Agrarian Reform

Not a happy women’s day nor one for farmers

Ghastly and horrible are no apt terms to describe the brutal murder of Rebelyn Pitapo, 20-year old teacher and daughter of high-ranking commander of the New People’s Army (NPA). And President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was too concerned that she ordered the Philippine Human Rights Committee and Commission of Human Rights probe into the matter. Concerned perhaps because the incident came in the wake of her new attempt at peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-National Democratic Front.

Suppose that the President was personally affected as a woman and acted on sensibility, in addition to responsibility. This is good and goes to show that the President is also human like us. But I wonder if the President was also affected by what happened in Mendiola last February 12. She would have been and said or ordered something that was not, however, fed to the media. I don’t remember her saying something in tone similar to the case of Rebelyn on the cases of still missing Jonas Burgos and killing of unknown farmer leaders like Ka Eric Cabanit, Ka Pepito Santillan.

The President could have publicly denounced the violent and inhumane dispersal of farmers last February 12 and ordered disciplinary actions on the anti-riot police doing such dispersal. She could have done the same instruction to the CHR to probe such incident. And she could have used the incident to urge Congress to fast-track the legislation of extension and reform of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

Now, Congress has adjourned session to give way to the Lenten season without any piece of legislation for the farmers. House Speaker Prospero Nograles’ promise of a Valentine gift did not materialize at all. And there are no greater reasons why farmers should observe Lent.

(Part 2) White paper: Behind CARP ‘pump-priming’ projects

My bad. It took me three days to publish here the second and last part of the expose/white paper about a corruption involving DAR top officials. The first part is here. Now enjoy reading the part two, as follows:

SARO Fiasco, Fake NCAs and Advance Commissions – Part II

AS a continuation to the P500 million SARO fiasco, the lazy bugs (with the “s”) in DBM shared to our DAR spiders (again with the “s”) more damning revelations of SAROs and NCAs proliferating around supposedly for CARP pump-priming projects. These SAROs and NCAs were dangled to LGUs and favored contractors who would agree to provide our mafias “advance commissions”.

According to our Spiders, aside from the SARO E-06-10436 (P500M) stated in an earlier paper, another SARO was issued on December 29, 2006 (SARO No. E-06-10435) worth P347M broken down as P197M for MOOE and P150M for Capital Outlays. A Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA-BMB-E-07-0000395) for P150 Million was subsequently issued. Curiously, based on documents at hand, there were two sets of “annexes” with different sites of project implementation using the same amount of P150M and referring to the same NCA with DBM barcode encryption.

This prompted then FMAO Use to request assistance from S! ec Andaya (DBM) in clarifying the authenticity of the SAROs, NCAs, and “annexes”. Walang kopya si Usec? Would this mean that the two mafias by-passed the FMAO and lobbied directly with the DBM for the SAROs, NCAs? One thing is definite here; all communications of Mr. Work in Progress and Mr. Bigote to the DBM used the letterheads of DAR which is very unusual as it should be the PARC officials, using PARC letterhead, who are to communicate with DBM on CARP funds as per official protocol.

The DBM lazy bugs were baffled on the many instances of double letters, double project sites, and double SAROs that they would have to consult their ophthalmologist as they were having double vision. Even our eight-eyed spiders were mystified that they made some sleuthing on how the mafia operates in our department.

Here’s how the mafia operates, as seen from the cobwebs.

ARMM mafia don Mr. Work in Progress asks the boss of our Lazy Bugs to immediately release SARO or NCA for “much needed” CARP pump-priming projects. He provides a copy to PARC, and secretly slips another copy to the CL Mafia boss, headed by Mr. Nite. Boss Nite, orders his top hammer, Mr. Bigote and some close frat-brod operators to shop for “willing” LGU executives and contractors in Region 3 and Region 4A for the supposed implementation of pump-priming projects.

From the SAROs and NCAs, t he ARMM mafia boss will be assured of fund allocation for some towns in ARMM (i.e. millions for the Municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao) plus a 20%-30% commission from all the operations of the CL Mafia group in the agreed “pump-priming areas”. The CL Mafia group would retain another 40% of the total project cost. Only 30%-40% of the “pump-priming programs” are actual implementation focusing on road RE-GRAVELLING under “Farm-to-Market Roads (FMR)”. Mas malaki kasi ang kikitain sa regravelling at madaling ilusot sa COA. Halos lahat ng money-making racket sa DAR at DA ay nasa road rehab, improvement at regravelling. Cost of each FMR projects as itemized by Mr. Work in Progress, Mr. Nite and Mr. Bigote ranges from P5million to P30 million, depending on the willingness of the LGU and contractor on such arrangement.

According to the lazy bugs of DBM, Sec Andaya has been informed last Friday on the mafia operations in the department but showed no interest on pursuing an investigation on the proliferation of fake SAROs, NCAs, annexes of project sites, saying: “problema nila SNCP yan”.

May kinalaman kaya si Sec Andaya dito? O may mas higit pang mataas na opisyal na sangkot dito? The lazy bugs suddenly hid under the bed.

(Part 1) White paper: Behind CARP ‘pump-priming’ projects

This is my first time to publish over my blog “white papers” I’m receiving over email. What follows is one of two related white papers I’ve received from Timone Tumba (what an anonymous name) regarding alleged corruption at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) involving top officials. I understand that it is the white paper’s purpose to catch the attention of legislators and concerned authorities.

Being a concerned citizen and an advocate of authentic agrarian reform, I think that there may be truth in the expose and should therefore warrant the public’s attention. So, here’s the text of the white paper. Do note that I didn’t use specific names to save me from possible incrimination.

P500M SARO scramble and bungled money-making operations reveals Mafia-like operations in DAR

20 September 2007

Two separate letters to the DBM from our top officials would later reveal a modus operandi being employed by mafiosos in DAR to suck out CARP funds in the guise of improving the lives of agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Both letters were dated and sent on the same day, January 30, 2007. One letter signed by Mr. Work in Progress for his penchant use of “its work in progress” whenever confronted with various issues by the media, requested for the release of National Cash Allotment or NCA for pump priming projects under CARP, while another letter was signed by Mr. Bigote, requesting for the release of Special Allotment Release Order or SARO also for the same pump priming projects under CARP.

The letter of Mr. Bigote has an attached list of project areas for the implementation of the pump priming projects with corresponding amount of project cost. Notably, the P500 million, as per Mr. Bigote’s long list, would be utilized entirely for selected municipalities in Region 4-A and two municipalities in Bulacan.

The SARO No. E-06-10436 with an amount of P500 million was actually issued on December 28, 2006 by the Department of Budget and Management for the purpose of “To cover requirements of Pump-Priming projects under CARP” and charged against the general automatic appropriations for RA 6657 and EO 228.

According to our lazy bugs in DBM, a copy of the SARO No. E-06-10436 was already released to DAR in mid-January and that DBM was surprise to receive two letters of the same date from Mr. Work-in-Progress and Mr. Bigote. “Nag-kukurutan na naman siguro dyan sa department nyo” surmised the lazy bug.

What the DBM insects doesn’t know are the brewing conflicts from amongst the big time mafiosos in our department. There are two groups of mafiosos in our midst. The first group is identified with Mr. Work in Progress (or the ARMM mafia) and the other one headed by Mr. Nite (or the CL mafia). Mr. Bigote is identified with the CL mafia.

At the beginning of the SARO fiasco, Mr. Bigote tried to snatch the money allocated under SARO from the ARMM mafia, and overeagerly followed up with the DBM to have it released immediately to the DAR Region 4A in which he is the Regional Director. Mr. Bigote even dangled the SARO No. E-06-10436 with his favorite town mayors in Rizal and favored contractor saying “its in the bag!”.

But unknown to Mr. Bigote, our quicker Mr. Work in Progress has already got hold of the money in February and as of March 2007 has already sent P200 million to ARMM, P200 million to different politicos under the Lakas-CMD-UMDJ and Kampi, and P100 million as personal reward! Teka, pang pump-priming ng CARP projects yan ah…hoy!

Meanwhile in the municipalities of Teresa, Baras, and Tanay, all in Rizal province, the favored contractor (MJP Construction) started working on the “regravelling” project at the prodding of the CL mafia, the total amount involved is a staggering P 47 million! And that’s in three barangays alone!

However, in a PARC Memorandum signed by a Director dated June 14, 2007 for Mr. Bigote showed that the SARO E-06-10436 has already been programmed for priority projects NATIONWIDE, including Region 4A and that his long list are not included in the programmed projects. Naloko na. Paano na ngayon mababayaran ang contractor, eh nagpa-bidding pa naman ang DAR region 4A. Paano na mga komisyon?

The DBM lazy bug told us that a letter was sent on August 16, 2007 by the MJP Construction to Secretary Andaya seeking for the release of funds representing the amounts which they were made to believe were covered by CARP priority programs and SARO E-06-10436. The local mayors of Rizal were starting to howl on the failed project promises of DAR.

Sensing that the situation is getting out of hand, Mr. Work in Progress reached out to the CL Mafia to put their acts together and immediately settle money matters for contracted construction companies and appease the municipal mayors. Mr. Nite was appointed OIC for FMAO, another to head the Field Operations, and Mr. Bigote as OIC Asec for Operations.

Teka, ito kaya ang dahilan kung bakit nagresign si ang isang undersecretary?

The formula is for Mr. Work in Progress to provide open opportunities for more funding (meaning more opportunity for kurakots) and the CL mafia to do the dirty work. The CL mafia will support Mr. Work in Progress, in return the CL mafia will be given more power and greater access to the department funds.

“In three years wala na tayo dito, sabayan na natin ang nasa taas”, where the words of the don from the ARMM mafia, according to the insects who bugged the meeting.

On August 17, 2007, Mr. Work in Progress sent another formal letter to the DBM Secretary requesting for P750 million allocation again for pump priming the CARP projects. This time no parallel letter was sent to DBM from the CL Mafia.

Mababayaran na rin kaya ang contractor! Mapapakalma na kaya ang mga Mayor? Magkakatotoo na rin ba ang komisyon? Pero teka, hindi ba’t dapat imbestigahan ang mga pandarambong na ito? Kabang yaman ito ng bansa, for DAR program implementation!

Tinatawagan po namin ang mga kakampi ng kabutihan at mga kalaban ng kasamaan…tinatawagan namin ang senado, ang kongreso, ang PAGC, ang Ombudsman, ang Sandiganbayan, ang sambayanan!

Kung may ZTE controversy, SARO hullabaloo at mga ghost o overpriced projects naman sa DAR.

Bring back the lost glory, dignity and credibility of our Department; we owe it to the millions of Filipino farmers we vowed to serve.

Abangan ang susunod pang mga katarantaduhan ng mga mafia…

RP Bishops come to repressed farmers’ rescue

It must be a year ago when I overheard a comment that the CBCP is too conservative to support even a seemingly radical cause. This comment was made in reaction to an opinion that the Roman Catholic Church’s identification with the peasant sector would soon be revived. There was during the Marcos dictatorial regime. And now, there is a level of certainty that there will be at this age of globalization and digital technology, which unfortunately continues to marginalize the country’s poor and powerless.

The optimism developed in January this year when the CBCP leadership issued a pastoral statement entitled “The Dignity of the Rural Poor – A Gospel Concern”. The statement analyzes the agrarian reform situation from which it took the government into account for the sorry implementation of the agrarian reform program. In a belief that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) remains a legitimate tool that empowers the marginalized land tillers, the statement calls for the extension of CARP with the necessary improvements.

Beyond the Pastoral Statement

Jubilant are organized farmers over that move by the Bishops. But they (the farmers) wonder in what more ways can the Bishops support the cause, which is basically to protect and defend the interests of the farmers in agrarian reform. The thought had its louder voice after over 1,000 combined members of UNORKA and TFM, two major peasant federations in the Philippines, were subjected to repressive treatment by the leadership of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) during the first and second weeks of September. Leaders of both feds mustered all their guts to seek audience with the CBCP leaders about their sad experience with the DAR. The Church leaders didn’t fail them.

Last September 13, a forum with the Bishops took place inside the Office for Women, CBCP, Intramuros. It was a breakthrough activity just because the top leader was there–Archbishop Angel N. Lagdameo, D.D., President of the CBCP. Other leaders present were Archbishop Antonio J. Ledesma, SJ, D.D., Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Auxiliary Bishop of Manila; Bishop Antonio P. Palang, SVD, D.D. of Mindoro; Bishop Vicente M. Navarra, D.D. of Bacolod; and Bishop Paciano B. Aniceto, D.D. of Pampanga. Five of the present Bishops are members of the Permanent Council of the CBCP. Abp. Ledesma presided over the meeting.

Unfortunately, my group, with UNORKA, was an hour late for the 3 pm meeting with the Bishops. We underestimated the factors that contributed to the tardiness. It was a such a shame, to think that the leaders are known for time efficiency. We were not also able to listen to the presentation of TFM, whose leader representatives spoke first while we were on our way to the venue.

When we arrived, the discussion on the TFM cases was already winding up. So in a matter of minutes, it was UNORKA’s turn to present its own issues through Ka Vangie Mendoza. Before she could start her presentation, I had already unfolded my Palm 515 and keyboard, a gadget pair I used to document the forum.

Ka Vangie ably presented UNORKA’s take on the CARP situation, starting off with the 773 land cases which have barely moved since they were filed with the DAR since 2001. She then raised several issues pertaining to CARP implementation, including, among others, decisions made by the DAR reversing earlier ones that were in favor of the affected farmers. (For those of you want to have a copy of the presentation, which is in Tagalog, just let me know.)

Encouraging responses from the Bishops

How did the Bishops react to the farmer groups’ presentations?

  1. Abp. Ledesma asked whether the groups also have success stories to tell. The groups responded positively, saying that they are ready to document and share all of these. UNORKA shared the story of a commercial farm in Panabo, Davao del Norte, in which the agrarian reform beneficiaries have the direct say in their banana produce, from production to marketing, without any intervention from their previous management-landowners.
  2. Bp. Pabillo asked two things. First, what are the plans of the groups after the recent sad experience at the DAR? TFM responded that Negros leaders are still hopelessly waiting for the DAR’s decision, while it is seeking the help of the Bishops to intervene. UNORKA said that it has (temporarily) stopped mounting camp-outs at the DAR but it has already started to reach out to Congresspersons and Senators to support them in their current struggle against the DAR leadership. Second, why is there excruciating delay in the resolution of cases? TFM answered that the DAR doesn’t have the political will. UNORKA, in turn, claimed that it is because of the many layers at the DAR Central Office that perform similar functions, like analyzing the cases. The final say resides in the legal team of the Office of the Secretary, which has all the discretion to render decision to each case, whether that negates the recommendations of the previous layer.
  3. Abp. Ledesma informed the group that the CBCP is already organizing for the 2nd National Rural Congress that will take place in January 2008. The processes leading towards the Congress may be maximized to raise the issues just presented at today’s forum. He further said that the website that the CBCP Media Office has set out to create is home to all researches, publications, and the like related to agrarian reform and rural development. All statements and related documents that the POs would like to publish can be featured in that web site.
  4. Abp. Ledesma further opined that CBCP can hold seminars, syposiums, etc. pertaining to ARRD.
  5. Abp. Lagdameo said that the CBCP Pastoral Statement issued in January this year is enough response by the organization to the hapless situation of the farmers. He also asked TFM and UNORKA whether they were able to do to the DAR, that is, explaining what the DAR should be doing, what they are trying to do now to the CBCP. As sure as they were seated, they answered “Yes.” And then the Abp. quipped: “There’s something wrong.”
  6. Bp. Navarra of Bacolod informed the group that all four Bishops in the province of Negros Occidental have been concerned about the fate of the TFM. He spoke mostly in Ilonggo, so I couldn’t make out the entire response. But as far as I understood it, he said that the Negros Bishops have met more than once and tried to extend any help they could. He also advised that the farmers should not resort to any violence and never tire of looking for creative ways to resolve their problems.
  7. Bp. Paciano of Pampanga admitted that the Bishops are like students learning from the experiences of the teachers–the farmers. He further asked the groups to be active in the subregional consultations in the run-up to the National Rural Congress.
  8. Bp. Palang of Mindoro then said that unity among the farmers is very important. It is similar to a “walis tingting” (broom made from coconut midribs) which can be used for sweeping off dirt, at the same time, for hitting those who did wrong. (This evoked laughter from the audience.) The Bishops then encouraged the farmers to continue to do what they are doing, and the Bishops will be there to support them. (This evoked the only applause during the meeting.)
  9. Finally, Bp. Lagdameo pushed for the dialogue as the only means to identify loose points and lapses and bridge misunderstanding between the farmers and the DAR.

What the farmers want

Sec. Ricardo Saludo of the Office of the President came when UNORKA was about to finish its presentation. (I learned that he would not have come had Abp. Lagdameo not been present.) When it was his turn to give his response, he recommended a solution that stirred a negative reaction from the farmers: Creation of a Task Force to process all land cases that the two groups allege to have been sat on by the DAR. Another layer, another delay, it will not solve, instead, will contribute to the problem. These were the stock responses from the groups. What they wanted is dialogue at the Malacanang and President Arroyo’s intervention to resolve the “deadlock” between the DAR leadership and the farmers groups.

Sec. Saludo warned that the farmer groups’ demand to immediately sack DAR Sec. Pangandaman is impossible to be granted, as it will just result in unmanageable conflicts within the Department. Atty. Christian Monsod, who attended the forum for the side of the farmers, argued that there already was a similar case before with another government agency, whose corrupt leader was immediately sacked by the President. But still, Saludo did not buy the idea.

The Secretary was at first reluctant to approve of the dialogue at the Malacanang, insisting that the Task Force was a better solution. After learning about the previous dialogues held with the President, he finally said that he will try to convince the President for a dialogue with TFM and UNORKA, one concrete result would be the creation of the Task Force. He committed to report back to the Bishops after Tuesday (when the Cabinet will meet) next week.

Wasn’t that Forum a success? You had the CBCP President and Malacanang representative attending and listening to you, with concrete actions to be taken. I think that has helped ease the yoke that the farmers have been carrying since the second week of September.

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Agrarian reform advocacy based on research

Had Bel not phoned me this late morning, I would not have known about and attended two important events today.

The first one was about the meeting of research institutions concerned about agrarian reform and rural development. I think it was the second time they gathered and took up next actions in support of the National Rural Congress slated to be held in first quarter of 2008. They gathered because the Roman Catholic leaders believe (which the civil society shares) that convincing the public and the policy makers about our advocacies takes bombarding them with information based on academic and institutional researches. The CBCP has offered to help out these research institutions propagate their studies by putting up a website that hosts bibliographies, documents or links to research documents.

There was a lot of known civil society-associated research institutions present, with the likes of the ASI (the host of the meeting), IPC, ICSI, Ibon, and UP-SOLAIR-Agrarian Reform Team. The other groups are NGOs that have their respective research units, with the likes of PARRDS, PARFUND, PDI, and PEACE. The meeting was chaired by Abp. Tony Ledesma. He asked each one to share something about its or his/her agrarian reform and rural development-related research materials which may be useful.

I wasn’t able to attend the previous meeting. So I was lucky to attend this one because my organization–PEACE Foundation–had to be heard about by the other institutions. I shared with them that PEACE has published “Agrarian Notes” that are most often case studies of agrarian reform issues as they are felt at the ground. Abp. Tony Ledesma affirmed the need to collect case studies as a type of research.

Three personalities were present as well–UP Professor Rene Ofreneo, former DA Secretary Leonie Montemayor, and former COMELEC Chair Christian Monsod. Each had his own way of suggesting things. Dr. Ofreneo was the most critical, saying that he and his colleagues in UP Agrarian Reform Team are closely monitoring the effects of globalization on agriculture, citing as an example the ever controversial agri-business deals of Phil. government with China. Sec. Montemayor was more exploring and emphatic of good things. He wanted studies that shed light on, for example, the effects of micro-financing to farmers. He also stressed the need to research on and publish success stories of agrarian reform and rural development. (I think he raised that as soon as he heard the lady from Ibon Foundation about its plan to come up with a primer this yearend, which aims to highlight the negative side of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program [CARP].)

Commissioner Monsod was more practical and emphatic of what’s already existing. He suggested that the research studies commissioned or collected by the relevant agencies must be tapped into and shared with the website that is going to be put up by CBCP Media Office. He also stressed the value of the website in that it will shed light on policy issues like the farmland collateralization that is being peddled by Pres. Gloria Arroyo. Without batting an eyelash, he emphasized that collateralizing a farmer’s farmland to access credit is good. With three conditions: a) there should be National Land and Water Use Law, b) progressive taxation in lands must be institutionalized, and c) the land redistribution component of CARP is finished. When I chatted with him after the meeting, I said that the fourth important precondition for farmland collateralization is the farmers’ empowerment to decide after weighing options.

More research institutions will be tapped to partake in the advocacy endeavor. In fact, there will be a symposium in October (?) to be held by them together with the CBCP about rural poverty issues. It will also be a venue for them to inform the public about the coming-together.

The meeting ended at past 5. Bel and I went out of the ASI together. We were caught in a bad traffic in Taft Ave. After spending time to decide what to do, I suggested that we take the LRT and then MRT en route to a place in Kamias where the next meeting is going to be held. She concurred. So we battled ‘human traffic’ to get to the trains and out.

The meeting, which was a preparation for the Bishops-Peasants Forum the next day, was supposed to start at 6. But Bel and I only managed to arrive at the venue at around 7. Also, other participants (from TFM) had to be awaited before the meeting could start.

As expected, that meeting started late and ended late in the evening. But everyone was happy about the results, which should have made the participants excited for the meetup with the Bishops the next day.

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Organized farmers call for DAR revamp

I’m posting here an important piece concerning the organized farmers’ call to revamp the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) starting with the top leadership. This after two years of waiting for the leadership’s concrete actions in response to issues long raised in his office. The update was written by me, thanks to the inputs by a colleague.


UNORKA and TFM Direct Actions Calling for DAR Revamp and CARP Extension with Reforms

7 September 2007


Since Mr. Nasser Pangandaman was appointed in 2005 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to replace Rene Villa as head of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), farmer communities have not seen nor felt almost any sincere effort from him to lead the implementation of CARP. He has practically become a figurehead as he has been wont to merely representing the Department in public events without any self-initiative to face the farmers, much less act concretely and favorably on policy and operational issues levelled against his agency, to wit:

  1. Non-installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the landholding already owned by them, including the Hacienda Malaga in Negros Occidental.
  2. Agrarian violence, which escalated during his term;
  3. Exemption ruling by the Supreme Court despite the existence of share tenancy relations and farming activity in supposed livestock areas;
  4. Non-revocation of Stock Distribution Option (SDO) despite the evidences pointing to its failure in Negros and Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac;
  5. Unbridled approval of applications for exemption and land use conversions;
  6. Corruption within the Department, as perpetuated by officials that give in to the pressure and influence by landlords and real estate developers;
  7. Committing over half a million hectares of CARP lands for the anomalous and widely-opposed RP-China deals.

Direct Actions and State Responses:

September 3 (Monday)

At 8 am, about 150 farmers from UNORKA and TFM trooped to the DAR Office of the Secretary, fourth floor, to pressure Sec. Pangandaman to face the farmers and have a dialogue with them. Backing them up are over 800 farmers outside the gate of the DAR.

At first, the Secretary wanted to just send Undersecretary Nieto and others to represent him but the farmers opposed it and raised their voice in demanding that the Secretary himself show up to them. The Secretary then committed to show up in two hours, 10 am. But it was already 11:30 am and no trace of the Secretary was seen in the vicinity. The farmers decided to count down from 50 to give him a chance to figure in. If he failed, the farmers said that they would force themselves inside the office to peacefully occupy it. The countdown was proceeding when he finally appeared.

He requested that only a maximum of two representatives per land case be allowed inside the DAR Board Room. The farmers obliged, with the Secretary realizing that his two-reps formula still resulted in a great number of farmers he would have to dialogue with inside, 120 from UNORKA and 20 from TFM. Pangandaman first heard the cases of TFM and then later those of UNORKA.

The supposed dialogue went on until 6 pm, when the farmers realized that the Secretary has not really made concrete actions. Most of his commitments were basically to review the cases. This drew the ire of the farmers, who at 6:50 pm, called the dialogue a deadlock. Then, the farmers outside the main entrance gate mounted a noise barrage and started chanting the words: “Pangandaman resign! Reform DAR!”

The farmers inside the Board Room stayed put. They asserted that they would not go out until their demand is met: Sacking of Usec Madueno, HEA Coleto, Dir. Omar, and no less than Sec. Pangandaman.

Before long, about a hundred police forces came and proceeded to the Board Room. At 10 pm, they dispersed the farmers and dragged each of them down the ground floor and out of the DAR building. They, however, remained inside the gate and sat down, an indication that they still push their demand for the DAR revamp, starting from the resignation of Pangandaman, Madueno, Coleto and Omar.

At 10:30 pm, a fire truck came. The firemen have braced themselves waiting for an order for water dispersal.

At 11:35 pm, the farmers have decided to self-disperse because the number of police forces has almost doubled and they appeared ready to disperse the farmers violently. Together, the farmers went back to their assembly place. They will assess the day, take some rest, and face the next day possibly with a direct action after another until their demands are met.

September 4 (Tuesday)

Coming from their assembly place, Claret Church in Quezon City, about 700 farmers marched to the DAR. Then a noise barrage took place outside the DAR gate.

While the action was taking place, a policeman coming from DAR was able to get a farmer leader from TFM. He was manhandled inside the DAR as shown by some photographs from a media person.

Deeply concerned about the situation of their colleague, several farmers insisted that they be allowed to get inside and bring him back. As a consequence of their insistence, the police forces responded with force, hurting several of them. Ka Evangeline Mendoza of UNORKA was one of them.

Media persons were called to cover the situation, including the harassment the farmers have been experiencing from the security and police forces. Apparently pressured by the presence of the media, the captured farmer was turned over to his colleagues outside the gate.

Meanwhile, the camp-out remained set up at the DAR gate.

September 5-6 (Wednesday to Thursday)

The camp-out remained, together with a program of activities including a noise barrage.

Later in the evening of September 6, based on their reading of the situation—deadlock in dialogues with Pangandaman and his ongoing inaction on the issues—the farmers decided to come up with nationally-coordinated local actions calling for the revamp of the DAR and CARP’s extension with reforms. They will ask their friends from the civil society as well as the Church to support their cause.

September 7 (Friday), 5 pm

At past 10 am, while the camp-out picket is mounted, the farmers received a report that Pangandaman has ordered for its water dispersal (through a firetruck’s hoses). Greatly concerned, they asked Atty. Christian Monsod to intervene and negotiate with the DAR leadership not to push through with the order.

The negotiation was going on while the farmers were doing a noise barrage outside the gate. Part of the program was a symbolic crashing with their bare hands of the supposedly hard-locked steel gate. The farmers did not realize that the gate was actually weakly secured, so it caved in in front of them. On impulse, about 50 farmers rushed inside the premises and ran straight up the fourth floor, where the Office of the Secretary is located. A commotion inside the DAR building took place.

As usual, the farmers mounted a sit-in strike about the central lobby of the fourth floor. Minutes later, a throng of police forces in full battle gear came and forcefully dispersed them through kicks and their bludgeons. The farmers were coerced to go down the building and outside the gate.

As a result of the inhuman dispersal, all 50 farmers were hurt, with two of them brought to the East Ave. Hospital. Aside from this, UNORKA’s officer, Ka Apolonio Pacardo, was arrested and detained in Camp Karingal, Quezon City.

A charge of human rights violation is being filed with the Commission of Human Rights against the DAR and the police forces detailed at the DAR’s premises.

There is a mass going on at 5pm, wherein participants will pray for the safety of the injured farmers and the immediate release of Ka Apolonio. The mass will also be their source for spiritual guidance for their next actions.

Will the biofuels craze level the playing field?

The Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) has recently opened a P10-billion credit window to whoever is interested in planting fuel crops, in particular jatropha. The Manila Bulletin Online’s report on this at first implies that the window is available merely to farmer-cooperatives. But reading through it, I found that the loan is up for grabs by any person or group of persons: farmer groups, cooperatives, small and medium enterprises (SMEs), corporations, and “such other individuals/entities which have signified to undertake the production of jatropha.”

Apparently, the LBP took the cue from the Office of the President and was convinced by the Philippine National Oil Company-Alternative Fuels Corporation (PNOC-AFC) to invest in such kind of undertakings. But with LBP’s stringent requirements when it comes to loans, the question remains: Will the small farmers get enough?

The proliferation of biofuel plantations nationwide has been touted to create 250,000 new jobs nationwide. I just wonder if that means farmers have to give up their lands (or the lands they’ve been struggling to own) and instead provide labor services to entrepreneurs and corporations. Actually, this has already happened (through leaseback, joint venture, and other types of agreements with “former” landlords) even way before the biofuels craze took the centerstage.

If the jatropha and other types of renewable sources of fuel will be used to care for the environment (which is actually subject to debate) and help urban motorists save on fuel expense, but, at the same time, it will further marginalize the small farmers, then, that biofuels craze must be opposed by all means. For the small farmers cannot afford to sacrifice more in the name of supposed national development and environmental integrity.

I’m afraid that because of the official target or requirement to produce enough biofuels, more and more small farmers will lose their hold on their lands or their hopes to own the lands they’ve been tilling. Of course, one way to at least minimize this impact is through organizing. My organization and its partners will not stop working with our constituents in asserting their rights, which the State is obliged to fulfill, respect, and protect.

About Jatropha
Jatropha, commonly known as physic or purging nut, is a non-edible oil-yielding perennial shrub that has green leaves with a length and width of 6 centimeters (cm) to 15 cm, and can reach a height of up to 5 meters. It originated in tropical America and West Asia. Jatropha comes from the Greek words: jatros (doctor) and trophe (nutrition). It belongs to the family Euphorbiaceae. It is known locally as tuba-tuba. Others call it tubang bakod, tagumbao, tawa-tawa, kalunay, kasla and tangan-tangan.

According to studies, jatropha, which can grow almost anywhere (even on gravely or rocky soil), is a great alternative to petroleum fuel, which has unstable supply worldwide and contributes to the global warming. A jatropha nut contains 30% oil. Three kilos of Jatropha seeds can produce a liter of crude Jatropha oil. A Jatropha farmer can earn P200,000 per hectare year from the processing and sale of Jatropha nuts.

It is no less than Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has led the campaign for jatropha. She has ordered the military (no direct connection to its peace-keeping or war efforts) to speed up the propagation of jatropha seedlings in the military camps for nationwide distribution. The campaign started from the passage of the Biofuels Act of 2006, which requires a one-percent blend of locally produced biodiesel in total volume of diesel fuel sold nationwide. (In 2009, the one-percent requirement will increase to two percent.) To meet this requirement, the country needs to produce 78 milion liters of biodiesel oil annually. Jatropha is just one of the crops that are identified to contribute to that target, the other being sugarcane, corn, sorghum, and the like.

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Puno protects judiciary, legal profession against errants

Manila Bulletin Online reports that Chief Justice Reynaldo Puno has just acted on the cases of errant three judges and three lawyers. In an effort to rid the Supreme Court of corruption and protect the integrity of the legal profession, Puno:

  • Suspended for one year without pay Judge Eddie R. Rojas of Branch 37 of the regional trial court (RTC) of General Santos City.
  • Ordered to pay a fine of P40,000 resigned RTC Judge Jaime Vega Quitain of Branch 10 in Davao City.
  • Imposed an P11,000 fine on RTC Judge Oscar E. Dinopol of Branch 24 in Koronadal City.
  • Disbarred Jose R. Imbang, a former lawyer of the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) of the Department of Justice. He was found to have handled a private case while he was still in the government service.
  • Suspended for six months was lawyer Antoniutti K. Palana for his refusal to settle his monetary obligations.
  • Meted out a two-year suspension from the practice of law to lawyer Renato L. Gonzales for performing notarial acts in Pasig City while his authority was for Quezon City.

Another meritorious act from the Chief Justice. (The earlier one was his calling for a national summit on extra-judicial killings.) I guess that of all State actors or personalities, it is only the Chief Justice who has earned the right to do good things, if not really institute reforms, without any tint of doubt from the citizenry. I distinguish between “doing good things in public” and “really instituting reforms in the background.” The first is what the the trapos do. The second is the agenda of real leaders and managers.

Moreover, I wonder if Puno’s campaign is retroactive to previous years when there were gross lapses from some judges in particular. I’m citing here an instance when a particular judge in Davao City intervened in 2002 a case regarding valuation of a land being subjected to transfer to legitimate farmer beneficiaries. The judge brazenly ruled to peg the valuation of at 2 million pesos per hectare, as if he did not know the distortive effect of that to land market. He did not seem to care whether that would sap the government’s cache. There are other similar cases in other parts of the country.

In 2000, a judge in Buenavista, Quezon, intervened in a trespassing case filed by a landowner against his tenants who have clamored for subjecting his big landholding under agrarian reform. It turned out that the judge is part landowner of that particular landholding. So he would obviously hear the case with a clear bias and eventually pass judgment in favor of the landowners.

Former Chief Justice Hilario Davide issued in 2006 (?) a Memorandum Circular ordering local trial courts not to intervene in agrarian disputes. The DAR and the farmer-beneficiaries must have viewed that as a great gain. But the judges would not have cared and defied the order. Thus, the need for equipping the victimized farmers with knowledge and skills in filing cases against errant judges (and lawyers). Aside from this, they need financial assistance not only from relevant government agencies (DAR in particular) but also from non-government organizations in course of filing these cases.

I would have loved Justice Puno taking on agrarian justice next in his agenda.

Wanted: ‘Rural poor’ journalists

This year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communications goes to Mr. Palagummi Sainath, an Indian reporter in his early 50s so honored for his 14-year devotion to covering stories of India’s rural poor amidst and despite the “corporatization” of mass media.

I was amazed by his profile. Like Jesus Christ led by the Spirit into the wilderness and tempted by the devil for 40 days, Jesuits-educated Sainath manages to live in the rural areas of India for about 300 days a year and produce journalistic stories that highlight the struggles of the rural poor as well as ironies in the countryside arising from the globalization that has hounded the country.

With his flair and commitment, Sainath warded off the temptations by the corporate media. He chose not to raise funds from government and other entities with vested interests and instead use his income from writing to continue writing for and about the rural poor.

Sainath could be characterized as the product of the souls and minds of Gandhi, Nehru, Thomas Paine, and Jesus Christ. Their common traits are dissidence, sacrifice, and perseverance. They would rather not conform to the realities that perpetuate inequality and inequity; they would go out on a limb and attempt to change them. To do it, they would stick it out even though it means putting their lives at risk.

I would consider Sainath as a leader then. Because leaders have been there before us; they blazed the trail for us to follow. They have the moral high ground. They do inspire. They do galvanize actions. Sainath deserves to be an icon for journalists who want to be identified with the poor. His exemplary life must prick the conscience of those who have hopelessly bowed to the corporate interests.

Karl Marx said that “philosophers have interpreted the world; the point is to change it.” Noam Chomsky interpreted the evils of the corporate media. Sainath has worked to fight those. Mainstream journalists would believe that there is something wrong in society but do not have guts and wherewithal to right that wrong. Sainath is one of the few that struggle righting that wrong.

Thanks to Yvonne Chua for covering Sainath. A progressive journalist herself, she did justice in describing a foreign journalist that must stir, if not revive, a discourse in the Philippine journalism: Has Philippine journalism become not of the masses but of “the stakeholders”, to quote Sainath’s words?

Sainath is here to pose a challenge to the progressive journalists in underdeveloped and developing countries, whether they are in the mainstream or in “indiestream”: In this globalized world, can we become journalists of the rural poor? Bloggers are no exempted from this challenge. I am not, either. This blog of mine runs a pot pourri of social and political topics, but admittedly, I post a very few entries about the rural poor struggles and rural ironies. I have blogged about the difficulties faced by peasants before the opponents of land reform but I feel that it is not enough. I feel that I need to be infused with some blood of Sainath to be able to draw a more realistic picture of the rural realities.

To try to bring rural poor struggles in the front pages, engaging the mainstream media through feedbacks (through letters to the editor) and “working” with them (through media briefings, press conferences and press releases) is not enough. The greater challenge is how to produce and maintain “Sainathans” in this nation of ironies. Nevertheless, I’m beginning to sound optimistic as Sainath. Who knows, if we, social activists, continue to be dissident, selfless, and persevering, chances are journalists of the rural poor will be born in our midst.

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Bukidnon peasant leader slain

The latest incident of killing of farmers was on June 4. God knows how we prayed hard that the perpetrators be brought to justice and that there be no more such kind of inhumanities in the future.

But what we have now is just a two-month respite from such dastard acts. Yesterday, I was surprised to know that another farmer leader, this time from the Northern Mindanao, was slain to death by two unidentified men. A friend from Makabayan-Pilipinas, a national peasant federation, emailed the following information:

Ka Frank Labial, the Bukidnon SANLAKAS Provincial Chairperson was shot dead inside his house this 6pm, today August 10 in the town of Don Carlos, Bukidnon. Before his untimely demise, Ka Frank was leader of the landless rural poor in asserting their rights over the 2,995 hectares Bukidnon Farms Incorporated (BFI) in Don Carlos, an ill gotten property of the Marcoses. Their struggles dates as far back as 1986 since Ka Frank is one of the farmer beneficiaries ofthe 1988 CARP Law. Ka Frank was instrumental in the setting up of the landless rural poor coalition, CATCH BFI (Coalition of Actual Tillers and CLOA Holder of Bukidnon Farms Incorporated) a coalition of landless peasants, agriworkers and indigenous peoples in Bukidnon last 2006 to consolidate all the rural poor CARP beneficiaries against the entry of Southern Fresh Products of Davao Agricultural Ventures Company(DAVCO) a giant agribusiness corporation owned by the Floriendo family of Davao who are now illegally tilling a huge portion of the BFI. Ka Frank drew the ire of the Floreindo’s and Zubiri’s since he was the one who investigated and gathered data of the complicity of the two big landowners and some armed goons in their latter’s takeover of the Bukidnon Farms Incorporated.

The two assailants on a motorcycle followed Ka Frank who was just coming from the market. Witnesses mentioned that after first volley of fire, Ka Frank was able to run towards his house. The killers followed him and later caught Ka Frank just inside the gate of his house. The killers fired into Ka Frank and left him for dead. The killers used .45 caliber pistol.

Ka Frank was also the provincial vice chairperson of MAKABAYAN-Pilipinas, a nationwide peasant federation. He was also one of the farmer leader representatives in the recently created TASK FORCE ARAD CONCERN BUKIDNON (Task Force Agrarian Reform Ancestral Domain concern Bukidnon. Ka Frank was 59 years old (earlier report stated he was 59 years old). He is survived by his wife, Cathalina Labial and a 14 year old daugther, Anna Flyn.