Bugho Farmers Association Finally Reclaims 25 has. of Land

easternvisayas_katarungan5
ATM: Pagsasanay ng mga Lider Organizer.
November 5, 2016
Letter to Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco
November 5, 2016

Bugho Farmers Association Finally Reclaims 25 has. of Land

A Special Report on the Installation of 46 CLOA Holders in Ormoc

Bugho Farmers Association

Super Typhoon Yolanda’s landfall in the Philippines, nearly three years ago, demonstrated the importance of farmers’ land tenure security in times of disaster.  During the Yolanda response, farmer-survivors were excluded from shelter and farming assistance by various humanitarian organizations and government agencies due to lack of tenurial document to evidence land ownership.  Tenured farmers are free to cultivate their own land and access support from the government agencies as recognized farmer beneficiaries.  Those without security of land tenure had to rely on themselves to rebuild from the devastation of the typhoon with limited access to farm inputs and shelter assistance, and facing limitations on the use of land.  Unfortunately in Eastern Visayas, thousands of farmers were without land security, as a result of the poor, if not anomalous, implementation of the existing agrarian reform program.

These include the around 1,400 uninstalled farmers[1] in Ormoc and Kananga alone who are “secure” only on paper.  In reality, they do not have access and control over their lands that were awarded to them under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

This important lesson has triggered ground level initiatives from farmers with the aim of realizing their land rights.  One of the groups that has successfully reclaimed their land rights recently involved the 21 CLOA Holders in Ormoc, organized under Bugho Farmers Association (BFA), whose 16 years of struggle finally succeeded with their struggle-won state-supported installation on June 13, 2016.

Background

In September, 2014, upon the referral of the Social Action Commission of Palo, then headed by Fr. Edwin Perito, RIGHTS (Rural Poor Institute for Land and Human Rights Services, Inc.) and its mass movement partner KATARUNGAN (Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungnang Panlipunan) took on the case of the evicted CLOA (Certificate of Land Ownership Award) Holders in the CARP awarded 46 hectare land in Brgy. Matica-a, Ormoc.

RIGHTS-KATARUNGAN learned of the group’s struggle to reclaim their 46 hectares through BFA President Rosenda Apay, herself a CLOA Holder.  Thirty One (31) seasonal farm workers in the sugar plantation owned by the Fran family were awarded CLOA Number 000276805 (25 has.) and 000276806 (21 has.) in the year 1999. The 31 farmers are residents of Sitio Bugho, Brgy. Guintigui-an, the sitio that was once a part of neighboring Brgy. Matica-a.  When Fran Farms Sugar Cane Plantation was covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1997, the regular Farm Workers, later to be known collectively as FFFWA, were the first to be offered by the agency to be the beneficiaries of the program but “did not signify interest on the land distribution program xxx due to good relationship with the landowner and for fear of being ejected if they apply xxx”[2]  (Source: PARAD Case Decision, August 26, 2002).

The 31 farmers were then identified and awarded the 46 hectare land.  Installed shortly thereafter, the CLOA Holders cultivated the land and converted it to rice lands.  They completed one cropping season harvesting about 70 cavans of palay. “All seemed well until on Oct. 22 (2001), the Fran Farm workers organized themselves into FFWA and began intruding on 7 hectares assigned to the FBs.”[3] And in November of the same year, FFFWA took control of the entire 46 hectares of land through the use of armed men, including some who introduced themselves as members of the 19th Infantry Battalion.[4]  What followed were 15 years’ worth of cases filed, and DAR convened dialogues between the two groups, that included a hastily DAR-drafted Compromise Agreement in 2000 that was never implemented by the Agency.  Along the way, the 31 CLOA Holders whittled down to 21 as others lost hope and interest in the struggle.

June 2015 DARMO siege, Credits: King Montebon, RIGHTS

symbolic tearing of CLOAs returned to DAR.

symbolic tearing of CLOAs returned to DAR. Credits: King Montebon, RIGHTS

Misdeeds of government

FFFWA, for all the illegal activities they were responsible for, may as well be victims by interested parties in the land.  In 2015, Rodolfo Sanoria, one of the original petitioners, bared to RIGHTS-KATARUNGAN that he was told the BFA sold an awarded land in Brgy. Guintigui-an, Ormoc, insisting that this should disqualify the CLOA Holders.  Sanoria claims that this piece of information was relayed to him by one Provincial Legal Officer Wendell Ariza, the same DAR employee who was found to have been awarded two CLOAs in Brgy. Balud, Barugo, Leyte.

Mass actions held to push for the resolution of AR cases. Photo Credit: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

Mass actions held to push for the resolution of AR cases.
Photo Credit: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

Further, almost seven hectares of land was alleged to have been sold by members of the FFFWA to several persons including a prominent businessman in Ormoc who owns a neighboring structure in Brgy. Matica-a that is said to be intended for poultry raising.  This may as well be true owing to the fact that the Valencia Police responded to a call by the businessman’s staff reporting irregular agricultural activities in the businessman’s land (within the 25 has.) in October 2015. The Barangay Captain of Matica-a himself admitted in one Barangay hearing with the two warring parties, that his relative was also “victimized” when they purchased a parcel of land in the same 25 ha. lot.   If stories were to be believed, such sale of land were possible with the “intervention” of several local DAR personnel.

DAR’s response to the allegations is to ask the BFA to produce evidence, when they should be conducting an investigation.  The DAR Municipal Office also did not see the conflict of interest when they continuously referred the case to the Barangay Agrarian Reform Chairperson (BARC), who is also a petitioner to the land dispute.

Farmers’ self initiatives

The slow response of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) pushed the group to assert their rights via a successful bid of self installation.  Supported by farmers from other parts of Leyte, BFA occupied at least two (2) hectares of land amid the possible violent retaliation of the illegal occupants in the 25 ha.

CLOA Holders, supported by fellow KATARUNGAN Eastern Visayas farmers, on the way to self installation on April 30, 2015. Photo Credit: King Montebon, RIGHTS

CLOA Holders, supported by fellow KATARUNGAN Eastern Visayas farmers, on the way to self installation on April 30, 2015. Photo Credit: King Montebon, RIGHTS

In October 21, 2015, BFA moved to occupy the seven (7) hectare of land, alleged to have been sold to a prominent businessman in Ormoc.  As beneficiaries of the rehabilitation project of RIGHTS, in partnership with Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP), the CLOA Holders made use of their knowledge on organic farming, farm tools and implements awarded to them and  the seven (7) draft animals assigned to them as part of the program in cultivating a total of 10 has. which gave them their first 66 cavans of palay harvested after 16 years.

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Colored roof marked “boundaries” illegally occupied by the prominent businessman in Ormoc

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“Boundaries” which were taken down by the women of Bugho Farmers Association

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First 66 cavans of palay harversted by the CLOA Holders after 16 years

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Installation 

The self-initiatives of the CLOA Holders served as the catalyst to push DAR to find ways to settle the worsening dispute.  DAR proposed a “win-win” solution in the form of a new Compromise Agreement that included the illegal occupants in the 25 has. who were never part of the original petitioners and who, by their own admission, have started to occupy the 25 has. only in the last 10 years. The harassment and intimidation continued even during the exploration of a Compromise Agreement, prodding BFA to seek the intervention of the Commission on Human Rights National Office.  As always, the FFFWA members signed on the agreement, and a peace accord seemed to have been reached.  The CLOA Holders, after careful study under the guidance of the CBCP-NASSA legal officer, affixed their signatures on March 10, 2016.  Accomplishment hungry DAR, reported this in the same month, “Now, both groups are already peacefully installed and tilling their respective areas,” the announcement said[5].

In March 30, 2016, the hearing for the approval of the Compromise Agreement was set. By this time, three parties are already involved in the case, the CLOA Holders, the FFFWA members, and the new group of the illegal occupants in the 25 has., who have disengaged themselves from FFFWA, and are now organized under Lumad Maharlikans (LM).  (The LM is affiliated with the “Maharlikans,” who have also illegally settled in Lake Danao, Ormoc using the same  Tala estate Code 01-4, and have been identified as part of the Professional Squatting Syndicates by the NDAPSSS or the National Drive Against Professional Squatters and Squatting Syndicates as early as 2002.) The LMs reneged on the Compromise Agreement and decided to walk out of the hearing.  A week after, the second hearing was set to provide a second chance for those who were absent during the first one.  As a result, 42 FFFWA members were listed as potential beneficiaries to the 21 has., and the 21 CLOA Holders were set in the 25 ha. Land.

Entry of the Lumad Maharlikans as the small group of farmers disengaged from FFFWA. Photo Credit: BFA-Katarungan

Entry of the Lumad Maharlikans as the small group of farmers disengaged from FFFWA. Photo Credit: BFA-Katarungan

Lumad Maharlikans’ leaders Benjie Malinao and Datu Danny Doroy, armed with an ax, accosting BFA President Rosenda Apay on the DARAB’s decision. Photo Credit: King Montebon, RIGHTS

Lumad Maharlikans’ leaders Benjie Malinao and Datu Danny Doroy, armed with an ax, accosting BFA President Rosenda Apay on the DARAB’s decision. Photo Credit: King Montebon, RIGHTS

Pre-installation planning were set into motion when the DARAB approval was released on May 16, 2016.  These planning sessions were beset by problems as well i.e., Provincial Sheriff’s failure to immediately submit an installation plan that the Philippine National Police will follow, the DAR’s neglect to forward the written request for PNP assistance during implementation and for a post-installation police detachment that resulted in a flurry of follow ups, the MARO’s failure to provide the PNP field reports to assist them in mapping out the terrain, and the failure to live up to the scheduled June 1, 2016 installation.

By this time, deeply affected by the effects of the El Niño phenomenon that beset the Region since last year, and by the toxic material resulting from Philippine National Oil Company’s (PNOC) periodic plant cleaning that flowed in the irrigation destroying their crops in January 2016, BFA pushed the schedule of June 13, 2016 as the installation date, ably assisted by the intervention of the CHR Region 8 and the PNP Ormoc.

The installation team was composed of the Provincial DARAB Sheriff Joseph Catingub, 200 men and women of the PNP, including the top officials of the Region and the City; Regional Director Atty. Paquito Nacino and Special Investigator of CHR Region 8; Bureau of Fire Protection; and  DAR Provincial Office represented by PARO Renato Badilla, Chief Legal Officer Atty. Daniel Pen, MARO Perpetua Sabaldan and Lucy Jara, and a host of other personnel.  Rights-Katarungan joined the team in monitoring the conduct of the installation that started at 7:00 a.m.

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CHR Regional Director Nacino and PARO Badilla explaining to Brgy. Captain Flores the installation. Photo Credit: Baby ReyeS, RIGHTS

Again, this was beset by problems.  Matica-a Barangay Captain Henry Flores questioned the installation team over “lack of coordination” with his office that almost resulted in members of the Lumad Maharlikans walking out of the meeting where the Writ of Execution was to be served. Also, Sheriff Catingub initially refused to evict the almo st 60-70 Lumad Maharlikans off the 25 has., observing that they were “mere spectators” who are not resisting the installation.  When his position was challenged by Rights-Katarungan and CHR, he relented and decided to engage the LMs in a series of dialogues within the day, that culminated in him joining four leaders of the LMs in a meeting with the City Administrator who has no jurisdiction over CARP implementation.

CLOA Holders on the way to reclaiming their 25 hectare land. Photo credits: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

CLOA Holders on the way to reclaiming their 25 hectare land. Photo credits: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

CLOA Holders never went without their constant companion, the Blessed Virgin M

CLOA Holders never went without their constant companion, the Blessed Virgin M

Finally, at about 6:45 p.m., with the Lumad Maharlikans vacating the premises, Sheriff Catingub returned from his meeting with the City Administrator and officially declared the 21 CLOA Holders installed in the entirety of the 25 has. awarded to them, in accordance with the Compromise Agreement of 2016.

Photo Credit: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

Photo Credit: Baby Reyes, RIGHTS

Collective Efforts

Today, the 21 CLOA Holders, who asked that a collective CLOA be issued in their favor, are cultivating the area and are ready to plant rice with the help of Katarungan Eastern Visayas farmers in labor and provision of various machineries such as hand tractors and grass cutters. BFA, through Rights-Katarungan, was also able to secure 50 cavans of palay from the Department of Agriculture as part of the agency’s recovery program from El Niño. The Social Action Center of Palo has likewise pledged assistance in developing an organic vegetable farm within the 25 hectares, and has dispersed two (2) heads of pig breeder to the CLOA Holders.

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All Photos courtesy of Mel Caspe, The Manila Standard

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A special Thanksgiving Prayer was offered by the CLOA Holders prior to the installation activities.

A special Thanksgiving Prayer was offered by the CLOA Holders prior to the installation activities.

Despite continuing threats of harassment from the disgruntled Lumad Maharlikans, the 21 CLOA Holders have affirmed that they have successfully reclaimed the 25 has. that morning of 7:00 a.m. of June 13, 2016 owing to the support of the various government agencies and NGO support group they engaged, and to their consistent collective initiative.

[1] DAR List of Uninstalled Farmers as of June 30, 2014

[2] PARAD Case Decision, August 26, 2002

[3] Article “Fran Farms tension worsens, FBs helpless,” West Leyte Weekly Express News, April 8-14, 2002

[4] PARAD Case Decision, August 26, 2002.

[5] Article, “DAR-8 declares Fran Farm Case closed,” http://www.dar.gov.ph/region-viii/39-news/1993-dar-8-declares-fran-farm-case-closed

 

 

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