Task Force Mapalad farmers in Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental march to dramatize their calls for the immediate passage of a law extending the government’s agrarian reform program which will end this year. (Photos by V.J. Villafranca)
BACOLOD, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Jan. 29, 2008) – Close to one thousand farmers and their families and supporters marched for the second day in the central Philippine province of Negros Oriental to dramatize their calls for immediate passage of a law extending beyond 2008 the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Jose Rodito Angeles, president of the peasant federation called Task Force Mapalad (TFM), which spearheaded the pilgrimage, said more and more people were joining four-day march which began Monday.
“The enthusiastic reception to the march is attributed not only to its being the first of its kind to be held in Negros but also to the strong desire of the rural community for extension of CARP with reforms,” Angeles said in a statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner.
He said many of the marchers are holders of certificate of land ownership award (CLOA) who remain uninstalled in their land because of landowner resistance.
“Uninstalled CLOA holders are quite a phenomenon in Negros. That is one of the reasons why CARP must be extended. Otherwise, the fate of these CLOA holders would be left hanging,” he said.
Edna Sobrecaray, TFM-Negros spokesperson, said: “Our congressmen should see for themselves how the people in Negros are desirous to own land under CARP. It would be a disservice to them if the three solons representing Negros continue to delay or work against its extension.”
Sobrecaray was referring to Representatives Monico Puentebella of Bacolod City, Jeffrey Ferrer of the 4th District, and Ignacio Arroyo of the 5th District whom the farmers have accused of campaigning against extension of CARP, which expires on June 30.
Two groups of marchers, one coming from the north and the other from the south, will converge on Thursday in Bacolod City to hold various mass activities that dramatize their call on Congress for the immediate passage of CARP extension law. “Owning land through CARP is the farmer’s last hope to feed his family, send his children to school, and finally break the cycle of poverty” Sobrecaray said.
In the north, some 400 marchers stopped for lunch at Eusebio Lopez Elementary School in the village of Pabrika in Sagay City, then proceeded to Cadiz City, around 24 kilometers away. At the boundary, they were joined by a group of some 150 farmer and farm workers.
Three marchers – Amparo Caontoy, 66, of Hacienda Minakalao; Milagros Estrada, 54, of Hacienda Caridad; and Narciso Canete, 48, of Hacienda Rose Marie --collapsed from exhaustion due to heat and were immediately given first aid by the medical team. By mid-afternoon the marchers reached Central Cadiz where the municipal agrarian reform officer sent them 500 plastic bags of ice-cold water.
Before dusk, some 20 youths, mostly high school students, joined the march along with their parents, who were also farmers. By the time the marchers reached the municipality of Manapla at around 9 p.m., they had walked 38 kilometers. They spent the night at the municipal gymnasium.
On Tuesday, the marchers, now numbering almost 500, proceeded toward Silay City. At around 9 a.m., the marchers stopped at the public plaza in Victorias to take breakfast. Several policemen arrived to tell them they could not eat at the plaza, but the marchers argued that they were in a public place and their assembly was peaceful.
In the south, some 100 farmers from contentious lands in Negros Oriental gathered in Kabankalan City where they were joined by 30 farm workers from Negros Occidental, mostly from Arroyo-owned Haciendas Bacan, Grande, and Paraiso.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) provincial office in Negros Oriental donated two sacks of rice, noodles, and packs of cigarettes. The DAR municipal office in Hinigaran, through MARO Myrna Mercano and her staff, also sent 3 kilos of dried fish, 500 sandwiches, 4 boxes of juice, and 5 boxes of iced water.
Fr. Robert Cermona of Kabangkalan Parish held a liturgical service and blessed the group before they started to march at around noon. After an hour, they stopped at Barangay Tuoy to take lunch and proceeded afterward to Himamaylan.
Two women marchers from Elizalde Roxas (ELRO) landholding fainted under the sun’s heat and were immediately assisted by paramedics. They were identified as Carmen Raydan, 52, and Elizabeth Balingit, 49.
In Isabela, where the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan owned by First Gentleman Mike Arroyo is located, the marches were joined by another 100 farmers. Some 20 children came to deliver prayers for their parents then later joined the march.
After walking 30 kilometers, the marchers stopped to spend the night at Plaza Miranda in Hinigaran, where they were joined by 70 more farmers. Some 320 marchers from south represented farmers and farm workers from Montenegro , Goni, Lagpasan, and Tirambalo lands in Negros Oriental, and the Arroyo lands, Tunsay, and Manalo in southern Negros Occidental.
The next day, the marchers were joined by 35 farmers from Payao and 10 CLOA holders from Hacienda Dumancas. Before they resumed the march, Hinigaran Mayor Hermie Lou Aguilard gave them 5 kilos of sugar, 3 kilos of ground native coffee, 5 kilos of dried fish, and 300 pieces of breadl, TFM said. (Lani Factor and Heidi Fernandez)