Thursday, November 27, 2008

45 Banasi Farmers March to Malacanang to Preserve their Rights to the Land

45 Farmers from the former 124 hectare-Fajardo Estate in Sitio Banasi, Pawili, Bula, Camarines Sur are marching to Malacanang to ask the President to reverse the decision of Executive Secretary Ermita to exempt the land from CARP coverage and order the cancellation of the title awarded to the farmers on the ground that the property is a pasture land. (More than 100 hectares were actually planted to sugarcane, rice, and corn when the field investigation was conducted by DAR and Land Bank. )

DAR awarded the title on March 1998, after more than five years of documentation and processing which started in 1993. The delay was caused by the landowners' resistance. Even when the farmers already had the title, it still took another three months before they could take physical possession of the land and cultivate it. The landowners posted armed security guards at the gate to prevent the farmers and DAR from entering the property. DAR had to seek the assistance of the PNP Provincial Command to be able to install the farmers, which was unsuccessful on the first attempt, but successful on the second attempt.

After installation, the landowners did not stop from their efforts to retain the property. Several cases were filed against the farmers and DAR officials. (I was the provincial agrarian reform officer then, and the landowners filed cases against me before the Ombudsman, Civil Service, DAR and Office of the President, and the Regional Trial Court). The administrative case took five years to resolve (1998-2003, and I was initially found guilty and dismissed from service - but I wasn't connected with the government by then, since I resigned in 2000. My motion for reconsideration was, however, granted.) The civil case took 7 years to resolve (1998-2005). I won the case with finality when the Court of Appeals dismissed the landowners' appeal. The Ombudsman and Civil Service cases were dismissed for lack of merit. Ejectment case was filed against the farmers.

But the worst development came last April when the Office of the President ruled in favor of the landowners in their petition for exemption. That's ten years from the time the land was awarded to the farmers. The affected farmers were not even impleaded in the case which was filed only against the DAR. Thus, they did not even have the chance to defend their position. It would be a grave injustice to the farmers if they would be driven out of the land already awarded to them.

We hope that just like in the case of the Sumilao farmers of Bukidnon, this will have a positive resolution.


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