Farmers protesting eviction arrested
ILOILO CITY—Police on Friday arrested two leaders of a farmers organization on Semirara Island who were being evicted from their farms by the Caluya municipal government.
Police, led by Caluya police chief Senior Insp. Rico Andanza, arrested Bernard Magdaug, head of Sabang-Poocan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association Inc. (Sapoffa), and Mark Kato, a volunteer of Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka, a national federation of farmers groups that includes Sapoffa.
They will be charged with illegal assembly for leading at least 70 farmers who have been holding vigils in front of bamboo barricades in Sitio Poocan in Barangay Tinogboc, Andanza said.
For three days, the residents have been blocking the entry of a bulldozer and two dump trucks to a 5-hectare area, which they claimed includes their palay and coconut farms.
“We have been living and farming here for 40 years and this is our only source of livelihood,” Angie Ysug, Sapoffa spokesperson, told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.
Ysug said they were not consulted by the municipal government before heavy equipment came on Feb. 25.
“How can we live without our farms? They only showed us a deed of sale of the land and no other documents,” she said.
But Mayor Genevieve Lim-Reyes of Caluya town, which covers Semirara Island, said the municipality had legal rights over the property.
“All our actions are within the law and we are trying our best to prevent violence. But we will develop the site,” Reyes said in a telephone interview.
Reyes said the land would be used as a relocation and housing site for 78 families from Sitio Sabang, also in Barangay Tinogboc.
“We have offered [those protesting] houses in the relocation site, and we will pay for any plants or trees that will be affected. This is for the good of the majority,” the mayor said.
Caluya legal officer Voltaire Gumban said the residents of Sabang would be transferred from a 3-ha property that was previously donated by the Janairo family to the municipality.
Gumban said the donated property was reverted to the donors because the boundaries were not specified and the municipality failed to comply with the conditions of the donation.
The Janairo family agreed to instead donate 3 ha of land in Sitio Poocan to the town. The municipal government purchased another 2 ha for P240,000 for a total of 5 ha.
Semirara has three barangays and is one of the nine islands comprising Caluya town in Antique province at the northern end of Panay Island. The island is accessible by a six-hour motorboat ride from the Antique mainland.
It hosts Semirara Mining Corp. (SMC) owned by David M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI). SMC has been operating one of the biggest coal mines in Asia in Semirara since 1999 after it took over the then government-owned Semirara Coal Corp.
Reyes and Gumban did not confirm nor deny talks that the property that would be vacated in Sabang was part of the land that would be purchased or utilized by SMC.
“I have heard of those talks but we are not privy to that because that is between the owner of the land and the mining company. We do not know anything about that,” Gumban said.
Reyes said it was up to the landowners what they would do with their property.
The husband of Reyes is a nephew of the Consunji family who owns SMC. But Reyes stressed that her personal life had nothing to do with the relocation of the residents from Sabang.
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