DAR chief appeals to farmers: Stop land grabbing

news national 1 pix 1 october 24 2018AGRARIAN Reform Secretary John Castriciones has called on farmers wanting to be recognized as agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) to refrain from putting the law into their hands even as he strongly condemned the killing of nine farmers last Saturday in Negros Occidental.

Castriciones made the appeal after nine farmers – four men and a boy and three women and a girl – were shot dead by still unidentified armed men last Saturday night, hours after the farmers’ group forcibly occupied the Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental.

“I strongly condemn the killing of nine sugarcane workers,” Castriciones said in a press conference at the DAR central office.

Killed were Eglicerio C. Villegas, 36, Paterno Baroy, 48, Rommel Bantigue, 41, Joemarie Oghayon, 16, Marchtel Sumicad, 17, Rene Laurencio Sr. ,  Angeliffa D. Arsenal, 47, Morena Mendoza, 48, and Marcelina Dumaguit. 

The fatalities were members of the Negros Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and were not beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). 

He announced that he had already formed a special task force, headed by Assistant Secretary for Field Operations Elmer Distor, to dig deeper into the case and determine which group was responsible for the killing.

Unverified report claimed that the armed men belonged to the Revolutionary Proletariat Army (RPA) and they are being pursued by the police.

DAR-Western Visayas (Region 6) Director Stephen Leonidas said illegal occupation of a landholding has become a common practice to some organized farmers’ groups in Negros Occidental. This is their way of asserting their claims over certain landholdings without regard to due process.news national 1 pix 2 october 24 2018

“The said act is commonly called ‘bungkalan’ in the region, particularly in Negros Occidental,” Leonidas said.

“We do not encourage this illegal act because it breeds misunderstanding between two groups of farmers, the aggressive and the aggrieved,” Castriciones said.

Undersecretary for Finance, Management and Administration Lucius Junjun Malsi said any group of farmers that forcibly occupies farmland may be disqualified from the land reform program.

Malsi said Section 73 of the Republic Act 6657, also known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, prohibits “forcible entry or illegal detainer by persons, who are not qualified beneficiaries under this Act, to avail themselves of the rights and benefits of the agrarian reform program.”

Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Luis Meinrado Pangulayan said the group of the victims, who were not farmer-beneficiaries, forcibly occupied the 77-hectare Hacienda Nene last Saturday morning despite warnings from the DAR provincial office, headed by Teresita R. Mabunay, not to do so.

Pangulayan said the act was illegal since the subject land is exempted from CARP coverage. The land had already been donated by the former owner, Emma dela Paz to her 25 farmworkers and employees in 1988, the year the CARP was launched. Each donee received more than three hectares.

news national 1 pix 3 october 24 2018Under Section 6 of RA 6657, Pangulayan said, any landowner “can own or retain, directly or indirectly, any public or private agricultural land… but in no case shall exceed five hectares.”

“Since each donee owns just a little more than three hectares, they are automatically exempted from CARP coverage,” Pangulayan said.

While DAR issued notices of coverage to the former owner on June 27, 2014, the 25 new landowners were not, owing to their being exempted from CARP coverage, Pangulayan explained.

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