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Negros Gov stops El Niño-affected farmers from tilling land

Police and military, allegedly under orders from Negros Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., stopped the land cultivation of drought-stricken farmers. Photo by National Federation of Sugar Workers.
Negros Gov stops El Niño-affected farmers from tilling land

Three days after Hacienda Ilimnan sugar farmers decided to cultivate food crops to address their hunger, police and military under orders from the Negros Occidental Provincial Government forcibly evicted them from their farmland.

The eviction occurred despite the order already issued by Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to immediately process the Notices of Coverage (NOC) of the farmer-beneficiaries.

Asked about the current status of their bungkalan (land cultivation) program which began on July 11, Danny Tabura, chairperson of Hacienda Ilimnan Farm Workers Association said, “Nahinto lahat sir. Kasi  yung ano (farmland), may mga pader na ngayon. Hindi na kami pinapapasok ng mga militar at kapulisan. Marami sila sir. Ako, sinasabihan nila… na kapag pumasok kami ay papatayin. May dalawa daw silang papatayin. (Everything came to a halt. They’ve erected barriers around our farmland. Military and police barred our entry. They are too many. They even told me that if we force ourselves in, we will be killed…at least two of us)”

Out of fear due to continued harassment and grave threats by state forces, the farmers left their farmland. An emotional Tabura narrated how the provincial police and soldiers from the Army’s 303rd Brigade destroyed their crops on their absence. He added that the military and police also established a detachment in the area.

The farmers blame Negros Occ. Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., who, according to the Unyon ng Manggagawang Agrikultural (UMA), “illegally” acquired the land to establish a sheep and cattle ranch.

‘No food aid’

With their crops destroyed, Ilimnan farmers are now begging for sustenance from nearby areas. They can’t get food from their village because Marañon thwarts the distribution of NFA (National Food Authority) rice, he said.

Hindi naman kami mabigyan (ng pagkain) kasi hindi naman basta basta iyon (barangay) mag-release ng NFA rice. Kasi iyon hinaharangan pa rin ni Gov. Maraǹon (The barangay can’t give food. They can’t just release NFA rice, because of Governor Marañon),” according to Tabura.

 Negros Island’s sugar farmers have been experiencing hunger ever since El Niño hit the province for almost a year now. The province is also currently on Tiempo Muerto, a dead period for sugar crops, so wages for workers can decrease to less than Php50 a day.

On May 2016, the Bureau of Legal Assistance of the DAR Central Office finally issued a decision denying the Application for Exemption (from land reform) filed by the Negros Occidental Provincial Government.

Ilimnan farmers had a dialogue with the provincial government last July 11. Provincial Government lawyer Atty. Jose Maria Valencia led the emergency dialogue with local DAR officer Tess Mabunay and the Chief of the Negros Occidental Police Office.

The talks, however, reached a deadlock. The Chief of Police of Barangay Murcia threatened to arrest any farmer who dares to enter the hacienda, according to the farmers.

After the favorable DAR ruling in May 2016, former sugar workers of Hacienda Ilimnan decided to cultivate the land. Photo by National Federation of Sugar Workers.

After the favorable DAR ruling in May 2016, former sugar workers of Hacienda Ilimnan decided to cultivate the land. Photo by National Federation of Sugar Workers.

According to Tabura, as of press time, Marañon refuses to talk to them. He added that a PNP Special Action Force (SAF) unit assigned to their area, led by Mario Baquiran, continues to harass the farmers. Baquiran even threatened to file various criminal charges against them, said a worried Tabura.

“Long after the expiration of the bogus CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law), supposed beneficiaries still suffer harassment from authorities who are supposed to protect the interest of tillers,” said UMA secretary general Danilo Ramos.

Taking over the hacienda

The hacienda workers’ woes began after the Negros Occ. Provincial Government bought the 155-hectare land from former owners, the Arguelles family in 2010.

However, in 1993, over 100 hacienda workers already applied for land coverage under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Beneficiaries were asked to sign promissory notes for amortization payments in 1998.

 Tabura laments how the provincial government continues to accuse them of taking over Hacienda Iliman, despite the DAR already ruling last May in the farmers’ favor regarding the hacienda’s ownership.

“Nirespeto namin yung proseso ng kaso doon sa DAR kung kelan magdedesisyon. Ngayon nagdesisyon na, ayaw pa rin nilang ibalik sa amin. Sabi pa nila sa amin, kami pa ang nagte-take over sa lupa. (We’ve adhered to due process, especially when our case was still at DAR. We waited for the decision. Now that DAR has decided, the provincial government still won’t allow us to return to our lands. Worse, they accuse us of taking over the land),” said Tabura.

Appeal to the national government

Hacienda Ilimnan farmers pleaded President Rodrigo Duterte to hear them out and carry out a “just, immediate and decisive action” regarding their case, which they do not expect from the provincial government under Governor Marañon.

Tabura also called on DAR Sec. Rafael Mariano for help in the immediate processing of their land, which the farmers said should have already been awarded to them long ago.

“Ang gusto po namin ay maimbestigahan yung ginagawa ng provincial goverment sa amin dito. Kasi masakit talaga para samin. Sabi ko nga sa sarili ko… kasalanan ba kung mamumuhay ka sa lupa? (What we pray for is an investigation of the provincial government. What they are doing really hurts. I ask myself, when was it wrong to live by tilling the soil?,” Tabura lamented.

The UMA is calling for support for the farmers. “We call on the public to support our farmers and farmworkers against hacienderos like Marañon who clearly resist change and continue impose their immoral authority through force and intimidation.”   

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