Some 100 Capiz farmers, all survivors of super typhoon Yolanda, are urging President Benigno Aquino III to help them take possession of a sugar plantation in the province that had been long awarded to them through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) but remains under the control of the heirs of its former landowner.
“We would like PNoy to know that we are not among the Yolanda survivors, who according to the government, have already recovered from the disaster. We remain victims, not just of the storm but of the absence of genuine asset reform in an hacienda that had already been awarded to us 17 years ago but continues to be under the control of the heirs of the former landlord,” said Pancho Arroyo, the farmer-leader of the Capiz peasants, who are members of national peasant federation Task Force Mapalad.
“Two years after Yolanda, we remain landless and soon homeless as the heirs of the haciendero have started to bulldoze our homes inside the plantation, which they want to be converted into residential use,” added Arroyo.
The 200-hectare portion of the landholding in Brgy. Culilang, President Roxas, used to be owned by Nemesio Tan, was acquired and placed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) under the CARP and was supposedly distributed to Arroyo and his fellow farmer-beneficiaries in 1998 through certificates of land ownership award.
However, Tan was able to block CARP implementation in the plantation by securing in 2000 a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction from the Regional Trial Court-Branch 18 of Roxas City. This, despite the fact that under Section 68 of Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law of 1988, lower courts are prohibited from issuing TROs and injunctions against the DAR in relation to the latter’s duty of implementing the CARP.
The said section of R.A. 6657 against the lower court’s undue interference to CARP was upheld by the Supreme Court through its August 28, 2002 Administrative Circular No. 38-02 enjoining all judges “to strictly observe Section 68 (of) R.A. 6657.”
In September 2004, in a landmark ruling in DAR vs Cuenca, the high court again upheld the legality of Section 68 of R.A. 6657, saying the law has granted the DAR “special and original authority to hear and adjudicate agrarian matters.”
After Tan died, his heirs Sonia Tan-Beluso, Madelaine Tan-Yap, and Lucille Tan, kept control of the landholding. At least two houses of farmers inside the plantation have already been bulldozed to give way to the development of the land into residential use, according to 55-year-old Nida Amo, among the farmer-beneficiaries of the landholding.
“Nagsimula silang magbulldoze ng mga bahay noong September. Sapilitang pinapaalis ang mga magsasaka doon at sinabi ng heirs na wala raw bisa ang aming mga CLOA dahil ‘ghost’ CLOA lang daw ang mga iyon,” added Amo.
The DAR, according to the farmers, has not yet acted on the case, now archived at the RTC, and question the lower court’s jurisdiction on the agrarian dispute, 17 years since the CLOAs were distributed to the farmers.
“Yolanda made our lives miserable but the more devastating problems are not having any land to call our own despite already having titles to the landholding and not having anyone to help us fight for our rights,” said Arroyo.
“Thus, we are now calling on PNoy to intervene and fulfill his promise of completing CARP a reality. Matanda na po kami, amoy lupa na at baka mabaon na kami sa lupa ng wala pa ring lupa,” said the 63-year-old farmer-leader.
“Di na po namin alam kung saan pa tatakbo. Nakaligtas kami sa delubyo ng Yolanda pero puno pa rin po ng unos ang buhay namin dahil sa kawalan ng lupang bubuhay sana sa amin,” added Arroyo.