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Court cases delay CARP in Quezon

12:15 AM February 20, 2014

Some 16,000 hectares of land almost the size of Quezon City in Metro Manila have already been marked for coverage in the Bondoc Peninsula in Quezon province under the government’s land reform program but legal and technical problems have hindered their distribution to farmers, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

Samuel Solomero, provincial agrarian reform officer in Quezon’s third and fourth districts, said the cases of “problematic landholdings,” mostly in Bondoc, were pending resolution in the courts and quasi-judicial government agencies, such as the Land Registration Authority and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

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“The DAR coverage is being contested in court by landowners. Some of the lands also have problems in technical description or whether it is alienable, disposable and other issues,” Solomero explained in a recent phone interview.

The official, however, said the farmer-beneficaries should not fear that they would lose the land promised them when the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper) ends in June. The Carper Law provides that these “problematic” lands could still be distributed, he said.

Mulanay program

On Feb. 6, 2013, Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes led the distribution of certificates of land ownership award (Cloas) for 480 ha of the estate owned by the heirs of Domingo Reyes in the peninsula towns of San Narciso, Buenavista and San Andres.

Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Commission on Human Rights Chair Loretta Ann Rosales and National Anti-Poverty Commission Chair Joel Rocamora joined De los Reyes in the land distribution to show the resolve of President Aquino to finish the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program initiated in 1988 by his late mother, then President Corazon Aquino.

They shook hands and exchanged “high fives” with representatives of some 5,000 farmers, even embracing some of them, during a historic march in Mulanay’s major street under the searing heat of the noonday sun.

No other land distribution followed after Mulanay’s much-heralded event, farmer-leaders of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP) and the nongovernment Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungan Panlipunan (Katarungan) claimed.

“Worse, big landowners in the area are fencing their properties to stop agrarian reform beneficiaries from taking possession of the land that had been awarded to their former tenants,” said Katarungan spokesperson Jansept Geronimo.

Maribel Luzara, KMBP president, said most Cloa recipients in Mulanay were left on their own without any government support.

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Intimidation

“What we’ve been receiving were different forms of intimidating tactics from influential landlords to stop us from pursuing our dreams to own the lands that our families have been tilling for a long time,” Luzara said in a phone interview last week.

Solomero denied that the DAR had stopped awarding land after Mulanay. “As a matter of fact, we distributed more than 3,400 hectares of lands last year, 80 percent of which are in the Bondoc Peninsula,” he said.

The succeeding awarded events were held without media fanfare, he said. “The Cloas were simply distributed by the Maros (municipal agrarian reform officers),” he explained.

Geronimo, however, demanded proof on the supposed land distribution, such as the list of new Cloa recipients. “Mere say-so is not enough to convince the farmers because the reality on the ground is very much different,” he said.

Rage and discontent among tenant-farmers have continued in the Bondoc Peninsula, one of the agrarian “hot spots” in Southern Tagalog and once a bastion of armed rebels of the communist New People’s Army.

6 farmers killed

In October last year, peasant leader Elisa Tulid was gunned down in San Andres by someone said to be hired by a landlord in the area. “All through the years, six farmer leaders have been killed in Bondoc Peninsula,” said Danny Carranza, Katarungan secretary general.

At least 18 other leaders of KMBP in San Andres have also received death threats.

Several landowners surnamed Reyes, Zoleta, Uy, Matias and Tan control big landholdings, particularly in San Francisco, San Andres, San Narciso and Buenavista.

More than 50 farmers are facing court cases filed by their landlords in the past years. The farmers have been forced to hide because they could not afford to pay at least P60,000 in bail for each count of qualified theft that they have been charged with.

According to the KMBP, more than 300 criminal cases, mostly for theft of coconuts, have been filed against 250 tenants who complained of harassment by several landlords whose estates were under Carp coverage.

Solomero placed the “problematic landholdings” at 60 to 80 percent of the DAR’s total target for land distribution in the district. “We’ve been trying our best to distribute the remaining 20 to 40 percent of the ‘workable’ Carpable lands before the end of President Aquino’s term in 2016,” he said.

Last month, the CHR called for a dialogue among stakeholders in the Bondoc Peninsula—farmers, DAR and DENR representatives, police and military officers, members of nongovernment and human rights groups, and journalists—to defuse the brewing tension.

The meeting, presided by lawyer Jacqueline de Guia-de la Peña, regional CHR head, was held at the agency’s office in San Pablo City in Laguna province.

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