MANILA, Philippines -- In May 2001, four months after she was ushered into power by a popular uprising, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo promised to give to farmers tracts of lands owned by her husband's family in the central Philippines as part of her administration's agrarian reform program.
''The privileged Filipinos must realize that true justice, development, democracy and reconciliation in our land will not happen without the willingness of the elite to share or give up some of the wealth and power,'' she had said then at a meeting with civil society representatives.
But seven years later, the promise rings hollow for some 60 farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Bacan, one of the properties owned by the family of First Gentleman Jose Miguel-Arroyo, in the village of Guintubdan in Negros Occidental's Isabela town.
Ownership of the 157-hectare sugarcane plantation continues to elude the farmers with barely a month left before the expiration of the land acquisition program under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) on December 31.
This has driven eight of the Bacan farmers to travel to Manila and camp out at the building of the Department of Agrarian Reform for a hunger strike.
Rodito Angeles, president of the peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM), said they are resorting to the hunger strike as the "highest form of protest" after all their efforts to secure their certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) to the property had been blocked every step of the way .
At a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman disclosed that Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corp., a company of which the First Gentleman is a trustee, had filed a petition before his department opposing the transfer of the land to the farmers.
Lawyer Armando Jarilla, TFM national coordinator, said the petition filed by Rivulet through Mr. Arroyo's lawyer, Ruy Rondain, was based on "a very shallow argument, because the ground is that the CARP has already expired, so there's no basis in pushing for the acquisition of the land."
Jarilla had said that the petition and Rivulet's supposed plan to question just compensation for the Arroyo land, "is just part of the delaying tactic to process the title of the land."
"Matagal na kaming nakikipaglaban para sa lupa ng mga Arroyo, ito na siguro ang pinakamatindi [We have long been fighting for the land of the Arroyos, this must be the worst]," the 58-year-old Angeles told a news forum in Quezon City Thursday.
Angeles said he is wondering if the President has forgotten her promise seven years ago, or if she made that just to be popular with people.
He vowed to continue with their hunger strike until they get the CLOA to the land already awarded them under CARP.
Frail-looking but unwavering in his cause, Angeles said he feels hunger when he sees people eating at the restaurant. But he said he just bows his head and prays, and then he feels the fullness.