Cabugao farmers assert rights to land, livelihood

By ROD TAJON
Northern Dispatch
Posted by Bulatlat.com

CABUGAO, Ilocos Sur—On the eve of the impending demolition to more than 30 households, farmers together with their families and supporters barricaded the entrances of barangay Bato, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur to prevent any move from the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (Darab) to evict them from their houses and farm lands.

As per Writ of Demolition issued by Judge Gil Baclig, provincial adjudicator of Darab, demolition was scheduled October 26. The 21 farmers lost their case of tenancy to Lucrecio Sajor at the Darab-Ilocos Sur and Region 1 even as there is a pending petition at the Darab Central Office on the cancelation of Certificate of Land Transfer (CLT).

Romeo Serrano, secretary of Alyansa ti Kumpang ti Cabugao (Alkumpac), a chapter of Solidarity of Peasants against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation), expressed outrage over the Darab’s decision. “They ruled in favor of those who have money instead of protecting the rights and welfare of the farmers,” he pointed out in Iloko.

The CLTs were issued to the farmers in the early 80’s but were later on canceled after Sajor, brother of one of the farmer beneficiaries of the CLTs, claimed ownership over the 25-hectare land. Since then, cases have been filed at the Darab until the Regional and Provincial Offices issued decisions in favor of Sajor.

“The farmers should be the one owning the lands because they were awarded CLTs but which were also canceled by DAR,” Zaldy Alfiler, secretary general of STOP Exploitation, said. He also criticized the Darab for ordering the military and police to lead the demolition. “The actions of the Darab is a clear picture of injustice among the farmers,” he added.

Closing the entrances

On October 25, the farmers, together with their families, began barricading the entrances of Barangay Bato by putting barbed wires, waste tires and bamboos, and hanging of banners calling to stop the demolition. Even children assisted in setting up the barricade.

Nearly 50 farmers and their families together with members of STOP Exploitation and Kabataan Partylist guarded the entrances overnight. Two households already voluntarily demolished their houses and left the barangay due to fear. Others have packed their things and brought them to the barangay hall. The barangay hall is also under threat of demolition as it is part of the land claimed by Sajor.

According to residents, some 20 soldiers belonging to 3rdInfantry Battalion arrived at around 5:00 p.m. and proceeded to the barangay hall on the same day. After an hour, they left and transferred to a hill near the entrance of the barangay.

Barangay Captain Santos Aquino, also a beneficiary of the CLT, and other farmers, together with Sangguniang Panlalawigan Member Ronnie Rapanut filed a Motion to Quash Demolition Order at the Darab-Ilocos Sur. Said motion questioned the Special Order of Darab on the basis of an ongoing petition at the Darab Central Office.

The long day

According to Alfiler, some 100 members of demolition team composed mainly of soldiers arrived on the dawn of October 26. In an interview over the DWRS Commando Radyo, Sajor admitted paying P500, 000 for the services of the Philippine Army and former members of the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army (CPLA) from Baguio City.

At around 6:00 a.m., some 50 families of farmers guarded the barricade to prevent the demolition team to enter the barangay. Aquino and Alfiler were there at 6:00 a.m. and waited for the sheriff to arrive. They also furnished a copy of the motion to the PNP.

Rapanut announced via Commando Radyo and Bombo Radyo that the Motion to Quash the demolition was granted by the Darab Regional Office at around 8:00P p.m.

The farmers proceeded to the Municipal Hall to meet with officials of Darab, local government officials and Sajor’s representative Marlon Riotoc for the impending decision of the Darab-Ilocos Sur on the motion to quash the demolition order.

Contrary to the memorandum issued by the Darab Regional Office, the Darab provincial office denied the motion to quash the demolition order, citing lack of merit.

Rapanut denounced the decision, saying that the Darab immediately decided on the motion without even hearing it. “The demolition should be delayed because there are still legal remedies which could be availed by the farmers,” he said in Iloko.

After hearing the news, the residents of barangay Bato returned to the barricade and guarded it. While some have returned home to pack up and move out of their houses, a number of residents remained and vowed to fight for their rights.

Felix Sajor and Meliana Serrano, siblings of Sajor were pushed to plead to the latter as a result of the Sheriff’s stern demands for a document to hold the demolition. Hours later, Felix and Meliana’s plea “saved” the residents from demolition.

“The bargain was that, they were given a year to remain but after one year, they should voluntarily leave their houses and after the harvest season, they would not anymore plant to their farmlands,” Alfiler said. He added that the farmers and residents were forced to sign the agreement.

Alfiler pointed out that DAR should have based its judgment on the welfare of the farmers and that landlords should not be glorified for offering false hopes. “The real issue here is the inutility of DAR and neither our involvement nor the legal counsel of the farmers,” referring to the tirades of some local media alleging STOP Exploitation and the farmers’ legal counsel of misrepresenting the Bato farmers.

Serrano said that if they all agree to the conditions of Sajor, they have also surrendered their rights to the land. He and other farmers, however, vowed to continue struggling for genuine land reform. “We will continue to fight until we attain victory in our struggle,” he said in Iloko. ()

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