A JOURNEY IN SEARCH JUSTICE,
A SACRIFICE TO ASSERT OUR RIGHTS
A Manifesto of the Calatagan Farmers
December 1, 2008 / San Sebastian Cathedral, Lipa City
oday, we shall yet begin another journey from our farms to the halls of power in Manila. It is a journey of three generations of farmers of Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan, Batangas. This journey is our quest to find justice in a society where small, the poor and dispossessed stand no chance against the wealthy and the powerful. We embark on this journey neither out of desperation nor hopelessness, on the contrary, we will take our first step filled with hope and conviction that our sacrifice will make the rightness of our claims over our land compelling and cannot be ignored. However, we know that we shall walk against the powers that be; we shall be confronted by the cruelty of the brute power of their wealth and influence.
We are no stranger to adversity. Forty years ago, the original agrarian reform beneficiaries among us defied and endured the cruelty of our former landlord. They endured the constant threats to their lives, the fear instigated by armed goons sent by the family of Ceferino Ascue to force the farmers to bend on their knees and submit themselves to the landlords will. Despite the adversity and the danger brought about by the iron hands of the landlord and his kin, among the ranks of the farmers rose courageous leaders like Sixto dela Vega, who defied the threats from the landlord and defied their own fears and sacrificed even their own livelihood to assert their rights as agrarian reform beneficiaries. The land we now own, which were distributed to us in 1989 and 1990 under the government’s agrarian reform program, did not come in a silver platter. These lands were won through the courage and sacrifices of the elders among us.
or almost ten years since the land became ours, we have tilled and cultivated our land in peace for almost ten years. We have patiently made the land productive with our hands planting mangoes and other fruit trees, a variety of vegetables, corn and rice. We have raised livestock and other farm animals.
The land did not fail us. We were able to complete our land amortizations. We were able to send our children to school. We were able to feed our families. We have built our homes in our farms and raised our families. We have built our lives around our land.
ut greed can always find a way to undo the gains of agrarian reform and social justice. Unknown to us our former landlord managed to sell the land that has already been ours for many years to Asturias Industries. Since then, Asturias has been trying to wrest the land from us by virtue of the Mineral Production Agreement (MPSA) they managed to secure from the DENR.
They have tried every trick in the book to take away our land, the land that we fought for, the land that we have made productive, the land that we depend so much on to live. We were cajoled, bribed, threatened and sued to give up our lands. Asturias preyed on the miseries of the farmers, waiting for them to get sick or have a family emergency or any situation that renders the farmers in deep financial need. Disguised as financial assistance, Asturias managed to purchase lands from the farmers who are in deep financial need. Claiming that the land has become “mineralized” and therefore “exempted” from agrarian reform, they seek to take away the gains of the farmers’ three decades of struggle. Using every influence and power at their disposal Asturias is seeking to undo what social justice has bestowed.
he Department of Agrarian Reform who is tasked to implement agrarian reform and who bestowed upon us the Emancipation Patents succumbed to Asturias. They turned their backs on the program they are mandated to implement; they turned their backs to the constitutional mandate that they were supposed to breathe life into. They betrayed the farmers they were supposed to serve, defend and support. The DAR shamelessly declared that they erred in distributing the lands to farmers. In doing so, they had to twist the facts and the law.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) pretended to be a neutral agency who is seeking to resolve the land problem in Calatagan. They even went on to create a task force to look into the issue. In the end, they reneged on their promises and have taken the position of Asturias. They ignored the mining company’s violations of the MPSA. They have ignored the rights of the farmers.
The Office of the President, the DAR and the DENR convinced us to negotiate with Ramon Ang and Asturias in order to settle the issue in what they call as a “win-win” fashion. We obliged and patiently embarked on a negotiation despite our doubts and our fears. We have made extensive consultations among members and we have come up with a proposition of what we collectively believe is a just settlement with Asturias. We were even willing to relocate some of our farms leaving our fruit-bearing trees and houses in order to arrive at a just compromise.
We entered into the negotiations knowing that the balance of power is tilted against us. But we trusted the government to defend our rights, and whatever legal grounds we have. In the middle of the negotiation process, the DENR Secretary and the Department of Agrarian Reform, in violation of the status quo agreement, issued statements and communications that further eroded whatever negotiating position we have. It has become clear, that to government, the resolution of our case is our capitulation of our rights as owners of the land and as agrarian reform beneficiaries. Their actions only emboldened and hardened the positions emboldened Ramon Ang and Asturias.
Today, we will begin our walk to Manila not filled with desperation but with renewed conviction and hope. We will begin our sacrifice with renewed hope because our Archbishop believes in the rightness of our cause.
We will march with renewed conviction that we are the rightful owners of the land we till not only because we hold the titles to our land but because we also believe that we are stewards of God’s creation. We are obliged not only to develop our land into productive farms producing food for our communities but also to protect the land and sea from environmental destruction and devastation.
We shall walk knowing that Ramon Ang and Asturias and those in government who believes more in converting our farms into a mining site, in converting the shores in Baha and Talibayog into an industrial zone and an eco-tourism zone will pull every string at their disposal to stop us from asserting our rights.
This walk will be our testament to our conviction that government should put food production at the forefront and protect our farmlands. This walk will be our testament to our conviction that the government should protect the rights of its citizens especially those who are poor against the maneuverings of the wealthy and the influential.
In our conviction to fight for and defend our land and our rights, ten farmers among us, representing the three generations of struggling farmers in Baha and Talibayog, will go on HUNGER STRIKE as soon as we arrive at the Department of Agrarian Reform. In foregoing food, we will defend our right to produce food. In their voluntary act of suffering from hunger, we will assert our conviction to fight hunger.
Pagkain muna bago semento!
Pagsasaka muna bago turismo!
Kaunlaran ng mamamayan hindi ng iilan!
– CALATAGAN FARMERS –
Pinag-isang Lakas ng Samahang Magsasaka at Mangingisda sa Barangay Baha (PLSMMB) ¢ Samahan ng Maliliit na Mangingisda at Magsasaka sa Barangay Talibayog (SMMMT) ¢ Samahan ng mga Mangingisda at Magsasaka sa Calatagan (SAMMACA) ¢ Pambansang Katipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan (PKSK)