Palawan farmers installed after 13 years

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news national 1 pix 1 sept. 5 2016IT WAS A DAY of relief and peace for farmers in an estate in Southern part of Palawan province after confronting 13 long years of struggle to fully own the land awarded to them by the government.

This came after the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has succeeded installing them to the landholdings previously owned by the Agro-Marine Industrial Corporation that was placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“Para kaming nabunutan ng tinik.  Parang imposible, parang isang panaginip na masasaka na namin ang lupang ibinigay ng gobyerno sa amin,” Allan Bello, president of Boli Ponti Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries’ Association, said right after the installation.  The group was organized by the farmers’ themselves primarily aims to urge the government for their immediate installation to the CARP-covered property.

On July 28-29, 2016, the DAR officials in Palawan, accompanied by police authorities, contingents from the Marine Battalion Landing Team (MBLT) 12 and personnel from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), walked unharmed through the property as they led the 63 farmer-beneficiaries (FBs) in occupying the 43-hectare land in Bgy. Marangas in the town of Bataraza, Palawan.
The farmers immediately built their makeshift houses after taking possession of the lands awarded to them by the government following the actual installation.

Of the 206 hectares of agricultural land placed under CARP, only 193 hectares were distributed to 151 FBs.  The excluded portions were identified as retention areas and not suitable for agriculture.

What went before

The DAR has covered the property in two installments, 150 hectares in 1989 and 43 hectares awarded to 88 FBs in 1994.

In 2003, the 63 FBs for the 43 hectares received their Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) from the DAR but were not able to take possession of their respective lots as Mr. Gil Cubangbang, the former administrator of the property has restricted, prevented and threatened them of bodily harm should they enter the lands.

Ignoring and opposing the government’s land reform program, Cubangbang refused to yield the land to the DAR.  As alleged by the farmers in their sworn statements submitted to DAR, he even hired men to harass the farmers each time they try to take possession of their lands.

Since then he used the land for his own benefit.  The farmers alleged that he would allow individuals to farm the land in exchange of rental.  Reports received in the barangay that Cubangbang has leased large portion of the lands to a local businessman who in turn deployed its own men to work on the vast farmlands.      

In spite of the DAR filing of Obstruction of Justice case against him, Cubangbang maintained his stand and filed cases against former Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) Engr. Rogelio D. Madarcos before the Ombusdman, and for the cancellation of CLOAs on the grounds that DAR has recruited individuals who are not qualified to become FBs. 

The case against MARO Rogelio was dismissed as the Ombudsman found it baseless and lacks merit. Meanwhile, the DAR’s Obstruction of Justice case against Cubangbang has prospered as the Municipal Trial Court (MTC) convicted him guilty.  The cases had made the farmers wait for more than 10 years as the DAR was hurdling it.    

Farmers’ installation

Two weeks prior to the installation of FBs, the DAR with the presence of the PNP-Bataraza personnel and Philippine Marines, initiated a pre-installation dialogue where the CLOA holders and Cubangbang and his followers were brought to one venue.  On the activity held, DAR has notified Cubangbang and his followers of the government’s desire to fully award the land to the CLOA holders by installing them to their respective farms.

The pre-installation dialogue ended with the DAR facilitating the written agreement between the legitimate FBs and the ten Non-ARB occupants allowing the latter to stay until the first cropping harvest. 

Upon seeing the DAR with PNP and military aid installing the farmers one by one in their respective lot, Cubangbang together with his followers sent feelers to DAR officials asking for a final dialogue. 

The dialogue led to a peaceful reconciliation with written agreements where Cubangbang and followers would immediately leave the farmlands after the first cropping harvest. 

After 13 long years of worry and denial of land ownership and physical possession, the FBs and the heirs of deceased FBs now feels secure as full owners of the agricultural lands awarded to them by DAR.

Provincial Agrarian Reform Program Officer (PARPO) Conrado S. Guevarra said “requesting police and military assistance is an option to ensure peace and order in the areas where former landowners and supporters continue to defy the government and refuse to surrender their property covered by the CARP.” (Fedeleo de Guzman)