Task 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.