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JULY 16, 2014 — Land rights claimants in Hacienda Matias, one of the agrarian hotspots in the Philippines scored a very important legal victory when the Office of the President decided in favour of the redistribution of the property under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). The decision affirmed the coverage of the 1,829-hectare coconut lands located in the town of San Francisco, in the province of Quezon. This came after a dialogue by farmers groups with President Benigno Aquino III on June 10, 2014. The dialogue was attended by Maribel Luzara, president of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP) and one of the leaders in the Matias estate.

The farmers struggle to own the lands they till started in early 2004 or about a decade ago. The landowner resisted the land reform claims through various forms of harassment and the criminalization of farmers’ movements. The landowner also filed for the exclusion of the land from CARP coverage, citing that the area is devoted to livestock production. The DAR, however, dismissed the application. This was affirmed by the decision of the Office of the President officially dated June 9, 2014, dismiss the landowner’s Motion for Reconsideration.

Of the total area, 1,400 hectares had been valued by the Land Bank of the Philippines with Certificate of Cash Deposit. After the decision, the DAR Central Office ordered the provincial level agrarian reform office to “proceed with the generation of CLOAs (Certificate of Land Ownership Award) and cause the immediate registration thereof for eventual distribution to qualified beneficiaries”, in a memorandum dated June 27, 2014.

Landless farmers and farm workers in coconut areas, including the Matias tenants are some of the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the agriculture sector in the Philippines. Land monopoly persists in many coconut producing provinces. Farmers in these haciendas do not earn enough as share tenants, resulting in their abject poverty. They also fall prey to predatory practices of traders who depress the price of their coconut harvest.

The Inter-Church Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) supported the land rights claim of Matias through its support to the organizing and advocacy work of the Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services (RIGHTS), Inc.  With the decision of the Office of the President, Matias farmers are now hoping that the land redistribution process will be fast tracked so that they can transform their households as small landowners with capacity to make the land productive and engage in markets.

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