By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Central Luzon farmers on Feb. 16 trooped to the House of Representatives to attend the Committee on Agrarian Reform’s public hearing of House Bill 374 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).
Led by their organizations Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL, Peasant Alliance of Central Luzon) and Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), tfarmers attended the committee hearing to give testimony to the necessity and urgency of implementing genuine agrarian reform in the country.
“We are completely behind GARB . This is the program that should be implemented, not the Comprehensive Agrarian Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) or the CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPer),” said Joseph Canlas, AMGL chair.
The GARB is a proposal submitted by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano. Mariano is also the chairman of the of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the national organization of AMGL.
According to Canlas, the Carp has only brought poverty and dislocation to Central Luzon farmers.
“CARP was useless and even devastating to farmers and our livelihood, but heaven-sent to landowners and land developers. It essentially legalized , landgrabbing and the removal of thousands of farmers from their land because of land use conversion. It has even salvaged the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ interest on Hacienda Luisita through the Stock Distribution Option (SDO),” he said.
“We support Garb because it calls for free land distribution — the most important thing Carp and Carper never implement. Garb is the only legislative act that could serve our interest,” Canlas added.
The Central Luzon farmers said that neither the Carp nor the Carper gave any protection for farmers; neither were they of any use to farmers involved in land disputes.
If anything, the farmers said, the two laws are being used against farmers. They cited the land dispute cases surrounding the 3,100-hectare agricultural lands of Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) in Laur, Nueva Ecija; the dispute in San Miguel, Bulacan where incumbent Rep. Luis Villafuerte is reportedly taking over 375-hectare productive agricultural lands in Sitio Malapad na Parang; and the case in Pampanga wherein the powerful Pineda family demolished the homes of small farmers living in a 200- the 200-hectare land area in Bgy. Prado Siongco, Lubao town.
They also said that there were ongoing disputes in Bayambang town in Pangasinan, Brgy. Balangcinaway and adjacent barangays in Tarlac City, in Bgy. San Roque, La Paz town, also of Tarlac province. There are also dispute in local farms of Orion town, Bataan province.
According to the AMGL, farmers all over the region were being displaced and threatened by eviction because of the Aquino government’s various infrastructure projects.
Central Luzon farmers appeal to GPH-NDFP Peace Panels
In the meantime, even as they backed the legislative efforts of progressive lawmakers in congress, the AMGL also appealed to the respective peace panels of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) to discuss the matter of systematic landgrabbing and displacements of farmers in Central Luzon.
“We urge the peace panels to tackle this issue. Landless is an undeniable root cause of armed conflict in the Philippines. Everywhere in the country, farmers being stripped off of their rights. The GPH and the NDFP cannot talk about peace without talking about genuine land reform. As we speak, hundreds of farmers are being driven out of their lands,” Canlas said.
The group said that Hacienda Luisita farmworkers are still in danger of being displaced as the Cojuangco-Aquinos remain insistent on pushing through with their plans to convert the remaining 4,900-hectares of agricultural lands into industrial, commercial and residential estates.
Canlas said that this is the very plan of the Cojuangco-Aquinos of allowing the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx) to pierce through Hacienda Luisita.
AMGL said that the massive landgrabbing and displacement of farmers in the region are related to the implementation of the ‘super-regions’ program of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The program, in turn, is under the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) which was drafted by the Fidel Ramos administration. The MTPDP was all about transforming Central Luzon into an ‘economic corridor.’ Currently, the program is packaged as the Metro-Luzon Urban Beltway (MLUB).
Among the MLUB are the expansion work on the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx).
The SCTEx is a 94-kilometer four-lane expressway north of Manila, and under the MLUB, it will be expanded to pass through Pampanga and Tarlac and connect to SCTEx 3 which links Tarlac to Nueva Ecija via the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx).
This as well as the construction of the Central Luzon Expressway Phase 1 and 2 (CLEx) from Tarlac to northern Nueva Ecija, Northern Luzon Expressway East (NLEx East), La Mesa Parkway are attracting landgrabbers and speculators targeting lands of small farmers, AMGL leaders said.