30 April 2008
DENR Undersecretary for Staff Bureaus Manuel Gerochi informed the representatives of the Calatagan farmers and Task Force Baha-Talibayog that the DENR-MGB has issued a suspension order to the Exploration Permit of Asturias Industries. This announcement was made during the Multisectoral Task Force on Calatagan meeting in the afternoon of April 29, 2008. The order was issued by DENR-Mines and Geosciences Bureau Director Horacio Ramos addresses to Mr. Antonio Buenaventura, President of Asturias Industries, Inc. stated that “the mineral exploration activities in the contract area are hereby ordered temporarily suspended to prevent any untoward incidents in the locality.” The renewal of the Asturias Exploration Permit, which covers the areas under the Mineral Production Sharing Agreement granted to Asturias Industries in the Municipalities of Calatagan and Balayan in Batangas was granted last December 21, 2007. The contract area covers 2,336,8042 hectares including the disputed 507 hectares which was distributed to the farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1989 and 1990.
According to Atty. Magis Mendoza, legal counsel of the Calatagan farmers, the suspension of the exploration permit was a welcome development to the Calatagan farmers. “This suspension will give the agrarian reform beneficiaries will remove the instants threat to the peaceful possession and cultivation of the farmers in Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan. DENR Secretary Lito Atienza was instrumental in the issuance of the order” Magistrado said. He added that the relief is temporary and that the Calatagan farmers will continue to pursue the cancellation of the MPSA of Asturias in the basis of the violations of the mining company of the terms and conditions of their MPSA.
Ka Uper Aleroza, chairperson of the Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK) said that the Calatagan farmers are also seeking relief from the Department of Agrarian Reform. “The Calatagan farmers are beneficiaries of the agrarian reform program being implemented by the DAR as they are holders of Emancipation Patents issued by the department. We are asking the DAR to issue an order protecting the peaceful possession and cultivation of the Calatagan farmers of the land distributed to them by the DAR.”
The Calatagan farmers were elated by the Pastoral Statement issued by Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles reiterating the support of the bishop to them. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo also expressed the Church’s support for the farmers and celebrated mass with the farmers at their makeshift camp in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform central office in Quezon City. Bishop Pabillo, together with Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales played a pivotal role in the resolution of the Sumilao farmers’ case last month.
The members of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) expressed their support for the Calatagan farmers on the eve of the May 1 Labor Day commemoration. Edwin Bustillos, Secretary General of APL said that the workers support the cause of the Calatagan farmers and join in the call for a more progressive agrarian reform law and the respect for the rights of landless farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
The Calatagan farmers will hold a camp out in front of the DAR central office as they continue to call for the cancellation of the Asturias MPSA and push for a presidential proclamation reiterating the agricultural classification of the contested land. “Our land was never reclassified as mineral by any presidential nor congressional proclamation. It has always been agricultural and continues to be agricultural and a rich source of food. We call on President Arroyo to be true to her public pronouncement that her government will prioritize land for food production in the midst of the current food crisis” said Ka Virgie Malaluan, spokesperson of the Calatagan farmers.