Bondoc 123: Upping the level of legal and political battle

I wrote about radical lawyering yesterday morning. It somehow served as precursor to this entry about the forum held yesterday afternoon at the UP Law Center entitled “The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), Bondoc 123 and the Law as Weapon Against the Poor”.

Co-organized by UP-CIDS and QUARDDS, the forum featured Atty. Raul Pangalangan, who expressed surprise at the situation obtaining in Bondoc as 123 farmers have faced harassment and 197 law suits filed by their respective landlords, the most influential of whom are the Reyeses, Uys and Matiases. He said that the ConCom debate on the 1987 Constitution did not foresee such extent to which landlords reacted to a new agrarian reform. According to him, now that the criminal law has prevailed over agrarian law, it is high time that government brought the legal cases back to the fold of agrarian reform jurisdiction. He posed a challenge that the DOJ and DAR be engaged to work for the interest of the unjustly criminalized farmers, the real beneficiaries of agrarian reform.

The forum also featured Ka Roland Sano, farmer-leader in San Francisco, Quezon, who recounted how he, together with his colleagues, has been caught in the trap made by the Matiases. He mentioned several ironies such as that when he filed in 1998 a grave-threat case against the private army of the landlord, it practically did not move until now, whereas the landlord-instigated warrant of arrest against him was served instantly.

Atty. Gari Bernal, formerly with LRC-KSK and now PEACE’s retained lawyer, was more practical and straightforward by claiming that the DOJ should intervene and effect a constriction in the threshold whereby legal cases may be accommodated under jurisdiction and that the DAR, DOJ and regular courts must effectively coordinate their actions affecting the farmers. Atty Bernal rued the fact that despite the favorable resolve by fiscals and lawyers attending the Tagaytay workshop last year, issuance of warrants of arrest continues unabated.

Good news that at least five lawyers have signified their commitment to help the Bondoc 123 (123 Bondoc farmers facing 197 criminal charges). Yes, 5:123 ratio may be insufficient but it is much better than a lower lawyer-to-farmer ratio. And the number will definitely become greater in the near future. According to QUARDDS Coordinator, Danny Bernal, one of the top ten bar examinees in 2005 has already committed to help file counter-charges against Bondoc landlords.

I learned that powers-that-be adopt the SLAPP tactic to stop groups of people opposing or resisting the former’s anti-people initiatives. SLAPP means Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). (But in Iraq, as I watched on TV news last night, a throng of people can just get their way into a parliamentary proceeding and hurl accusations at will against the lawmakers without fear of being arrested. I call this TAPP – Tactic to Advance Public Protest.) Prof. Miriam Ferrer, convenor of Sulong CARHRIHL, wondered how farmers and their allies would “SLAPP” back. (It’s a shame that SLAPP is being used in a supposedly free country.) Surely, according to her, violence is not the desired mode to counter the violence caused by the landlords. She challenged the farmers and supporters on what non-violent and curative strategies are necessary to win the legal and political battle particularly of the Bondoc 123.

By the way, why “Bondoc 123”? It’s a way to tell the public that aside from the five progressive legislators being persecuted by government (that is, Batasan 5), there are also 123 unknown progressive peasant leaders being criminalized for something that’s theirs by the rule of law: Fruits of their harvests from the lands they have long tilled.

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