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:
- Non-installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the landholding already owned by them, including the Hacienda Malaga in Negros Occidental.
- Agrarian violence, which escalated during his term;
- Exemption ruling by the Supreme Court despite the existence of share tenancy relations and farming activity in supposed livestock areas;
- Non-revocation of Stock Distribution Option (SDO) despite the evidences pointing to its failure in Negros and Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac;
- Unbridled approval of applications for exemption and land use conversions;
- Corruption within the Department, as perpetuated by officials that give in to the pressure and influence by landlords and real estate developers;
- 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.