DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 May) — Some 200 farmers forcibly entered the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) – XI compound in Barangay Catalunan Pequeño on Tuesday and demanded the resignation of DAR-XI chief Yusoph Mama for his alleged illegal order exempting large estates in Davao Oriental from the coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The farmers, belonging to the Davao Oriental Farmers and Farmworkers Alliance (DOFFA), started to converge at the gate of the DAR compound at 10am and burned coconut husks and coconut shells to symbolize their protest against the exemption order.
Thirty minutes later, the farmers barged towards the gate and marched to the office of the regional director.
The lone security guard failed to stop the agitated farmers.
Salvina Siarot, DOFFA spokesperson, told reporters that they are demanding the resignation of Mama for “abuse his authority”.
Siarot said they are questioning the authority of the regional director, who approved the exemption of the 244-hectare Hacienda Bitoon and the 285-hectare Hacienda Bitanagan, owned and managed by the Rabat Family of Mati.
She said Mama issued an order on December 10 last year that Hacienda Bitoon is not exempted from CARP coverage because a large portion of it is devoted to a coconut plantation and other agricultural activities.
But on May 5, the regional director issued another order that approved the appeal of Pablo Rabat, the hacienda administrator, to exempt the land from CARP coverage.
Hacienda Bitanagan’s Notice of Coverage on the other hand was released on January 10, 2007. But on November 15 last year, Mama approved the landowner’s application for exemption from CARP coverage.
”Ginapatay ni Mama kaming mga ultimo na mag-uuma. Naa kami dire para mapaabot namo sa iyaha ang among position. Mas maayo pa pahawaon na siya kay abuso naman na iya ginabuhat,” (Mama is killing us small farmers. We’re here to inform him of our position. It’s better to remove him because he’s committing abuses) Siarot told reporters.
She claimed that Mama’s decision is meant to derail the coverage of Hacienda Bitoon since it was issued when the DAR provincial office was set to conduct the survey of the estate either this month or in June.
In a separate statement, the farmers questioned the authority of Mama to order the exemption, saying that the regional director is only allowed to exempt lands below five hectares.
Juldastan Rasul, DAR Assistant Regional Director for Administration, who faced the media first before the farmers, said that Mama was still in Manila.
Rasul said it would be better for the farmers to file an appeal directly to the DAR Secretary.
Asked by reporters for comment on the farmers’ claim, Rasul reiterated his position that the farmers should seek audience with the DAR secretary.
But Siarot insisted that they wanted to talk to Mama before they would bring the case to the DAR central office in Manila.
“Dapat atubangon niya kami kay iyaha man ning binuhatan, siya naghatag sa order. Wala kami nag-anhi dire para makig-away, naa mi dire para makig-storya sa kay Mama,” (He should face us because this is his own doing, he’s the one who gave the order. We’re not here to fight, we’re here to talk to Mama) she said.
The farmers also posted several sheets of paper at the door of Mama’s office with the words “Wanted New DAR Regional Director.”
Even if several DAR employees had told them that Mama was not in his office, the farmers refused to leave the premises.
Rasul called the police to disperse the protesting farmers.
The police arrived at the DAR compound about an hour later. A police officer talked with Siarot and representatives of Task Force Mapalad, a national federation of farmers assisting DOFFA.
The police officer asked the farmers to stage their protest just outside the gate of the compound. But the farmers refused and regrouped in front of the door of Mama’s office.
About thirty minutes later, Talomo Police station chief Inspector Loriza arrived at the DAR compound and talked to the farmers.
Loriza said they will allow the farmers to stay until 5pm only. “Wala naman sila may ginabuhat na daotan. Basta dili lang sila mangdaot or magbuhat ug daotan, pasagdan lang namo na sila diha,” They’re not doing anything bad. As long as they would not damage things or do something bas, we’ll just allow them there) he told reporters.
Lanie Factor, TFM coordinator, told MindaNews that the farmers left the DAR premises at 5pm after they DAR officials told them to return Wednesday morning and meet with the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer and DAR legal officer. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)