April 18, 2008
Sixty agrarian reform beneficiaries from Calatagan, Batangas facing eviction due to land conversion announced today that they will march from Batangas to Metro Manila to protest a government decision to reclassify an agricultural area into a mining area to allow a private company to excavate limestone, a mineral used in the production of cement.
“With the looming food crisis because of the rice shortage, converting an agricultural land for mining is the height of shamelessness and indecency,” said Virginita Malaluan, one of the Calatagan farmers. “It is a violation of human rights.”
“Maam, we can’t eat cement and hallow blocks are not edible,” Malaluan reminded President GMA.
The Calatagan farmers said that the government’s ban on land conversion is for naught if the policy climate for land conversion still exists. “The ban on land conversion that President GMA announced remains rhetorical until the government reverses unjust policies that encourage and lead to land conversion and land grabbing,” Malaluan said.
“How can the government seriously address the rice shortage when plans to convert agricultural lands as a strategy to evade agrarian reform continue despite the so-called ban? We challenge the GMA administration to be consistent in its declaration. A ban is a ban,” Malaluan added.
The farmers, who are agrarian reform beneficiaries of a 507.8 hectare property in Barangay Baha and Barangay Talibayon in Calatagan, Batangas, face eviction from their lands. They have already received Emancipation Patents under Marcos’ land distribution program when the property’s former owner, Ceferino Ascue, illegally sold the already distributed land in 1995 to Asturias Chemical Industries, Inc.
According to Atty.Magistrado Mendoza , in 1997, Asturias entered into a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) with the government and obtained an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) from DENR to conduct mining activities in the area on the basis of a 1965 Bureau of Mines findings that the area is ‘mineralized’. After receiving the MPSA and ECC, Asturias launched an aggressive legal campaign to evict the farmers and reverse the distribution of the property.
In several decisions, DAR ruled in favor of Asturias by affirming the company’s claim that, among others, the land was wrongly distributed because it was not predominantly planted with rice and corn, the land tenancy of the farmers was not established, and that the area is indeed mineralized. The case was eventually brought to the Supreme Court, and in 2005, the High Court affirmed DAR’s ruling and declared the sale of the property to Asturias valid.
The Calatagan farmers slammed the unholy collusion between the landowner, the mining firm, and government agencies that willingly exploited gaps in the existing agrarian reform law to grab lands from farmers.
“We are victims of a triumvirate of greed. We tilled the land for more than ten years and we have already paid for it. The land is rightfully and legally ours,” said Zaldy Castrojeres.
The Calatagan farmers would begin their marching noise barrage on April 21, 2008 in Calatagan, Batangas. They are expected to arrive in Manila on April 27 and would continue their march to hold several protest actions in the Senate, DENR, and DAR. The Calatagan farmers would also attend the House of Representatives Committee on Agrarian Reform hearing on HB 1257, or the CARP Extension and Reform Bill, a measure that the farmers support to extend, strengthen and accelerate agrarian reform in the country.