#DuterteYear1: No genuine land reform

Quezon farmers will start coordinated and simultaneous protest camp-outs in major haciendas in Bondoc Peninsula today as part of their actions to unlink the so-called ‘hacienda belt’ in the province that covers vast tracts of private agricultural lands and haciendas.

Farmers will gather in simultaneous camp-outs or kampuhang magsasaka in Hacienda Gangcayco and Hacienda Puyal in Catanauan, Hacienda Uy in San Andres and Hacienda Matias in San Francisco towns. “These haciendas are lands that were exempted from the government’s bogus land reform programs. Farmers are now taking into their hands what the Duterte government cannot do — dismantling land monopoly and free land distribution,” says KMP secretary general Antonio Flores.

Based on government data, almost a million hectares of coconut lands remain undistributed. In the case of Quezon haciendas, landlords have used the strategy of developing cattle ranches to evade land distribution of coconut lands.

“We have strongly pressed Duterte to adopt a genuine agrarian reform program by certifying as urgent the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) that is pending in Congress for the past decade. A year into his term, there has been no genuine agrarian reform, worse, the extra judicial killing of farmers defending their lands intensified during the first year of Duterte’s presidency,” Flores said, citing that there were 65 peasant leaders and farmers killed nationwide from July 2016 to May 2017 due to land disputes.

Hacienda Gangcayco located in Barangay San Antonio in Catanauan covers 196 hectares. It is part of the 300-hectare landholding in seven adjacent barangays in Catanauan claimed by landlord Santiago Gangcayco. The lands are classified as pasture lands even with the presence of tenants tilling the hacienda for more than 30 years.

Hacienda Puyal in Barangay Pacabit claimed by landlord Silvestre Puyal covers 108 hectares. Tenants and coconut farmers in the said landholding are constantly harassed by CAFGU elements employed by Puyal as caretakers of the land.

Hacienda Uy in Barangay Camflora spans 385 hectares and occupied by more than 300 farmers since the 1950s. The said landholding was exempted from CARP and was classified as cattle ranch due to the pasture lease obtained by landlord Dr. Vicente Uy. The farmer-tenants of Hacienda Uy have been paying part of their harvest to Vicente Uy with 70-30 percentage in favor of the landlord.

Since 1995, the farmers demand for the land distribution of Hacienda Uy was met with strong landlord resistance. The farmers asserted their right to the land through mass actions in 2014, but Vicente Uy retaliated by harassing and barring them from working on their farms, cultivating crops and raising livestock. Last February 25, local peasant leader Gilbert Bancat of PIGLAS-Quezon was shot and killed by still unidentified assailants in Barangay Long Beach in San Antonio.

“The inherent flaws of the pro-landlord CARP prevented the coverage of these coconut haciendas from land distribution,” said Eddie Billiones of the Katipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK), KMP’s local chapter in the region. “This prevailing situation must change. The absence of a genuine land reform program is limiting the efforts of DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano in addressing landlessness and farmers’ concerns,” the peasant leader said.

Hacienda Matias in San Francisco, one of largest haciendas in Bondoc Peninsula covers 5,000 hectares of coconut and corn lands claimed by the Matias family and patriarch Willy Matias. The said lands span the villages of Don Juan Vercelos, Butanguiad, Casay, Sto Nino and Silungin.

More than 700 farmer families are asserting their right to land in Hacienda Matias. According to Pangkalahatang Samahan ng Magsasakang Tenante ng San Francisco, Quezon (PSMT- SFQ), legitimate tenant and farmers of Hacienda Matias have tilled the land for more than 30 years.

The Matias family petitioned for exemption of the land claiming it is part of a cattle ranch, but the Office of the President affirmed DAR’s coverage of the lands in June 2014. The DAR then awarded portions of the 1,736 hectares to agrarian reform beneficiaries but excluded original tenants and farmers of Hacienda Matias, causing conflict among farmers.

“Farmers of Hacienda Matias have united to assert their right to the land. The Pangkalahatang Samahan ng mga Tenante ng San Francisco and the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Bondoc Peninsula (SMBP) have reached an agreement to unite and counter the Matias family’s continued harassment against farmer-tenants,” Flores said.

Some 47 farmer-tenants were charged with qualified theft after they attempted to harvest coconuts from their farms that were fenced by the Matias family.

Other issues raised by farmers of the Quezon haciendas include their struggle against the onerous resicada system prevailing in coconut-producing provinces, low farm gate prices of kopra dictated by traders, militarization and presence of private armies and other forms of landlord and state exploitation.

In the coming weeks, farmers and local peasant organizations in the aforementioned haciendas will carry-out bolder actions to assert their right to the land. ###