Quezon tillers reap death threats
Sixteen farmer leaders in Quezon province’s Bondoc Peninsula believe they will be the next targets of hired guns following the still unsolved killing of a woman land rights activist in October.
Maribel Luzara, head of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP), called on President Aquino to stop the wave of violence against the farmers who are pressing ownership of the land they till in San Andres town under the government’s agrarian reform program.
The farmers, who are all members of the KMBP and residents of the adjacent villages of Tala and Camplora in San Andres, Quezon, have been receiving death threats after Elisa Tulid was shot and killed by a man while she and her husband were walking home on Oct. 19, Luzara said. Tulid died on the spot while her husband luckily escaped.
Jansept Geronimo, spokesperson of Kilusan para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan (Katarungan), said the killing was related to the agrarian conflict that was threatening to turn the Bondoc Peninsula anew into a powder keg.
Citing a report of a fact-finding mission after Tulid’s death, Geronimo identified the threatened farmers as KMBP vice president Melchor Rosco, Nelson Fuentes, Sherly Lape, Sonny Olivar, Pablo Lape, Junry Lape, Ricky Ranes, Rolando Ejorcadas, Jemboy Moragana, Donato Lape Jr., Serlito Matandag, Glenda Lape, Solito Melzones, Danny Cortez, Ambrosia Arangues and Genio Alameg.
The mission involved the KMBP, Katarungan, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, Medical Action Group, Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Rural Poor Institute for Land Rights and Human Rights Services, and the Quezon Association for Rural Development and Democratization Services.
Supt. Ronaldo Genaro Ylagan, Quezon police chief, advised the farmers to report the matter to the local police station “for their own security and protection.”
“We have to know the details of the supposed threats for our routine validation. They should trust us,” he said.
La Via Campesina, said to be the largest international peasant movement, voiced concern over Tulid’s killing in a statement issued last month. It urged the Aquino administration “to protect its people from violence and harassment, especially those active in the movements for social justice and equity.”
It was learned that Tulid and her clan had long been receiving death threats from goons of influential land claimants. Tulid’s father was imprisoned for a month after one of the claimants accused him of stealing coconuts.
A suspect in the killing, identified as Ranny Bugnot, has been arrested by policemen and detained at the municipal jail, awaiting preliminary investigation.
Geronimo said armed goons, believed to be supported by influential persons in the community, had been spreading messages that more farmer leaders would be killed. Three of the leaders narrowly survived gun attacks last year.
Citing the fact-finding report, he said one of the threatened farmers, Melchor Rosco, was told by a landowner on Nov. 13, to relay to his group his demand of 50-percent share of all farm products. “If Melchor will agree, he will be spared of any harm that they (landowner’s group) are capable of doing,” Geronimo said, quoting the report.
The same person also threatened Nelson Fuentes and his two companions a week after Tulid’s killing, he said.
Last month, Arangues and Alameg were told by the landowner’s group to leave their farm. The two insisted that they had already filed applications in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the agency to recognize their rights over the land, Geronimo said.
He appealed to the Commission on Human Rights, Department of Justice and the Department of Agrarian Reform to investigate the death threats.
More than 50 farmers in the Bondoc Peninsula have been charged in court with qualified theft by their landlords in the past years. They have remained in hiding to avoid posting at least P60,000 in bail for each count of theft charges.
In nearby Mulanay town, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes led in the distribution to farmers of certificates of land ownership award (Cloas) covering 480 hectares of the estate owned by the heirs of Domingo Reyes in the towns of San Narciso, Buenavista and San Andres.
De los Reyes said more land would be awarded in the Bondoc Peninsula even after the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms or Carper ends next year.
No more land distribution followed, however. Worse, landowners were fencing parcels of land already awarded to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
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