MANILA, Philippines — When the House of Representatives deferred voting on the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) last June 10, the 55 farmers from Calatagan, Batangas decided to go home.
Armed with their emancipation patents — equivalent to land titles — as proof of their ownership to the land and the temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against mining firm Asturias Chemical Industries (ACI), the farmers were confident that the 512-hectare of farm land was theirs.
But last June 28, trucks and sales agents from ACI tried to enter the lands of the farmers, allegedly to plant mangroves and set up relocation sites for the farmers.
“They brought drilling materials, so we presumed they were going to start mining exploration activities,” said Magistrado Mendoza, legal counsel of the Calatagan farmers on Thursday.
Tension erupted when the farmers formed a human fence to prevent ACI personnel from entering their lands.
Mendoza stressed that the farmers were the legal owners of the land.
“The farmers fully paid all fees, including taxes,” he said.
Mendoza added that the conflict started when ACI was also issued a land title and a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA). But DENR Secretary Lito Atienza issued a TRO on the MPSA last April.
Instead, ACI was able to obtain a mayor’s permit, even though the TRO was still in effect.
“Kaming mga magsasaka ay nakahanda upang hadlangan ang proyekto ng Asturias. Papanatilihin namin ang aming karapatan na depensahan ang lupa. Amin po yun hindi naman kanila. Bakit naming hahayaang pasukin at sirain nila ang lupa [We the farmers are ready to stop the project of Asturias. We will fight for our right to defend our land. It is ours, not theirs. Why will we allow them to enter and destroy the land]?” said Virgie Malaluan, one of the Calatagan farmers.
Akbayan chairperson Etta Rosales said three human rights violations were evident in the case of the Calatagan farmers: social justice, right to adequate food, and right to sustainable development.
“Why in heaven’s name are we importing rice and too much surplus of agricultural products? We have an absence of national consciousness in addressing the right to adequate food that makes our food production self sufficient to feed the people,” Rosales said.
She added that the violation of the rights of farmers would affect all consumers, because the farmers supply the food to both the cities and provinces.
“It is beyond logic that they should allow the minero [miners] to prevail over the magsasaka [farmers]. The right of the peasant is the right of the Filipino,” Rosales added.
The more than 800 farmers who were issued land titles in Calatagan vowed to remain vigilant in protecting the farm land.
“Oras na kami umalis ay tiyak na papasok sila. Mananatili kaming aktibo sa pagbabantay [The moment we leave, they will definitely enter. We will be vigilant in our watch],” Malaluan said.
Farmers have set up outposts around the farm land, to guard against ACI personnel who would attempt to enter.
“Binakudan namin ang aming lupa, araw-gabi kaming magbabantay, at naglagay kami ng checkpoint sa lahat ng entry points na pwedeng pasukan ng ACI [We put up a fence around our land, which we will guard day and night. We also set up checkpoints in all entry points where the ACI could enter],” said farmer Ruperto Aleroza.
Students from Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) and De La Salle University (DLSU) have also launched Buklod Bakod on Thursday, aiming to set up fences around the Calatagan farm lands to prevent ACI from entering.
Rosales said they would continue to help the farmers obtain their land like they did in Sumilao. But Mendoza added that they would use only “non-violent means to protect the rights of the farmers.”
“The longer we resolve the issue, the higher the tension in the area and the more confused the people are,” he said.