CALATAGAN, Batangas – Hundreds of farmer-beneficiaries in the villages of Baha and Talibayog here have started building fences over a 507-hectare contested property, a move which they said would protect their farmlands from a mining firm.
“We are fencing our lands to remind them that this is ours and to thwart all future attempts of Asturias (Chemical Industries) to convert an agricultural land into a mining site,” Virginita Malaluan, spokesperson of farmers, told GMANews.TV in an interview.
The fencing project, which was launched Saturday, would initially cover a 9.7-hectare farmland designated by Asturias Chemical Industries as its relocation site for the farmers that will be displaced once the firm starts its mining activities in the area.
Armed with hammers and head hats, the farmers began fencing the area at about 11 a.m. using cut bamboo trees and barbwires.
“We will not give up our property. These farmlands are legally and rightfully ours. They would be unlawfully entering private lands should they insist on installing their equipment in our farmlands,” Malaluan said.
Joining the farmers were representatives from the church, agrarian reform, non-government organizations, and students from De La Salle University and Ateneo De Manila University.
“I think it is not only the schools but also the parishes and churches that must unite since perhaps this is the only way by which we can achieve long-term changes in our society,” said Bro. Joemari Manzano, a Jesuit seminarian, in a separate interview.
Last June 28, workers of Asturias allegedly tried to bring in several trucks with mining equipment to begin their project in the area, but the farmers stopped them by barricading the streets and demanding for legal documents authorizing their entry.
Three days later, the farmers received reports that the mining firm would once again try to enter the community after its trucks were sighted at the nearby Balayan town.
They said these things happened despite an April 29 order by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to temporarily suspend the mineral exploration permit of Asturias in Baha and Talibayog in order “to prevent untoward incidents in the area.”
The series of events, Malauan said, likewise prompted the farmers to fence their respective lands.
GMANews.TV tried to get in touch with Gary Sevilla, Asturias community project officer, but his cellphone was turned off. He was also not responding to our text messages.
In an early emailed statement sent by Asturias legal counsel Micaela Rosales, she said that based on the Bureau of Mines Geological investigation in 1965, the land being claimed by the farmers “has always been classified not as agricultural but mineral land.”
She also claimed that the 507-hectare disputed property was acquired by Asturias “with the court’s consent” and not grabbed as alleged by the farmers.
The land in Baha and Talibayog, originally owned by the late Ceferino Ascue, was distributed to by the national government to 312 farmer beneficiaries in 1989 under Presidential Decree No. 27 and Operation Land Transfer.
Most of the farmers have fully paid their amortization on the Land Bank of the Philippines and have been issued emancipation patents (EPs).
In 1994, however, the heirs of Ascue, using the original certificate of title, sold the whole 800-hectare property, including the 507-hectare land owned by the farmers, to Asturias Chemical Industries.
The firm plans to build a cement plant complex and industrial park in the area.
Asturias later protested before the Department of Agrarian Reform that the land should not have been distributed to the farmers since it contained minerals, which the DAR agreed.
On July 28, 2005, the Supreme Court upheld the DAR decision that the property is a “mineral land.”
Asturias has a 25-year mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the DENR, covering 2,336 hectares of land in the villages of Baha, Talibayog, Punta and Hukay in Calatagan. – GMANews.TV