Manila, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 28, 2008) – Six farmers from the central Philippine province of Negros went on a hunger strike to protest the government’s failure to grant them control over the lands they till.
The farmers, Antonio Torres, Alexander Barroca, Rolando Flores, Wilfredo Beljot, Ronilo Flores and Victoriano Cordero, have been camping out the past seven weeks in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform headquarters in Manila.
They had previously not touched food, but water for 12 days and decided to go on hunger strike after DAR officials failed to heed their appeal to grant them their lands, about 61-hectares, which was formerly owned by Negros Oriental Rep. Herminio Teves.
All farmers were granted their land certificates in 1997, but DAR failed to install them as landowners since then.
“We have waited since our Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) were awarded to us in 1997 and 1999 respectively for DAR to install us and yet, we are unable to enter our properties and cultivate our land.”
“We have been deprived of our very means of survival by DAR and the Teves family for ten years, if that is not patience, then what do you call that?” Rolando Flores, 54, leader of the Caranoche-Villareal Farmers Association, said.
The farmers said their lands are located in the villages of Caranoche, Sta. Catalina and Villareal in Bayawan City, all in Negros Oriental. The properties covered by two collective CLOAs were awarded to 30 farmers, who are members of the peasant group called Task Force Mapalad (TFM), under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The property, which is currently being controlled and managed by the politician’s family, is planted with sugarcane and rice for the past ten years.
“DAR is a big disappointment, it could not truly protect farmers’ rights to own land under CARP.
On the other hand, it had repeatedly shown us that landed families with big political names and positions could easily frighten them and prevent them from implementing CARP,” Antonio Torres, 64, the oldest farmer among the six, said.
The farmers said there are no more legal impediments to their installation after all cases filed by Teves to prevent them from owning the land had been dismissed by the courts and the DAR.
They said the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) upheld that CARP acquisition proceedings covering the property and awarded the CLOA to them.