LUCENA CITY, Philippines – What good does a farmer’s certificate of land ownership do if it exposes him to danger?
Jansept Geronimo, campaign officer of the Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services (Quardds), said they had to rush to Bondoc Peninsula on Friday afternoon after receiving reports that most recipients of Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) involving Hacienda Reyes that were distributed to them only on February 6 were being subjected to different forms of harassment, death threats.
He said that aside from death threats, other farmers were warned their water lines would be cut and their houses fenced off from the rest of the village, Geronimo said over phone from San Andres town Saturday.
He said the threats and intimidation were aimed at instilling fear among the other tenants who have yet to receive their CLOAs.
Geronimo said they would report the threats to the police to determine who was making them.
Quardds has been helping the Bondoc Peninsula farmers in their decades-old struggle to own the land they till.
Geronimo said they would immediately map out contingency plans to ensure the safety of farmer leaders who received death threats.
“It is ironic that most CLOA beneficiaries are still hiding in fear from the warrants of arrest after the landowners slapped them with concocted charges. And now, here comes another new batch of fearful farmers who would probably join the rest in hiding,” he said.
Geronimo called on President Benigno Aquino III, the Commission on Human Rights and the Department of Justice to stop the wave of harassment against farmer leaders and CLOA recipients in the Bondoc Peninsula.
“We were all victorious when we received our respective CLOAs only to realize it would only bring us more pain and agony to our already deprived and helpless situation,” said Maribel Luzara, president of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP).
Luzara said she pitied the CLOA holders who remain in hiding because of the warrants of arrest.
KMBP records show a total of 303 criminal cases, mostly qualified theft of coconuts, have been filed against 223 tenants by several landlords in the Bondoc Peninsula.
She said the wanted farmers, now less than 50, could not even go near their village to help their families cope with the surge of harassment tactics.
“Some of them are crying to us, begging that we help their families because they cannot do anything,” Geronimo said.
He said they also have to attend to farmer-tenants in the Matias estate in San Francisco town whose farms were being fenced off by the landowners to stop agrarian reform beneficiaries from taking possession of the land awarded to them.
“The government should immediately attend to the CLOA beneficiaries. What’s the use of the land title if it would only expose them to more harassment? They are helpless against the power and influence of the landowners who continue to sabotage the agrarian reform program of the state,” Geronimo said.
He noted that in October last year, Commission on Human Rights chair Loretta Ann Rosales and her four commissioners called on concerned government agencies and the DAR to address the plight of the tenants in Hacienda Matias.
In the document “Human Rights Advisory”, the CHR strongly condemned the “continuing violations of the rights of the farmers of Hacienda Matias by the hacienda owners.”
The CHR document said Hacienda Matias consists of approximately 1,736 hectares located in the villages of Don Juan Vercelos and Batanguiad in San Francisco town at the southern tip of the province.
In 2004, around 121 tenant families of the Matias estate petitioned for the inclusion of the land they were tilling under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) of the government.
In December 2010, a survey of the hacienda was initiated by DAR and 639 hectares of the property was then paid for by the Land Bank of the Philippines as precondition for the transfer of the titles to the government.
However, the landowners petitioned for exemption from CARP coverage, declaring the land to be a “cattle ranch.”
The DAR in an order on June 14, 2012, denied the application for exemption for “utter lack of merit.” The owners of the estate brought the case to Malacañang.
In the light of this, DAR could not proceed with distribution of the land to tenant farmers, pending resolution of the petition for exclusion, the CHR said.
The CHR said that due to the petition, the farmers were subjected anew to various forms of harassments, and worst, were forcibly evicted from the land they were tilling.
It added that affected farmers “are now being prevented from reaping the fruits of their crops, consequentially, disconnecting them from their source of food and livelihood.”
Geronimo said the situation at Hacienda Matias has gotten even worse.
On February 6, in a historic land distribution program in Mulanay town, the Department of Agrarian Reform led by Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes distributed CLOAs for 480 hectares of the some 2,000-hectare Hacienda Reyes straddling the towns of San Narciso, Buenavista and San Andres.
De los Reyes said there would be more land distribution in the Bondoc Peninsula even after CARP ends next year because the government is determined to end the decades-old agrarian conflict in the province’s 3rd district, a former stronghold of the communist New People’s Army.