certificates of land ownership award),” said Jansept Geronimo, campaign officer of Quezon Association of Rural Development and Democratization Services, a nongovernment organization helping Bondoc Peninsula farmers own the land they till.
“They were just watching from a distance during the ceremony. Some were incognito, with their families unaware of their presence,” Geronimo told the Inquirer in an interview on Friday.
He said most of the wanted farmer-beneficiaries had mixed emotions during the event, with some silently shedding tears of joy while others were crying in pain because they could not come out for fear of being arrested.
Geronimo said they tried to prevent the farmers from attending the event for fear they would be arrested and sent to jail because they didn’t have money to pay for bail.
He said the farmers, however, insisted on their right to savor the feeling of victory.
Geronimo said they were relieved there were no arrests made and the farmers were able to safely return to where they had been hiding, far from their loved ones.
The farmers were forced into hiding after they were charged with coconut theft and trespassing by landowners. If arrested, some of them would have to shell out nearly P100,000 for bail.
More than 5,000 farmers from different towns in the Bondoc Peninsula area—Mulanay, San Francisco, San Andres, San Narciso and Buenavista—attended the awarding ceremony.
“Unless the government lifts the warrants and dismisses all the baseless and unjustifiable criminal cases, the initial distribution of Cloas will be a pyrrhic victory,” Geronimo said.
He urged President Aquino to ask the Department of Justice to conduct a reinvestigation of all the cases involving the Bondoc farmers and lobby for the cases’ dismissal.
Geronimo also appealed to President Aquino and the Department of Agrarian Reform to immediately resolve all pending cases that delay the distribution of farm lands, particularly in the 1,716-hectare Hacienda Matias in San Francisco town.
Citing results of his group’s study, Geronimo said more than 18,000 hectares of land in the peninsula covered by agrarian reform are still undistributed.