DAR probes killing of peasant leader in Palawan
THE DEPARTMENT of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is looking into the cold-blooded killing of peasant leader Arnel Figueroa, who was shot dead last week by a government security guard at the disputed Yulo King Ranch (YKR) in Coron, Palawan province.
Agrarian Reform Undersecretary Luis Pangulayan said the DAR regional director, Rudy Pangilinan, and provincial officer, Conrad Guevarra, had been directed to confer with Figueroa’s family regarding financial and legal assistance.
Pangulayan added in a text message that the DAR was also in contact with Figueroa’s group, Pesante Pilipinas.
In memorandums dated Sept. 21 and 22 submitted to Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, Guevarra cited reports saying Figueroa was killed by Dan Nelson Mayo, a guard employed by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in the afternoon of Sept. 20.
Mayo, currently under police custody, has been accused of shooting Figueroa in the stomach, apparently at close range with a long firearm, during a dispute at the ranch in the resort town of Coron.
The incident was recorded in a cell phone video by a Pesante official.
The farmers have been fighting for their claim to part of the nearly 40,000-hectare property to be declared farmlands, saying it had always been devoted to agriculture, even before it was proclaimed a livestock center during the Ferdinand Marcos regime.
Outside CARP areas
But Guevarra, in his Sept. 22 report to Mariano, clarified that the shooting happened outside the area covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and earlier distributed by the DAR.
He said the killing occurred in the 2,000-ha earlier committed by the Forest Management Bureau (FMB) in favor of the BAI.
Figueroa and several other members of Pesante Pilipinas Inc. were planting coconuts on their occupied area where an approximate 100 nipa huts had been erected, the report said.
“Within YKR are some 8,000 hectares of alienable and disposable public lands subject of request for coverage under the CARP by Pesante Pilipinas Inc. and several other groups like the Federation of Free Farmers, Kampi, Kasama-TK and other local groups in the area,” Guevarra said.
He said these lands had not been turned over to the DAR and remained with the FMB, which is under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
The provincial DAR also found that Figueroa was not a farmer beneficiary of any landholding distributed in Palawan, but from the Almeda Estate in Barangay Cabacao, Abra de Ilog, in Occidental Mindoro province.
In a statement, Mariano said he had directed his officials to coordinate with the DENR to look into the petitions of farmer groups in the ranch.
“Rest assured, we will do our part to hasten the processes so that the land will finally be distributed to farmers,” he said.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), previously headed by Mariano, condemned the killing of Figueroa.
“Farmers who assert their right to till through land cultivation activities are either killed, arrested and jailed or subjected to various forms of abuses,” said KMP secretary general Antonio Flores in the statement, citing other recent peasant killings in Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, Isabela and North Cotabato provinces.
The absence of a genuine land reform program, Flores said, “has been capitalized by landlords and landgrabbers to strengthen control over the lands by attacking farmers using hired goons, security guards and state security forces turned private armies.”
In a statement, Jun Lozada, former head of Philippine Forest Corp., denied distributing part of the Yulo ranch to his relatives.
He said he resigned in February 2008, two years before the ranch was turned over to the agency.
“I was at that time already considered an enemy of the Arroyo government for being the whistle-blower on the NBN-ZTE scam and was under the sanctuary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. I did not distribute any public land, most especially a part of the Yulo ranch to any of my relatives,” Lozada said.
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