Dorita Vargas’ dream of owning land still a dream
Dorita Vargas’ troubles are not yet over.
Days after the 63-year-old agrarian reform beneficiary was awarded a parcel of land by the government, she said she, along with 12 others, was refused entry to the property by the security guards of her former landlords in Negros Occidental.
Vargas said armed guards at Hacienda Manalo in La Castellana town turned her and her companions away on Wednesday when they tried to stake their claim on the 5-hectare farm using the certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) handed to them by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on Feb. 13.
The property is in the middle of the 126-hectare sugar plantation, which she said had been “chopped” into separate titles that are now in varying stages of processing for distribution to other beneficiaries under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
“We tried to enter the hacienda this morning and we showed them the CLOA but the blue guards would not let us enter. They said we should respect the Manalos,” Vargas said in a phone interview from La Castellana.
She said she was extremely grateful to President Aquino for making good on his promise that she would be given land.
Last June, Vargas marched with 300 other farmers belonging to the Task Force Mapalad (TFM) to Malacañang. The farmers had a dialogue with President Aquino and some Cabinet members. In the meeting, Aquino personally promised Vargas that the land she tilled would be hers by the end of 2012.
The CLOA was given to Vargas on Feb. 13 in a ceremony held at the DAR municipal office there, some eight months after Aquino made his promise.
Vargas said it was still too early to celebrate. She said it might take some time before she could finally be “installed” in the land which she technically now owns, along with the 12 others with whom she would share it.
DAR officials scared
She said the DAR’s municipal unit in La Castellana town appeared to be afraid of the former landlords and could not give the agrarian reform beneficiaries any reassurance that they would be able to occupy the land anytime soon.
She added that the local police also did not appear to be willing to escort them to the property. She admitted, however, that they had not actually made any request for police assistance, believing that it was the DAR’s job to ensure their security.
Vargas pleaded to Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to help her and her companions claim the parcel of land.
“Since he said that the land is now ours and we can do what we want with it, then we are asking the secretary to personally install us in the land,” she said.
“Why don’t they buy a helicopter and fly us directly to the property so we don’t have to encounter any resistance from the blue guards?” Vargas said.
De los Reyes said Vargas’ struggle for land ownership had taken years due to complications brought by the so-called “chop-chop,” or parceling of land titles, a tactic used by some landowners to evade CARP coverage.
The official defined chop-chop titles as land titles sold piecemeal by the original landowner whose landholdings, usually beyond the 5-ha limit set by law, were covered by agrarian reform.
He said the owners of Hacienda Manalo subdivided a 10-ha piece of the land into three titles of more than three ha, with two lots transferred in the names of Venysse Laurel and Lorenzo Manalo, immediately after the agrarian reform law was passed more than two decades ago.
Half of that property eventually was retained by the landowners and the other half was awarded to Vargas and her companions.
TFM deputy national coordinator Lanie Factor said her group also appreciated the effort the government had made to award the land to Vargas and her companions.
But Factor said it was a shame that the DAR had not processed the other titles in the same estate at the same time as Vargas’ in order to avoid the problem of landlord resistance.
As for Vargas, she said once she and her companions were finally able to occupy the land, they would form a collective and continue planting sugarcane.
“In the meantime that we’re not being allowed to enter our own land, why don’t they rent the land from us?” she said.
In their June meeting, Vargas told Aquino she raised her six children—all girls—after her husband abandoned her and she took over his job in the farm. It has been 29 years since her husband left her, she said.
To support her family, she worked as a farmhand at Hacienda Manalo, planting sugarcane, fertilizing the fields, picking weeds and harvesting. She was paid P85 a day.
She said that when she joined the clamor to bring the plantation under CARP in 1995, she was fired and her hut was torched.
“Hayaan mo, Nay, tutulungan ko kayo (Don’t worry, I will help you),” the President had told her. Flanked by Cabinet officials, Aquino also promised to fully implement the CARP before its expiration in June 2014, renewing a vow he made when he ran for President.