The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), both involved in the Baha-Talibayog in Calatagan case are scheduled to meet at 2pm today to discuss the case. In a meeting with the farmers last Wednesday, April 30, 2008, DAR Sec. Nasser Pangandaman said that the DAR will immediately cover the 507-hectare disputed property under RA6657 as soon as the DENR cancels the Mineral Production sharing Agreement (MPSA) it has issued to Asturias Industries. However, the representatives of Task Force Baha-Talibayog informed Sec. Pangandaman that in a meeting with the DENR task force on Calatagan, the DENR told the representatives of the farmers that the ball is in the hands of DAR.
Ka Uper Aleroza, spokesperson of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK) said that the meeting of the DAR and DENR today was set to discuss the actions both departments can take in the resolution of the dispute. “DENR is saying that the DAR can do something. On the other hand, DAR is saying that DENR can do something. While it is obvious that the two agencies are passing the ball to each other, it is clear that something can be done to resolve the case. The only question is who has the political will to take action” Aleroza said. The farmers of Baha and Talibayog, according to Aleroza, are only asserting their rights as beneficiaries of agrarian reform who had fully paid their amortizations to the land that was distributed to them in 1989 and 1990.
Virgie Malaluan, spokesperson of the Calatagan farmers said that the farmers who have walked for 9 days from Calatagan to Manila will hold a vigil in front of the DAR during the meeting of the two departments. “We have walked 300 kilometers to make a statement and to assert our rights as farmer beneficiaries. DAR should not have cast doubt on our titles by saying that the agrarian reform coverage of the 507-hectare property was erroneous. DENR should not have issued an MPSA to Asturias knowing that the land was already distributed to us under CARP. We urge DAR and DENR to right the wrongs committed against us, small farmers. Cancel the MPSA of Asturias Industries and uphold and protect the rights of the agrarian reform beneficiaries” Malaluan said.
The farmers have filed a petition for cancellation of the MPSA issued to Asturias as early as January 2008. The DENR announced the suspension of the Exploration Permit of Asturias Industries last April 29.
The fifty-five agrarian reform farmers from Baha and Talibayog, Calatagan walked 300 kilometers from their homes to the Department of Agrarian Reform central office from April 21 to April 29. The walk was in protest of the impending conversion of the farms, awarded to them more that 10 years ago under the CARP, into a mining area by Asturias Industries. The 300 kilometer walk was supported by Batangas Bishop Ramon C. Arguelles who issued a pastoral statement supporting the Calatagan farmers early last week. Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo expressed his support for the Calatagan farmers in a mass he celebrated in the DAR camp out last April 30.