LIPA CITY – Fifty-five farmer-beneficiaries in barangays Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan started their 300-kilometer walk from Batangas to Manila at 4 a.m. Monday to assert their claim to a 508-hectare farmland.
The walk, entitled “Alay Lakad Kalampag para sa Lupang Sakahan Hindi Minahan,” started with a noise barrage in Baha and Talibayog with the farmers passing by Balayan and Lemery towns on their first day.
Zaldy Castrojeres, group spokesman, said they expected to reach Manila by April 27, where they would continue to hold protest actions in the Senate, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Agrarian Reform.
“We are victims of a triumvirate of greed. We tilled the land for more than 10 years and we have already paid for it. The land is rightfully and legally ours,” Castrojeres said.
The farmers are fighting for their right to own the 508-ha contested land, originally owned by the late Ceferino Ascue and awarded to them by the government in the 1970s under Presidential Decree No. 27 and Operation Land Transfer.
Most of them have fully paid their amortizations and have been issued emancipation patents.
In 1994, the heirs of Ascue used the original certificate of title and sold the whole 800-ha property, including the 508 ha awarded to the farmers, to Asturias Chemical Industries, which plans to build a cement plant complex and industrial park in the area.
Asturias later protested to the DAR, claiming that the farmland should not have been distributed to the farmers since it contained minerals, to which the DAR agreed.
On July 28, 2005, the high court upheld the DAR decision that the 508-ha property is a “mineral land,” citing DAR findings and the mineral production sharing agreement and environmental compliance certificate issued by the DENR to Asturias.
The farmers claimed that the Supreme Court’s decision was “unfair” since the land was agricultural in nature when the DAR awarded it to them and that no feasibility study had been conducted showing that the area contained minerals.
In a statement sent to the Inquirer, the farmers said they believed that the government ban on land conversion would be useless “if the policy climate for land conversion still exists.”
“The ban on land conversion that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo announced remains rhetorical until the government reverses unjust policies that encourage and lead to land conversion and land grabbing,” said farmer Virginita Malaluan.
The DAR provincial and regional offices had rejected their early petition for coverage, citing the Supreme Court ruling that declared the land “mineral.”