23 years after: Peasant groups assail CARP’s ‘failure’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/16 June) — Twenty-three years since the passage of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (Republic Act 6657) which aims “to promote social justice” through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, seven of every 10 farmers in Northern Mindanao still do not own the land they till, a peasant leader said in a press conference here last Friday.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Northern Mindanao Region (KMP-NMR) marked CARP’s 23rd anniversary by calling a press conference to announce their string of mass actions, one of which is the launching of a one-million signature campaign to drumbeat support for the enactment of House Bill 374 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).

Launched in Manila last April, Sr. Famita Sumugod of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP), one of KMP-NMR’s support groups, said the campaign aims to hit the target number by August this year and the region is expected to gather about 60,000 signatures.

“We hope that through these signatures of support for GARB can pressure our legislators, in effect, hasten the enactment of the bill into law,” Sumugod said.

Nothing to celebrate

In the same press conference, Danny Menente, KMP-NMR chair said peasants have nothing to celebrate and instead they condemned CARP as having failed to implement its mandate to distribute land to those that toil it.

“We have not benefited anything from CARP and instead of the promised social justice, we are now poorer than ever on account that we are continuously and deliberately deprived of owning the land we till. CARP has only worsened our situation,” Menente said.

He cited the experience of the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus Farmers’ Association (BTL), a KMP affiliate, whose members were awarded certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) for 400 hectares of lands at the Central Mindanao University in Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon. Their 1987 application covered 1,200 hectares. Notwithstanding the downsizing of the land awarded, the CLOA for the 400 hectares was taken back from them after a few years when the Supreme Court ruled in CMU’s favor.

It has been roughly two decades that BTL farmers have struggled against the relentless efforts of the state-run CMU administration to kick the 800 peasant families out of the university’s lands.

Worse, in 2001, the Supreme Court approved the appeal of the CMU administration that the university’s land holdings be exempted from CARP on grounds that it needed the land for educational and scientific purposes.

In its website (http://www.cmu.edu.ph/?p=345), for their part, CMU administration maintained that “BTL and other similarly situated groups must respect the rule of law. Social justice is not an excuse to disrespect or violation of the existing laws.”

For a peaceful “closure to the continued stay of the informal settlers from the land of CMU and subsequent development can only flourish in the environment of peace,” CMU administration has offered the following proposal:
“1) A maximum of three years individual contract with original farmer-beneficiaries less those who availed the Php40,000 cash option, commencing June 1, 2011 to cultivate no more than one hectare per household with a rental fee of one peso per hectare per year;
2) Any agreement allowing them to cultivate should not be tied up in any way to the issue of relocation. BTL farmers can enter into a separate agreement with a third party on the issue of relocation, with CMU to act only as witness. Farmer-beneficiaries must vacate the area upon expiration of their individual contract;
3) Free tuition fee for the qualified children of the BTL; and
4) CMU reserves the right to pursue legal action if farmer-beneficiaries refuse to vacate the occupied area after the expiration of the agreement. However, the BTL rejected the proposal and insisted on a four year contract with relocation.”

“The proposal of the University is too humane and generous considering that CMU is willing to (forgo) the potential income of 61.2 million pesos from the lease for three years in exchange for a peaceful settlement of the problem,” the CMU disclaimer posted on their website states.

Amihan Northern Mindanao said it has learned from CMU students sympathetic to the peasants that CMU plans to construct livestock facilities in a portion of the area cultivated by BTL farmers. The Davao Ventures Corporation (DAVCO) has also announced that it wants to use the same area for the expansion of its pineapple and banana plantations.

Nowhere to go

Dolores Gorgodan, BTL spokesperson, told reporters here last Friday they have been pushed against the wall too far.

“We’re no longer afraid. We can do nothing else but assert our right to survival,” Gorgodan said in the vernacular.

Some 800 peasant families under Amihan Northern Mindanao, a coalition of 43 peasant women groups in the region, had encamped outside the gates of CMU since the opening of classes last June 6.

A mother of six, Wenda Jumawon, has been tilling an hectare of land since 1994 along with her husband. The Jumawon couple belongs to the Agrarian Reform Farmers Association (ARFA) in Don Carlos, Bukidnon.

Wenda said they migrated from San Andres, Kadingilan, Bukidnon and claimed they were agrarian reform beneficiaries. She, however, said they were never given a CLOA for the one hectare they have been cultivating for the last 17 years.

“Even though it is just a small piece of land but we have to fight for it because it is where we get our food for our daily sustenance. We have planted cassava and sugar cane in our land,” she said.

“My husband and I have decided that, together hand-in-hand, we will fight for right to live and own this small piece of land that has sustained us through the years,” Wenda said.

She said members of their organization have picketed in front of CMU since May 23 and was among the first of the peasant organizations to participate in Amihan Northern Mindanao’s “Kampuhan sa Mag-uuma.”

She said their protest aims to show how CARP had failed them for the nth time.

Vicious cycle

Menente said a few landlords and other entities own vast tracts of arable lands and the government’s lack of political will to implement a genuine agrarian reform has exacerbated the woeful situation of the peasantry in Mindanao.

This arrangement in landholdings dates back even to the pre-Hispanic era which is perpetuated to the present by heirs of the landed families of the past, he added.

A KMP-NMR study reads: “…In Gingoog City, Misamis Oriental, the Lugod family owns 5,000+ hectares while it is clearly stipulated in the CARL that ‘in no case shall the retention by the landowner exceed five hectares’.”

“With the disequilibrium of the ownership of agricultural lands, follows the feudal relation between the landed families and the local peasantry. Consequently, the current sharing scheme of profits of production best illustrates this feudal relation,” the same KMP-NMR study continues.

According to a Primer on the Coconut Industry in Misamis Oriental by the Misamis Oriental Farmers Association (MOFA), in the coconut industry in Gingoog City, for every P5,214.28 of the share of the daily net profit that goes to the landlord, a measly P121.21 trickles down to the tenant or farm worker.

“When the country became a member of the World Trade Organization (through the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), it liberalized the trade of agricultural produce which has made it harder for local peasants to compete with the global market where member countries are amply subsidized by their governments,” according to a research paper on agrarian reform commissioned by the Consortium of Christian Organizations for Rural-urban Development, Inc. in 2008 under its Integrated Development Program for Mindanao funded by the Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst Church Development Service. (Cong B. Corrales/MindaNews)