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PHILIPPINES: Day 5: Farmers takes grievance at the heart of regime's power



PHILIPPINES: Day 5: Farmers takes grievance at the heart of regime's power

Manila, December 6, 2008 -- To once again draw attention to their plight, farmers from the Arroyos continued their hunger strike at Malacanang Palace on December 5.

A letter dated December 5, and signed by nine farmers on strike, called upon President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to fulfill the pledge she made to farmers in 2001, which promised to redistribute the Arroyo property to landless farmers.

President Arroyo's husband, Jose Miguel, is the owner of the 157 hectares of Hacienda Bacan in Isabela, Negros Occidental. He is also a trustee of the Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation, a company operating inside the Hacienda, after buying it from the group.

Apart from Hacienda Bacan being owned by Jose Miguel, his uncle, Antonio Arroyo, also owns both a 197-hectare Hacienda Grande in La Castellana, and a 60-hectare plot at Hacienda Paraiso in La Carlota City.

Jose Rodito Angeles, one of the 25 petitioners of the Hacienda Grande and president of Task Force Mapalad (TFM), renewed the farmers’ pleas to the government for the immediate valuation of Haciendas Grande and Paraiso. The assessment of the property by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) would determine the cost needed to pay to the owner by the government, on behalf of the farmers.

Under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL), transfer of title or ownership from private individuals to the Philippine government could only be made after the LBP completed its valuation. Once the procedures are completed, the Department of Agrarian Reform would then issue a Certificate of Land Ownership Award to farmers.

While the valuation of Haciendas Grande and Paraiso property are delayed, the distribution President Arroyo's husband’s land remains in a deadlock. The Registry of Deeds in Bacolod City has continued to refuse ownership transfer from the Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corporation to the Philippine government, even though the Land Bank has already paid for the property.

The Arroyo's lawyer, Ruy Rondain, deliberately prevented the transfer of ownership from private to government on pretext that the CARL had not been extended. The needless delays in have denied farmers from owning the proposed property under the land reform.

The farmers are running out of time, as CARL would not be extended when it expires this year, leaving them with no other legal means in pursuing ownership of the land.

Before the letter was received, a brief standoff took place between staff members of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Presidential Security Guard (PSG). While carrying the letter AHRC staffers, including Fr. Robert Reyes and Danilo Reyes, were prevented by the PSG from entering the palace to have it received at the Office of the President. The guards also attempted to arrest Danilo for taking photographs of Robert running.

There Fr. Robert was to commence his daily 15 kilometer run inside one of the palace's gates, but PSG guards prevented him on pretext that the area had been restricted. The guards questioned the two on how they were able to get inside the palace gates. The gates were ten closed to persons whom security thought are threats. Guards failed to explain why the two persons carrying letters, from farmers to the President, were considered threats.

While AHRC staffers were inside, farmers, including nine on hunger strike, and others joined the daily run from Task Force Mapalad to Ugnayan ng Mga Nagsasariling Lokal na Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA). Once outside the palace's gate, the group held a small demonstration where they waited until the letter was officially received.

The PSG, in refusing to let Fr. Robert and Danilo enter the palace's records office, instructed one of the palace staff members to come to receive the letter instead at the makeshift tent beside a roadside—which Fr. Robert Reyes refused to do. Had Secretary Silvestre Bello, one of the president's Cabinet secretary, not intervened by accompanying Fr. Robert to the palace’s record section, the receipt of the letter would have not been officially recorded, as in previous experiences have occurred.

"Umaasa kami sa inyong pang-unawa at matatag na paninindigan sa pagtupad sa inyong pangako. Kung mamarapatin ninyo ay maari po ba namin kayong makadayalogo o makausap (We are hoping for your understanding and strong conviction that you would fulfill what you have promised [to us]. If you will, we are seeking for a dialogue with you)”, the farmers wrote in their letter to the President.

Afterward Secretary Bello held a short discussion with the farmers about their grievance from outside the palace's gates, and promised he would arrange a dialogue between them and President Arroyo. During the conversation Secretary Bello urged the farmers to consider lifting their hunger strike, but the farmers would not until their needs were met.

After coming out from the palace, Fr. Robert was joined by farmers for a short run from the palace's gate towards the nearby San Sebastian Church where they offered prayer outside the church.

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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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