SPECIAL REPORT: A fact-finding mission to Palawan in June reported how the peasants of Yulo King Ranch have been dispossessed of the land they were tilling when it was declared a pasture land during Martial Law. Their impoverishment and landlessness show a picture of failed agrarian reform from the regime of the dictator Marcos up to Aquino.
First of two parts
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
CORON, Palawan — Buenaventura Casimiro, 80, is one of the oldest residents in Yulo King Ranch in Palawan.
He spoke about the simple life back in the days, and how people enjoyed the fruits of the land that they earned by the sweat of their brow. Until one day, the government took the land away.
Now, Casimiro is among the thousands of peasants who are facing threats of eviction from the ranch, which spans a big chunk of the municipalities of Coron and Busuanga.
Yulo King Ranch is now classified as pasture land. But decades ago, it was being tilled by residents when the Marcos dictatorship laid claim on the land.
“How can you resist the king’s order?” Casimiro said, referring to ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos, “It was martial law then and anything that the king says is an order.”
The Coron-Busuanga fact-finding and solidarity mission report said that the land grabbing case of Yulo King Ranch (YKR), which covers 39,238 hectares, “is the largest agrarian anomaly in the country.”
They called it “a state-sponsored massive land grabbing case against the people of Coron and Busuanga.”
“There were already farmers who were tilling the land even before the YKR came,” said Orly Marcellana, spokesperson of Kasama-TK and one of the organizers of the fact-finding mission.
“The mission interviewed one of the original residents who narrated that the people were already tilling and cultivating the land from the early 1930s. Affected families were relatively self-sufficient. But the land grabbing case has marginalized them,” he said.
The team interviewed residents from eight villages affected such as Decalachao, Guadalupe, San Jose, San Nicolas in Coron and Quezon, New Busuanga, Cheey and Sto. Nino in Busuanga.
From YKR to BAI
In 1975, President Ferdinand Marcos issued Proclamation No. 1387 which declared the disputed lands as a pasture reserve. Through his cronies, Luis Yulo and Peter Sabido, Marcos was able to acquire the sprawling land.
This displaced peasants from their farms. They were given meager compensation for the “improvements” they made to the land, referring to the crops and trees they planted.
The fact-finding mission report said that under the Marcos dictatorship, the government pacified the people by hiring, bribing and providing favors. They were made to believe that they were justly compensated. But they knew that “any amount of compensation could not replace the economic sustainability of owning and tilling the land.”
Farmers such as Jeremias Echague, 69, said he was paid $455 for the improvements he made to the 10-hectare land he used to till – the biggest amount received among the residents interviewed. But the mission said it was still low compared to some $1,820 he could earn annually, which excludes income from the banana and coconut production.
Others received amounts ranging from $16 to $69.
Maria Linda Villareal, 57, of Barangay Decalachao, said her father Rudencio Sr. did not receive a single centavo because he argued with the surveyor. The same goes for Aurea Cruz, 53, of Sitio Quinze Diaz, San Nicolas village, whose family did not receive compensation for the one-hectare land they were tilling.
Casimiro said he lost his source of income, when his swidden farm was taken. Some 15 other families in Papualan, one of the subvillages, relied on kaingin farming as their main livelihood since the 1930s.
When Marcos was ousted, the YKR was among the properties sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government in 1986. Administration of the ranch was transferred to the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI). YKR was renamed as the Busuanga Breeding and Experimental Stations (BBES).
In March 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the lifting of the sequestration of the YKR due to mismanagement, noting that in 1986, the ranch used to have 75,477 cattle and 115 horses. By 2005, however, the YKR had only 2,565 cattle and 76 horses.
Residents interviewed by the fact-finding mission said they estimated that there were only 1,700 cattle, which includes 20 carabaos and about 70 horses.
Following the high court’s decision, former President Gloria Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 2057 that authorized the Philippine Forest Corporation to manage the idle lands covered by the pasture reserve.
But even before Arroyo’s proclamation, the government has already signed contracts with 10 companies only to terminate it in December 2011 for failure to submit their development plans and actual economic activities in the area.
Only the contract with Skykes Aggreventures was allowed to continue. Another company, “Goat Industries,” residents said, is operating in the area and has control over 600 hectares of land. But the fact-finding team could not find any contract or supporting government document that allowed its operation in the disputed land.
The YKR was once again brought to public attention when whistleblower Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada divulged that it was among Arroyo’s “midnight deals.” At least 2,000 hectares of forest land and beach-front property was leased to New San Jose Builders, whose owner Jerry Acuzar is the brother-in-law of President Aquino’s executive secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
In 2013, Aquino, by virtue of Proclamation 663, transferred the administration of YKR, now referred to as Busuanga Pasture Reserve, to the Forest Management Bureau, an attached agency under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
‘State sponsored land-grabbing’
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said the government has “perpetuated their monopolistic control over the disputed land through schemes such as laws and policies, to ensure that the land would not be distributed to the people.”
“Only the government, in partnership with private corporations and bureaucrat capitalists, reaped and plundered the resources,” he said.
Affected residents, Mariano added, have been landless for the past 26 years that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was in effect. The said agrarian reform law expired on June 30 this year.
The lack of livelihood in the area forced many residents to go back to the idle land to farm, despite threats from state security forces deployed in the area.
Echague said government officials, in a public forum, told them that the YKR land is not suitable for farming. But he said that the land is quite productive. Today, he is cultivating five to seven hectares and has so far planted about 300 cashew trees, 20 jackfruit trees, 20 calamansi trees and about 2,000 to 3,000 bananas.
Alejandro Estegoy of Sitio Pandan in Decalachao village, for one, said he earns an extra $4 per week from the kangkong he planted.
The fact-finding report said that, “the disputed land, if distributed and cultivated, could ensure food security, economic sustainability and self-sufficiency not only for the people of Coron and Busuanga but also for the entire country.”
The fact-finding team was composed of the Federation of Coron, Busuanga Farmers Association, KASAMA-TK, Anakpawis-TK, PAMALAKAYA-TK, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Anakpawis-National, Bayan Muna partylist, Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), Ibon International, People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), and Justice and Peace for the Integrity of God’s Creation – Baclaran, Permanent Commission on Social Mission Apostolate Redemptorists – Vice Province of Manila.
The mission was conducted from June 14 to 20.