Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano has ordered all regional offices of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to settle high-profile land cases in their areas, following the killing of another farmer-activist last week. The latest incident in Cotabato province brought to three the number of agrarian reform beneficiaries slain this month alone.
Mariano directed regional officials of DAR in Soccsksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos) to come up with measures to immediately settle the land row problem in Arakan town in Cotabato, after Willerme Agorde, auditor of the local farmers’ group Malibatuan, Ilustre, Makalangot, Naje and Doruloman Farmers Association Inc. (Mafai), was killed in Barangay Ilustre in Roxas town on Sunday night.
Mafai has been involved in a decades-long struggle for ownership of unused agricultural lands within the University of Southern Mindanao (USM) reservation in Arakan. The group staged a protest in December, which went on for weeks, to seek the immediate distribution of 4,124 hectares of land to farmers.
Mariano supported the farmers’ position in a Feb. 9 meeting between USM and government officials at the Commission on Higher Education central office in Quezon City for the immediate distribution of the 5,018.36 ha of reservation land to 2,110 potential beneficiaries.
Agorde was the third farmer-activist slain this month. Three days before he was gunned down by unidentified men, farmer Edwin Catog was attacked while he was on his way to a market in Pantukan town, Compostela Valley province.
Catog was a member of the Hugpong sa mga Mag-uuma sa Walog Compostela, a support group of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc., whose members protested their eviction from a 145-ha banana plantation by agribusiness firm Lapanday Foods Corp. Catog was among farmers who joined the protests in Tagum City.
Only five days before Catog was attacked, a farmer was shot and killed in another disputed land in President Roxas town in Capiz province. Orlando Eslana, who was killed on Feb. 11, belonged to a group of farmers in an agrarian reform-covered property in President Roxas.
Mariano also ordered the DAR office in Davao to resolve high-profile cases to “deter further attacks on farmers and give justice to the victims of exploitation and abuse.”
The farmers’ group Task Force Mapalad urged the DAR to distribute lands already given to farmers who had been given Certificates of Land Ownership Awards. —JAYMEE T. GAMIL