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Land distribution gives fresh hope to Ormoc sugar workers

GMAORMOC CITY – The mood was somber. No clapping, no jubilation as the farmers hoisted a streamer in the first of three adjoining lots declaring ownership to 35 hectares of land that has been a subject of a dispute with a big landlord for the past 19 years. Rosita Camay, 56-years old, could not hold back her tears as reality started to seep in that part of the land she has been tilling since she was seven years old will finally be theirs.

She was in Grade 1 when she started as a paid farm worker, tasked to remove weeds and dead leaves. She works in the farm in the morning and attends her classes in the afternoon.

One week into classes, she dropped out of school and went to work full time in the farm.

“I feel sad that my parents are no longer around to witness this. They have been working here since they were also children and hoping one day that they will own it. They would have also been very happy,” she said.

Until a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) was issued in June 1998, the land was owned by Potenciano and Aniceta Larrazabal Enterprise Corporation (PALEC).

The Larrazabal family owns large tracts of lands in Leyte, many are planted with sugar cane and pineapple.

Numerous attempts have already been made by the farmers to occupy the land that was awarded to them, but all failed primarily due to resistance of the company.

Backed up by 200 members of Philippine National Police, officers of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Commission on Human Rights, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and nongovernment organization Kaisahan, members of Sumangga Farmers Association occupied on June 20 the sugar land that was awarded to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

“I am happy that finally we will own this land,” says Camay, whose husband is listed as one of the 23 beneficiaries of the land distribution.

“The whole family will help in tilling the land,” she said.

She said the family had already made plans to plant corn, peanuts and sugar cane when they get their part of the land. “Peanut is good for the soil and it gets a high price in the market,” she said.

Her three sons, all now working in Cebu, promised to come home to help till the land and will stay for good if income in farming will be able to sustain the family.

“I hope we will be able to all our debts,” she said.

Leonardo Bingcoy, 65-years old, could not believe how fortunes changed the past two months.

For some time, he has been a subject of death threats.

Just last May 10, some men went to his house and told him to evacuate in one week threatening that he will be forcibly evicted and his house will be demolished. Fortunately, for him, the men did not come back.

Bingcoy said he started working as cleaner in the farm when was only 12 years old. Now, even at old age, he still want to continue to work for his sustenance but he lost his job because of his active participation in the association.

“The law mandates to distribute the land to us,” he said. “These people are learned but why can’t they follow the law? I didn’t get an education but I know what is legitimately ours.”

For the last 18 years, around ten attempts had been made to install the agrarian reform beneficiaries in the area but DAR kept deciding against the installation due to the high possibility that violence will occur, says a statement of Kaisahan, which has been helping the farmers get the land.

The two recent installation attempts were scheduled last June 15-16, 2015, and February 9-10, 2016. The June 2015 attempt failed due to the lack of PNP assistance—a very important element of the whole installation process, Kaisahan said. There were some gaps in securing the PNP’s approval for assistance, and this was later on addressed by DAR with the help of NGO support groups.

In the most recent attempt of installation last February 2016, Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Renato Badilla recalled the writ of installation due to a case filed for the cancellation of CLOAs over the land by other farmers many of them currently employed by the company.

PARO’s order stated that PALEC opposed the installation because the case on the erroneous coverage is still pending at the DAR Adjudication Board. An affidavit of third party claim was attached to both orders.

Enraged, the farmer-beneficiaries submitted a 13-page motion for reconsideration (MR) to the DAR asking PARO to review his decision. Days later, PARO recalled his order signaling the resumption of the installation to push through.

A series of installation and security planning were held on the following months. The installation planning sessions were conducted by the DAR with the farmers, NGO support groups, the PNP, AFP, various line agencies, and some individuals from the national and local media. The series of security planning, on the other hand, is made exclusive for the ARBs, DAR, and KAISAHAN, an NGO pushing for agrarian reform.

Kaisahan said many issues were raised during the said meetings that may hinder the installation, such as, the misinformation in the location of the areas to be installed, and other processes in securing support from different government agencies.

Alberto Barandino, executive assistant at the Field Operations Office of DAR, said the installation of beneficiaries in here is among the longest in the region due to the resistance of previous landowner. He said this could no longer be stopped due to absence of any court order. “If there is no court order to stop us, we cannot stop the CARP implementation,” he said.

Ramil Gabilagon, a farm technician of the company, said this is unfair for the current workers of PALEC. “What will happen to my men?” he asks. “I am here to sympathize with my people. Where will they go if these people will take over the land?”

Gabilagon said he manages the day-to-day operation of the farm from land preparation to harvesting.

“If there are farmers to be installed, it should be our workers because they are the ones working here. They are the ones who are helping the office, not these people who we do not even know.”  — APG, GMA News

Source: http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/571038/news/regions/land-distribution-gives-fresh-hope-to-ormoc-sugar-workers

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