Negros farmers on hunger strike

dsc00608.jpgTask Force Mapalad’s member farmers have hailed from La Castellana, Negros Occidental to Manila to pressure the DAR leadership to mandate their physical installation right in the 144-hectare landholding for which they had been awarded with Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs).

Their coming to Manila must have served another purpose: Flee from the threat sowed by landowner Roberto J. Cuenca, known to be connected to Igi Arroyo, brother-in-law of President Gloria Arroyo. The leader of the La Castellana farmers, Pepito Santillan, was brutally murdered last January 25 right after the self-installation that was done by the agrarian reform beneficiaries. The initiative occurred in the wake of the ‘sellout’ that they inferred from the Memorandum of Agreement between Cuenca and DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman which provided, among others, that the legitimate farmers occupying about 10 hectares in the former Cuenca landholding be evicted. (What business does Cuenca have negotiating with the DAR when he is no longer the owner of the 144-hectare landholding? The farmers already do.)

Starting February 22, almost all farmers camping out at the DAR Central Office went on hunger strike. It’s the only option they could think of to pressure the seemingly callous Secretary. He said that the DAR will finally be installed “next week” either upon peaceful negotiation with the previous landowner (who has no business at all to be heard) or by force (if the negotiation fails).

The hunger strikers (even after 17 of them were already hospitalized due to dehydration) remain steadfast with their protest. Let’s offer them our best to pressure government as well as our prayers. May the installation push through as scheduled before one or two of the hunger strikers cave in and die.

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One comment

  1. This appeared in the visayan daily star last March 16, 2006.

    IN REACTION TO THE COMMENTARY “BLOOD ON THE SUGAR” WRITTEN BY DENNIS MURPHY PUBLISHED MARCH 14, 2007 AT THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER

    For the past two weeks, national media had given us footages that touched the hearts of even the most hardened souls.

    The picture created by Task Force Mapalad (TFM) was very cinematic. Women and men with shaven heads, some rushed to the hospital at the height of their supposed hunger strike, and recently chining themselves and writing their last will and testament in the event they die at the gates of the Department of Agrarian Reform.

    Believe it or not, we sympathize with the innocent hunger strikers whom we strongly believe are just being used as pawns by their handlers, some of whom have the temerity to continue playing golf and sounding so righteous on national media while their people are getting hungry.

    And yes, we totally agree with Dennis Murphy that “government should worry when it finds people like Florenda Hilario and Erlinda Gregorio”.

    Government should indeed worry. These middle aged women are being used by supposed civil society leaders who are actually sowing anarchy, holding the government hostage, pressuring them to set aside the rule of law, at the expense of these hunger strikers lives.

    Yes, Florenda is an original tiller of Hda. Malaga, formerly owned by Roberto Cuenca. The cooperative members and union workers acknowledge the fact that she worked alongside with them before the implementation of CARP.

    In fact, they have reiterated their call to these hunger strikers to come home and settle the dispute so they can claim their land, not out of violence and fear, but in victory for the chance to co-exist in peace.

    But let me stress, that this invitation is extended only TO THE ORIGINAL TILLERS OF THE FARM, whether they are with Task Force Mapalad or not.

    Erlinda, on the other hand, is one reason why the union continues to refuse to accept the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued by the DAR. The union stands by its position that only the original tillers are given the right over the land.

    Let us not forget that on the other side of this story, the union members have mothers and grandmothers too who are trying to go on with their lives despite these continued threats of violence in the area. Let us not forget too the 152 students who risk losing their scholarships and other benefits if national government allows itself to be pressured by TFM.

    It is unfortunate that these facts are not being highlighted in the national media. Yes, there have been attempts by national media to take the sides of the farmer beneficiaries belonging to the union and cooperative, but somehow, powerful forces have lobbied and prevented these voices and sentiments to be aired even among out toughest and broadsheets who boast truth and fairness in reporting.

    The recent events in Malaga stemmed out of the foiled forced installation by TFM members last January 24, 2007 which ended in a shoot out between TFM members and union members. Yes, Mr. Murphy, TFM had two wounded members, not from bullets, but injuries arising from falling and most probably during the rampage which they initiated in the first place.

    What TFM failed to disclose was the face that there were also two wounded from the other side, one union member and a security guard, both of whom were hospitalized because of gunshot wounds. Of course, we wouldn’t be surprised if TFM claims these were self inflicted.

    But again, we don’t have a propagandist on our payroll. We can only fight theatrics with the TRUTH.

    TFM failed to disclose too that they made an attempt to secure a medical certification from the municipal health doctor that their injuries were caused by bullets but which was denied because there were none underneath the bloodied bandages they showed local media and priest in the hope to win these people on their side.

    What was more suspect was TFM came ready for that incident with their own video cameras, footages which were shown on national news. To many in Negros Occidental, that was a staged forced installation, instigating violence to pressure DAR and the government to install their farmer beneficiaries at the expense of people’s lives, both theirs and those belonging to the union.

    When that failed, they staged their hunger strike in Metro Manila, again to pressure DAR and the national government. They won the first round, but lost in the end to have themselves installed, NOT BECAUSE OF RESISTING LANDOWNERS, or inefficient government heads, but because union members were able to amass support from other farmer beneficiaries to prevent the installation.

    We should not blame the union for that aborted installation. Like the TFM’s claim, they are only defending their rights to the land they and their parents have long tilled, which is now under threat because TFM insists on including people who have never shed sweat or blood on the farm.

    As we have continually reiterated, we are not against land reform. We just want the proper implementation of the law and justice for the original tillers. We want to finally put this issue to rest, mend broken family relationships, and live in peace and harmony.

    This would have long been resolved if DAR would just review the CLOAs and admit they made a mistake in awarding rights to some TFM members who are not original tillers of the farm. We too are tired of living under strained conditions.

    We appeal to the TFM leaders to stop subjecting your people to these theatrics. Stop using people as pawns. Stop deceiving the public. Start telling the truth.

    Signed,
    Zoilo de la Cruz
    Counsel
    Hda. Malaga Independent Workers Union

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