NEGROS OCCIDENTAL, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / June 29, 2011) – Dozens of Filipino farmers who were fighting over a decade to claim the lands they tilt were finally awarded by Manila their rights to some 148 hectares reportedly owned by the family of former President Gloria Arroyo in Negros Occidental province.
The farmers, all 68 of them who are beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), have erected poles and shacks on Hacienda Bacan in the town of Isabela on Monday despite strong protest from Rivulet Corporation which was allegedly the real owner of the estate.
But Negros Congressman Ignacio Arroyo, the brother-in-law of former President and now Congresswoman Arroyo, who claimed to be one of the owners of Hacienda Bacan tried to stop the imposition of the CARP order. He failed.
The farmers were installed in 148.22 hectares covered by CARP.
Provincial agrarian reform officer Felix Servidad led the installation of the farmers under heavy guard after a group of Hacienda Bacan workers barricaded the entrance and put up bamboo poles to prevent them from getting inside. They too had failed.
A group of German observers from the International Peace Observers Network were also in the province to oversee the peaceful installation of the farmers. Servidad said the CARP farmers had been holding Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA) for years now.
Charito Celis, head of the Hacienda Bacan farmer-beneficiaries association which is affiliated with Task Force Mapalad, said she was delighted with the installation. "We are extremely happy that after 10 years of struggle, we can now start our lives with peace and with the land that we own."
"We dedicate our victory to Rogelio Salvan who was with us throughout the long struggle. I can feel he is with us," Celis said in a statement sent to the regional newspaper Mindanao Examiner.
Salvan died in November last year while he and his fellow farmers were holding a protest camp in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City. The farmers were pushing President Benigno Aquino III and Agrarian Reform Secretary Gil delos Reyes to distribute the Arroyo properties and other big problematic landholdings.
Salvan's wife Conchitina was among the installed farmers. She held here tears when her husband's name was called during the roll call. "I am sad that Rogelio is no longer with us to taste our victory,” she said. “But I am happy that we finally gained what we have longed for, a land we can call our own."