The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is set to conduct a fact-finding mission with human rights organizations in the disputed coconut plantations of Southern Quezon tomorrow, Mar. 1, after a shooting incident reportedly killed two farmers last weekend.
Less than a month since the peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines ended, peasant fatalities for the month of February reached five.
Thirty-two-year-old coconut farmer Gilbert Bancat was reportedly gunned down by two unidentified men in Sitio Kawayan of San Andres town last Feb. 25. Farmer Angel Carabot who happened to be near the incident was also hit by gunshots and died a day after in a hospital in Lucena City.
Local farmers’ groups identify the victims as members of Pinagkaisang Lakas ng mga Magbubukid sa Quezon (PIGLAS-Quezon) and tillers of the Bondoc Peninsula. The area is a sprawling coconut plantation and has been contested by coconut farmers for decades.
Bancat was a peasant leader of the Anakpawis Partylist and an active organizer of farmers fighting for their rights in the so-called “Hacienda Belt” of Quezon province. Last January, he joined a group of coconut farmers in Brgy. Camflora in a dialogue with owners of Hacienda Uy to discuss issues on land rental fees and shares of harvest.
The farmers succeeded in their campaign and was able to produce four tons of copra with a 75-25 share in favor of the farmers according to reports.
Spate of killings
A farmer-activist was shot dead on Feb. 19 in the contested 4,124-hectare reservation area of the University of the Southern Mindanao in Arakan, North Cotabato. Willerme Algorde of the Mailuminado Farmers’ Association, Inc. (MAFAI) was sitting in front of his son’s store when a riding-in-tandem gunned him down.
Last Feb. 16, Edwin Catog of the Hugpong sa mga Mag-uuma sa Walog Compostela and a supporter of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) in Tagum City was killed while he was on his way to buy fish in Pantukan, Compostela Valley. Catog was involved in the campout protest of farmers late last year in the banana plantation previously owned by the Lapanday Foods Corp.
Lastly, a shooting incident in the Nemencio Tan landholding in President Roxas, Capiz killed a farmer and injured four when gunmen fired at a group of farmers last Feb. 11. Orlando Eslana sustained a gunshot wound at the back and was pronounced dead on arrival in a provincial hospital.
DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano has ordered the investigations and immediate resolutions of the agrarian disputes in the respective areas to prevent further injuries and casualties. The agrarian reform chief assured the farmers that appropriate measures will take place to immediately settle the land row problems in the involved landholdings.
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