12/01/2008 | 08:41 PM
LIPA CITY, Philippines – Seventy five farmer beneficiaries of Barangay Baha and Talibayog in Calatagan, Batangas resumed their walk from Batangas to Malacanang on Monday morning to assert their claim over the 507-hectare farmland and protest against its conversion into a mining area.
The walk started at about 10 a.m. in the San Sebastian Cathedral compound in Lipa City, with the farmers passing by Malvar town, Tanauan City and Sto. Tomas on the first day of their march.
Virginita Malaluan, farmer spokeswoman, said they expect to reach Manila by Thursday, where they would continue their protest actions in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform, House of Representatives and Malacanang Palace.
In an interview with GMANews.TV, Malaluan said they were asking President Gloria Macapagal – Arroyo to declare the 507-hectare farm land agricultural in nature and stop conversion of the same into a mining site.
Malaluan said they were supposed to walk on September 20 but the farmers decided to postpone the march upon request of their negotiators.
She however said that the farmers felt betrayed in the negotiation process after Environment Secretary Lito Atienza and Department of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman had issued certifications that the disputed property is a mineral land.
“We have come to believe that the DENR and the DAR are only bent on pressuring us to accept whatever offer Asturias is putting on the negotiation table,” Malaluan said.
She added that mining firm Asturias Chemical Industries had been offering the farmers a 90 hectare relocation site in the villages of Talibayog, Luya and Encarnacion in Calatagan, which they refused.
Malaluan claimed that the said areas are mountainous in nature and not suited for cultivation.
“We are always giving them (Asturias) opportunities hoping that they might talk to us but it didn’t happen. We think they really can’t grant our request and perhaps this is the right time for us to continue our march,” Malauan said.
GMANews.TV tried to get in touch with Asturias Project Director Gary Sevilla but his cellphone is turned off. He is also not replying to our text messages.
This is the second time that the farmers marched from Batangas to Manila for their land. They marched earlier from April 23 to 28 this year.
The farmers were fighting for their claims over the 507-hectare contested land, originally owned by the late Ceferino Ascue and distributed to them by the national government in 1989 through Presidential Decree No. 27 and Operation Land Transfer.
Most of the farmers have fully paid the amortization to the Land Bank of the Philippines and were issued emancipation patents.
In 1995, however, the heirs of Ceferino Ascue sold the mother title of the whole 800 hectare property, including the 507 hectares distributed to the farmers to Asturias Chemical Industries.
The company plans to build a cement plant complex and industrial park in the area.
In 2005, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the DAR that the disputed land was erroneously covered by PD 27, and that it was “mineralized.”
Asturias has a 25-year mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) with the DENR, which includes the 507-hectare estate. The entire MPSA covers 2,336.8 hectares in the villages of Baha, Talibayog, Punta, and Hukay in Calatagan town.