DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 May) – As the farmers’ protest at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR)-XI entered its second day, regional director Yusoph Mama was a no show in the scheduled dialogue that would have discussed what the farmers claim are illegal exemption of large real estates in Davao Oriental from coverage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The farmers instead staged a noise barrage by hammering the steel gate with stones.
On Tuesday, some 200 farmers belonging to the Davao Oriental Farmers and Farmworkers Alliance (DOFFA) forcibly entered the DAR compound in Barangay Catalunan Pequeño and demanded Mama’s resignation for “abuse of authority.”
DAR officials told the farmers to leave the premises and come back at 8:30 a.m. the following day, Wednesday, for a dialogue. But as the agreed time has passed, no DAR officials showed up to face the farmers.
This morning, DAR deployed five security guards to prevent farmers from entering the premises. On Tuesday, the lone security guard failed to stop the farmers from charging towards the gate.
Salvina Siarot, DOFFA spokesperson, said that they camped overnight just outside the DAR premises.
“We will not go home until they will not act on our demands because we believe that Mama’s order is illegal and beyond his powers,” Siarot said in the vernacular.
After two hours of sporadic noise barrage, DAR officials allowed 20 farmers to enter the premises for a dialogue with the DAR legal team and the provincial agrarian reform officer (PARO).
The 20 protesters were asked to leave their bags outside the premises and security guards conducted body checks and have the farmers sign on the logbook.
After over an hour of dialogue, Ben Mandap, PARO of Davao Oriental, told MindaNews that they advised the farmers to forward their appeal to Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio R. de los Reyes since he is the only one who could repeal or take proper action on the order imposed by the regional director.
“We cannot intervene on the action of our superior, that’s his discretion. If they have questions, they should bring it to the national office,” Mandap said. He added that they will also request the national office to send some personnel to attend to the issues raised by the farmers.
Mandap said they can only act on certain demands such as the conduct of the survey of haciendas Ong and Maonao, which are also covered by CARP.
“Our survey team is just finishing another survey then they will proceed with the survey in these haciendas. But in the haciendas that were covered by the exemption order, we cannot conduct the survey yet until the order has been lifted,” he explained.
Abel Nayal, Task Force Mapalad coordinator in Davao, bared that both parties have agreed to write a formal request to the DAR central office to send its personnel here to attend to the issues raised by the farmers.
“We requested them to send representative from the office of the DAR secretary to face us for another round of dialogue because they told that us that only the national office can decide on our demands, particularly the issue on exemption,” Nayal told MindaNews.
TFM is a national federation of farmers assisting DOFFA in its campaign to distribute the haciendas through CARP.
In earlier press statements, the farmers questioned 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 in Mati.
They noted that a regional director is only allowed to grant exemptions for lands not more than five hectares.
They said that Mama issued an order on December 10 last year stating that Hacienda Bitoon was not exempted from CARP coverage because its large portion is being used for a coconut plantation and other agricultural activities.
But on May 5, the regional director favorably acted on the appeal of Pablo Rabat, the hacienda administrator, to exempt the land from CARP coverage.
In the case of Hacienda Bitanagan, the notice of coverage in the CARP was reportedly released on January 10, 2007. But on November 15 last year, Mama approved the landowner’s application for exemption from CARP coverage. (Keith Bacongco / MindaNews)