The farmers from Baha and Talibayog in Calagatan, Batangas began their 5-day walk from Lipa City in Batangas to Manila yesterday after receiving the blessings of Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Archdiocese of Lipa. In his blessings at a mass celebrated with the assembly of seminarians all over the Philippines held at the Cathedral de San Sebastian, Archbishop Arguelles expressed his support for the march of the farmers. “On this first week of the new church year, God manifests himself among the farmers of Baha and Talibayog. The Archdiocese of Lipa supports the struggle of the little ones whose only strength is in God’s power” Arguelles said.
Archbishop Arguelles also announced that the Calatagan farmers will be met by his Eminence Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales upon their arrival at the Ateneo de Manila University on December 5. The Calatagan farmers were jubilant at this news. Dante Rasdas, member of the Calatagan farmers’ core group recalled that December 5 will be the anniversary of the arrival of the Sumilao farmers in Ateneo de Manila University where they were welcomed by Cardinal Rosales. “We walked with the Sumilao farmers from San Pedro, Laguna to Manila last year as our gesture of solidarity. We have witnessed how Cardinal Rosales embraced the Sumilao farmers then and how the support of the Cardinal led to the victory of the Sumilao farmers” Rasdas said. Virginita Malaluan, spokesperson of the Calatagan farmers said that anticipating the meeting with Cardinal Rosales gives them inspiration, strength and hope. “We are looking forward to meet the Cardinal and tell him of the story of our own struggles. We are confident that Cardinal Rosales will lend us his support as he did with the Sumilao farmers last year.
Malaluan read the Calatagan Farmers manifesto at the send-off Mass. She announced that ten of the seventy-six farmers joining the march will go on hunger strike as soon as they reach the DAR central office in Quezon City on December 6. “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” the manifesto said.
The Calatagan farmers declared that they are walking to Malacañang to ask President Arroyo to once and for all affirm the agricultural classification of the 507 hectares disputed land in Calatagan, Batangas which is also being claimed by Asturias Industries headed by Ramon Ang. DENR Secretary Lito Atienza had consistently declared that the disputed land has become “mineralized” and therefore exempted from the coverage of agrarian reform. The land was distributed to the farmers in 1989 and 1990 by the Department of Agrarian Reform under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. The farmers has since fully paid their land amortizations and had become full owners of the land. However, the former landowners, the heirs of Ceferino Ascue managed to sell the land to Asturias Industries in 1995. In 1997, the DENR issued a Mineral Production Sharing Agreement (MPSA) and an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) covering more than 2,000 hectares which included the contested 507 hectares distributed through agrarian reform.
In a public forum in Ateneo last September, the Asturias representative Atty. Michaela Rosales revealed that aside mining, Asturias is planning to develop industrial and eco-tourism zones in the disputed area. She even announced that a Formula 1 race track will be built in the area” said Jane Capacio of the Task Force Baha-Talibayog (TFBT). Capacio said that it is very clear that Asturias is using its MPSA to take away the lands from the farmer as a prelude to converting the land to other uses later. The Calatagan farmers left the St. Thomas Academy in Sto. Tomas, Batangas early this morning and are expected to cross the Batangas-Laguna boundary today on their way to San Pedro, Laguna where they will spend the night.