By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA – Peasant groups held successive rallies in Quezon City today, Oct. 24, to demand the distribution of the coconut levy fund and protest the continued killings of farmer-activists.
Led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the farmers held protests in front of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Camp Aguinaldo.
The farmers come from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao and are part of the Lakbay Magsasaka protest caravan which will culminate in a rally in Mendiola tomorrow, Oct. 25. The delegates are now encamped outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City.
Outside the PCA office, coconut farmers from Bicol and the Visayas showed dismay at how President Duterte has reneged on his promise to return the P85-billion ($1.6 billion) coco levy fund to the farmers within 100 days after his proclamation.
Aside from the President’s failed promise, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by Duterte allies, recently approved a bill privatizing the coco levy fund. House Bill 5745 allows the use of P20-billion ($385 million) from the coco levy fund to jumpstart the Coconut Industry Fund.
“The Duterte government has failed millions of coconut farmers. He reneged on his promise to return the coco levy fund. The coco levy bills approved by Congress are for the privatization of the coco levy fund through investments and hiring of economic managers to administer the fund – a repeat of what Marcos did when the coco levy fund was exacted from small coconut farmers during Martial Law,” said Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, said in a statement.
KMP said small coconut farmers, specially the old and sickly farmers from whom government exacted the coco levy during the Marcos dictatorship, should have control over the fund.
“Farmers’ control over the coco levy fund is necessary to ensure that the fund will be utilized for its intended use and purpose, that is, to give cash and social benefits to them and their heirs, foster agrarian reform in coco lands and develop the coconut industry,” said Jonathan Moico of the claimants’ organization, Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM).
A similar peasant protest caravan was concluded last week in the Visayas region, with some 2,000 farmers joining the Lakbayan ng Visayas, held on Oct. 17 to 20, with groups converging in Cebu City.
The peasant groups were also disappointed with DAR officials, with whom they held dialogues to assert the distribution of the land they till. This was a far cry from the positive engagement with DAR by progressive peasant groups during the time of former DAR secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, who is also former KMP chairperson.
Mariano has facilitated the land distribution and resolution of various land disputes in favor of farmers, and has supported peasant initiatives to assert their right to land and for the enactment of a genuine agrarian reform law. The powerful Commission on Appointments rejected Mariano as Agrarian Reform secretary.
Last week, DAR held a dialogue with agrarian reform beneficiaries of the Tagum Development Corporation (TADECO) and with the farmers of BUFFALO-TAMARAW-LIMUS (BTL) Federation.
Huel Hoyle, chairperson of the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries One Movement (AOM) – Southern Mindanao Region (SMR), said DAR drafted a memorandum ordering the Provincial Agrarian Regional Office (PARO) in Davao Del Norte to get an update on what has been done since the TADECO farmers last followed-up on their writs of installation.
BTL farmers were met with the same promises of re-investigation. Michael Pineda of BTL-Youth said DAR already promised to conduct an ocular inspection in July. However, the result of the investigation was merely a replica of their own complaint.
After the dialogue held this month, DAR promised to conduct a reinvestigation on November 10, with participation of the regional, national, and provincial offices of DAR.
According to DAR, the title of Central Mindanao University (CMU) has already been cancelled long ago, the land being classified as “inalienable.” BTL farmers are now met with bureaucracy, with the need to ask the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to reclassify the land to “alienable and disposable.”
The peasant groups said they would remain vigilant, as they believe that their grievances will not be properly addressed without the framework of genuine agrarian reform.
“Kung para sa amin, mas magiging positibo ang daloy ng dialogue kapag mayroong tunay na reporma sa lupa, kahit ipasa na lang nila ‘yong batas o ‘yong ginagawa pang batas na Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or ‘yong House Bill No. 555,” said Pineda.
(For us, the dialogue would be better if there is genuine agrarian reform. They could enact the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) or House Bill No. 555.)
Kasi habang walang batas na nagsasabing basagin ang monopolyo sa lupa ng iilang panginoong may-lupa at mga malalaking agri-corporation at dayuhang korporasyon sa malawak na lupain sa bansa, natural na walang solusyon sa kawalan ng lupa ng magsasaka kahit na sabihin na tutulong sila. Paano sila tutulong kung walang batas na susundin?” he added.
(As long as there is no standing law to break the monopoly of big landlords, agri-corporations, and foreign corporations over lands in the Philippines, then there is no solution, no matter how they [DAR] tell us they are willing to help. How will they help if there is no law for them to follow?)
Yesterday, Jun Luna, a leader of Anakpawis, mentioned during the salubungan that DAR officials called for a dialogue with other peasant groups, excluding the KMP. According to their sources, the said meeting was called by Rosalina Bistoyong, the officer-in-charge of DAR. Due to the alleged pressure of big landlords and oligarchs, Bistoyong was forced to call a meeting to plan the reversal of several administrative and department orders made during the incumbency of former DAR Secretary Mariano.
“Si Ros Bistoyong ang Janet Napoles ng DAR (Ros Bistoyong is the Janet Napoles of DAR),” said Luna. Detained businesswoman Janet Napoles is accused of pocketing billions of congressional “pork barrel” funds in conspiracy with corrupt lawmakers and government officials.
Luna cited an instance during Mariano’s incumbency when Bistoyong reportedly attempted to claim P2 million ($39,000) for herself.
“Camille” (not her real name), is a cousin of one of the victims of extrajudicial killings in Bicol. Her cousin was a barangay tanod (village guard) who was gunned down by soldiers doing rounds in their area, supposedly as part of their counterinsurgency program. They tag locals as “friends” of members of the New People’s Army (NPA), if not as members themselves.
Karapatan has documented 91 peasant victims of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration from July 2016 to September this year.
“Gusto na naming mapatalsik si Duterte,” (We want Duterte ousted) Camille said. She said that after a year of rampant killings in the name of the war on drugs, there is already sufficient basis that the President does not serve the interest of the people, that no genuine “change” is yet to come under his leadership.
At the program at the Camp Aguinaldo gate, Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap cited the recurring pattern of extrajudicial killings of peasants — blamed either to be drug users or communists, and deprived of any right to speak or to defend themselves as they are met with machine guns and high-powered rifles.
Hicap said the peasants are usually targeted only because of their fierce dedication to protect their land from being grabbed and taken advantage of by big landlords and foreign corporations — lands that they have tilled for more than three decades, some have already been awarded but reclassified for a different use.
“It may not be known to many, but de facto martial law is imposed in the countryside and peasant communities. AFP units and elements are terrorizing farmers day in and out,” said Danilo Ramos, KMP chairperson.
Ramos said soldiers are threatening farmers not to fight for their land and not to join peasant organizations. Soldiers also encamp in schools and barangay halls, and conduct reconnaissance activities in communities.
Marami na ang natatakot pumunta sa sakahan at mga eskwelahan (May are afraid to go out to their farms, or to go to school),” he added.
KMP, Anakpawis, Amihan, and various regional and local peasant and progressive organizations encouraged the public to join tomorrow to protest the anti-people policies and programs of the strong-hand rule of the Duterte administration.
Starting at 7 A.M., the farmers group encamped outside DAR along Elliptical Road will hold a program. At 8 A.M. they will leave in a convoy towards Sto. Domingo Church along Quezon avenue, from where they will march to Welcome Rotonda, to meet with workers’ groups at 10 A.M. At 10:30 A.M., they will march towards the University of Sto. Tomas along Espana Avenue, where a “solidarity lunch” will be held at the Santisimo Church. They will then march at 12:30 P.M. to Mendiola, where a program will be held from 1 P.M. to 4 P.M.