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PHILIPPINES: Day 1: Farmers run and go on hunger strike against losing lands



PHILIPPINES: Day 1: Farmers run and go on hunger strike against losing lands

(Manila, December 2, 2008) To expose the government's failure to make good on its promises of land distribution, farmers from the Arroyo lands in Negros Occidental and others commenced ten days of running on Monday. A few others also began an indefinite hunger strike.

After completing a six-kilometre run from inside Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac, Fr. Robert Reyes, a staff member of the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), and several other farmers joined other farmers in Munos, Quezon City to continue running. Fr. Robert and the farmers running with him aim to complete 157 kilometres in ten days, at around 15 kilometres a day.

The number of kilometres represents the hectares of land owned by Jose Miguel Arroyo, husband of the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which has yet to be awarded to the farmer beneficiaries in Isabel, Negros Occidental.

According to President Gloria Arroyo's promise in May 2008, all land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP), including her husband's, would be distributed to farmers.

In reality, Task Force Mapalad (TFM) has found that political interference and pressure upon government agencies processing farmers’ claim applications is causing delays. Time is particularly critical as the implementation of CARP is due to expire on December 8.

Although the 67 farmer beneficiaries have already completed all the requirements of claiming Arroyo’s property, the public officials and government agencies responsible for processing their applications are either reluctant or deliberately refusing to perform their duties.

The Registry of Deeds (ROD) in Bacolod City for instance, refuses to transfer the Certificate of Title to the name of Republic of the Philippines from the Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation--the company claiming ownership of the property--which is required for the farmers to register their Certificate of Landownership Award (CLOA).

The ROD justifies its refusal claiming that it could not facilitate the issuance of the transfer because of the annotation of “Declaration of Trust” in favour of the president's husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, and that the Certificate of Deposit that was issued by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) as payment for the property is still under the name of Rivulet.

Under the CARP, the LBP is obliged to pay the owners of land covered by the programme on behalf of the farmers. Despite 42 million pesos having been paid for the property, the farmers cannot process their CLOA due to the ROD’s refusal.

The run from the Hacienda Luisita--owned by the family of former President Corazon Aquino--thus symbolizes how the land distribution programme has been undermined from its very enactment. While the farmers inside Hacienda Luisita are recognized as owners of the land, their authority and the benefits they get from the land is meagre. They are stock holders and get a small percentage from the Hacienda's profit under the Stock Distribution Option (SDO), but are not actually tilling their own lands. Several farmers have in fact died in attempting to reclaim their land.

Fr. Robert and the other runners held a short prayer before beginning their run. The farmers carried sugarcane stalks from the Hacienda Luisita as well as banners demanding the Arroyo family to give their lands to them. Utterly exhausted, they completed their run for the day at the head office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City.

Waiting in front of the DAR office were eight more farmers from the Arroyo land, one of whom was a woman, who commenced their indefinite hunger strike. Three of the farmers shaved their heads to symbolically protest against their plight.

A few of these farmers have only recently been released from detention after being detained last week for holding a peaceful protest in front of the Land Registration Authority (LRA), whom they asked to intervene into the registration of their land.

Under the law, the LRA has authority over the registration of lands. The farmers were forced to pressure the LRA after the Registry of Deeds in Bacolod refused to transfer ownership of the land from the Arroyo's to the farmers.

The farmers will be running for nine more days, as a build up to the international human rights day on December 10.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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