CALATAGAN, Batangas – The picturesque view from the upland village of Luya in Calatagan town in Batangas may explain why the people would not leave their homes. Rows of rice, corn, bitter gourd, tomatoes, eggplants, okra and beans streak through the fields of Baha and Talibayog, surrounded by the sea, forests and mountains.
“One can both farm and fish here. You go to the shore and immediately you could catch big squids and shrimps,” Perfecto Aninao, 52, said.
“Because of farming, my six children are able to go to college. I could give what my family wants,” Aninao said.
Another farmer, Zaldy Castrojeres, 50, said his good harvest was proof that the land was productive and suited for agriculture.
Water comes from around 300 deep wells scattered in the two villages. The farm crops are delivered to public markets in Batangas City, towns in Cavite, and even to Divisoria in Manila, while the community keeps its rice for its own consumption.
Most of the 312 farmers were awarded emancipation patents (EPs) in 1989 by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 27. They have occupied 507 hectares of the property that once belonged to their landlord, Ceferino Ascue.
But on Aug. 4, 2000, the Department of Agrarian Reform declared that the lands in Baha and Talibayog had become “mineralized.” A company, Asturias Chemical Industries Inc. (ACII), was planning to extract limestone and shale in 2,336 hectares of land in Calatagan.
Since then, the farmer-beneficiaries have been struggling to win their land in legal battles.
When asked if they would allow ACII to take their land, Aninao said he and the other farmers “will stay here where we were born and raised. I will not leave.”
“They (ACII officials) are making us leave this place like we are the outsiders,” he said while weeding his crops. He said he inherited the land from his grandfather, who had been a farmer since his teenage years.
From his mango trees alone, Aninao is getting P60,000 yearly. Last month, he said he expected a good harvest.
He said his family would not leave even if there were an order of government agencies because “there is no place other than Barangay Talibayog.”
“We are surviving even without the government’s assistance,” he said, noting that they have never received any help in agriculture from the government even after the land titles were awarded to them.
Agricultural vs mineral
Whether the farmers’ 507 hectares of land is agricultural or mineral has been a running dispute for seven years now.
The farmers are stepping up their campaign upon realizing that the government was denying or dismissing their petitions. (See “What Went Before.”)
Mendoza said that in the DAR resolution canceling their EPs following a protest filed by ACII, it was dubious that its investigating team came to Calatagan at summertime when the farmers just shifted planting from rice and corn to vegetable crops.
The farmers also questioned the Supreme Court ruling in 2005, citing findings of the Bureau of Mines that minerals found over 339 hectares in five villages – Carlosa, Encarnacion, Sambungan, Baha and Talibayog – meant the land was mineralized.
“If it’s only 339 (hectares), what would they do with the remaining area in the 2,336-hectare land?” Mendoza added.
He said the farmers, who were still waiting for the DAR decision on their petition for agrarian reform coverage of their lands, were not losing hope. “If this will be denied, then we will elevate our petition to the Office of the President,” he said.
The farmers have filed a petition for the cancellation of the mineral production sharing agreement (MPSA) between the government and ACII. The company, they claimed, was on the list of delinquent contractors of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau.
Mendoza said ACII violated the agreement when it failed to submit quarterly reports and pay the fines.
The company’s legal counsel, Micaela Rosales, earlier told the Inquirer that there was no reason to cancel the MPSA since the company had “faithfully complied with its provisions.” She insisted that based on a study conducted by the Bureau of Mines in 1965, the land “has always been classified, not as agricultural land, but as mineral land.”
In the meantime, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources issued a temporary restraining order suspending ACII’s exploration activities. The farmers have put up two checkpoints after ACII tried several times to bring mining equipment into the two villages.
ACII has bought other lands in Calatagan intended for the relocation of the farmers affected by the mining project. One property, covering 60 hectares, is in Luya, five kilometers from Talibayog; the second is a 37-hectare land in Encarnacion, a coastal village near the Balayan Bay.
Some 9.7 hectares of the 507-hectare property will also be allotted for the farmers’ new houses.
But the farmers have refused to leave. They planned to walk all the way from Calatagan to Metro Manila again on Sept. 8 to ask President Macapagal-Arroyo to intervene in their case.
“We couldn’t just go. We have spent sweat, our lives and resources for this land,” Virginita Malaluan, spokesperson of Task Force Baha-Talibayog, said. “It is close to paradise.”