The 300-kilometer walk will begin in the villages of Baha and Talibayog on Sept. 15. The farmers expect to reach Malacañang “within a month.”
“We have decided to walk for the second time because we feel that our first march (in April) did not reach (the concern of) the President. Somehow, we believe that the President still has the heart for the farmers,” Virginita Malaluan, spokesperson of the farmers, told GMANews.TV in an interview.
Last April, the farmers walked for five days from Calatagan, Batangas to Manila and staged rallies in front of the offices of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to protest against conversion of agricultural lands into a mining area.
The farmers said they felt betrayed when Environment Secretary Lito Atienza issued a certification in June 12 that the 507-hectare contested property in Baha and Talibayog is a “mineral land.”
“This means the DAR can no longer cover the said land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program,” Malaluan said.
In the second wave of their march, she said that the farmers are expecting that President Arroyo will declare the contested land agricultural in nature and stop conversion of the same into a mining area.
“We believe it is only the President and the Congress who has the power to reclassify lands (into mineral), which Secretary (Lito) Atienza has already assumed,” Malaluan said.
She also said that President Arroyo could help the farmers by reminding the DAR, DENR and Calatagan municipal government to “observe good governance and consider the plight of the farmers who are being deprived of their rights to property.”
“This walk symbolizes something that if they are going to grab our lands, this is what will happen to the farmers – left astray and without any property whatsoever that we can really call ours,” Malaluan said in Filipino.
The farmers like her are fighting for their claims over the land, originally owned by the late Ceferino Ascue, and distributed by the government to 323 farmer beneficiaries in 1989 through Presidential Decree No. 27 and Operation Land Transfer.
Most of the farmers have fully paid their amortization in the Land Bank of the Philippines and were issued emancipation patents.
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.
In 2005, the Supreme Court affirmed the DAR decision that the disputed land was erroneously covered by PD 27, and that it was “mineralized.”
Asturias has a 25-year mineral production sharing Agreement with the DENR covering 2,336.8 has. in the villages of Baha, Talibayog, Punta and Hukay in Calatagan. – GMANews.TV