As the pandemic marches on in the month of Peasants’ and Indigenous Peoples’, Lupang Aguinaldo farmers continue their plight in defending their homes and farmlands from land-grabbers.
Samahan ng mga Magsasaka ng Tartarya (SAMATA) peasant leader “Nora,” who personally asked to be kept anonymous in the story, shared the recent experiences of farmers of Lupang Aguinaldo, also known as Brgy. Tartaria in Silang, Cavite.
“Sa kasalakuyan ay talagang ramdam na ramdam yung krisis dahil sinabayan pa ng pandemyang ito [ang pananangkam ng lupa],” she said, explaining that pandemic policies hinder their rights to mobilize without being arrested, and that residents are starving from an insufficient supply of relief goods. Some farmers even had no choice but to sell their land in order to survive.
Despite this, the farmers and the members of SAMATA carried-out Black Friday protests, with the peasant group establishing a protest camp with their calls written in placards.
“Sa kasalakuyan, nakatayo ang aming protest camp dito sa tabing kalsada tapos may mga nakalagay na mga panawagan mga streamer. Tapos ngayong buwan ng Oktubre, naglulunsad kami tuming biyernes ng Black Friday protest,” explained Nora, noting instances when “local agents” would ask the farmers to surrender.
The Aguinaldos’ claim to land
Ownership of the land in Brgy. Tartaria has been claimed by the supposed family of a certain “Heneral Emilio Aguinaldo” — currently represented by Emilio “Orange” Aguinaldo IV. In the same decade when the land grabbing incidents started, specifically in 1978, SAMATA was founded to unite the farmers of Tartaria in their battle for their right to land.
“Sila yung nagka-claim na sila raw yung may ari. Tapos sa kasalakuyan, ito ay pinangungunahan ni Emilio “Orange” Aguinaldo IV, yung asawa ni Bernadette Sambrano mula sa Channel 2. Siya yung may SPA [special power of attorney] doon sa walong magkakapatid sa angkan ng mga Aguinaldo,” Nora claimed.
According to her documents, around 300 hectares of land have been subject to land grabbing. Of the 300 hectares, 200 hectares were currently being claimed by the Aguinaldo family, while 60 hectares had allegedly already been given to the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). A sizable portion of land has also already been allocated to the Tagaytay-Balibago road, leaving very little land left to the farmers.
The Aguinaldo family claims that they are holding a title to the land they are claiming. However, according to Nora, to date, they have never been able to produce a title to show to the farmers.
They have told the farmers that they plan to turn over the land they claim to the Ayala Group. However, they have not revealed the fate of the land once in the hands of the Ayala Group.
“Noong magkaroon kami ng pulong dito sa simbahan noong 2017, walang binanggit ang [mga] Aguinaldo. Ang banggit nila ay bahala na raw yung bibibli ng lupa kung ano ang balak nilang plano gawin sa lupa. Tapos hindi nila binabanggit kung kanino nila ibebenta yung lupa,” she explained.
Land-grabbing through coercion
The Aguinaldo family and their alleged co-conspirators have been said to be attempting to seize land from the farmers. Those who stood against the land grabbing reportedly faced charges.
According to Nora, they see the attempts at surveying the area as part of the Aguinaldo family’s alleged attempt to procure a title for the land they are claiming. They also have been filing criminal cases against the farmers who get in the way of the surveyors hired by the family.
“Totoong kwento na natatakot ang mga magsasaka nagaalala doon sa pagharap sa kaso dahil unang una yung kawalang ng kaalaman. Kaming mga henerasyon ngayon, ngayon lang kami kasi nakaranas ng ganito, yung kakasuhan ka ay lalo na dumaan sa amin na hindi namin alam,” Nora discussed.
At least 11 farmers have had “grave coercion” cases filed against them. Out of those 11, three farmers still have ongoing cases. The Aguinaldos have also filed “ejectment” against the farmers. However, the farmers won against the trumped-up charges.
She recalled an instance when an attorney that they initially sought their help allegedly betrayed them by claiming that the farmers did commit crimes, before having paralegal experts aid them on what to do.
“Ang nasabakan naming attorney ay bentador, sa pangunguna ni ‘Attorney Analyn Dolor.’ [Siya] pala ay abogado ng Ayala, kaya yung labing-isa  na magsasaka naharap sa kasong kriminal mali ang mga pangalan, pero ang ginawa ng abogadong ito ay itinama pa yung mga pangalan. Ang lahat ng yun humarap talaga sa korte at nag piyansa kami ng nasa parang P104 thousand ang piyansa,” Nora said.
Having now lost their case, the Aguinaldos then filed “recovery of possession with damages” against at least 30 farmers. Experiencing great difficulty in coming up with the necessary requirements for legal proceedings such as fees, documents, and in finding lawyers to fight their cases, some of those 30 farmers have surrendered. The farmers were urged by the conditions to give up their farmland and homes.
“Ngayon ang banggit sa kanya ay i-surrender na ang lupa niya. Pag pinadalhan ka ng kaso na recovery of possesion with damages, may kasama na yun doon na compromise agreement, yun din ang laman ng amicable settlement na pipirmahan mo sa pagsusurrender mo ng lupa,” Nora explained.
Additionally, Nora claimed that the government units of the Municipality of Silang and Brgy Tartaria do not support the farmers in their battle. She alleged that the current mayor of Silang, Socorro Rosario Poblete was involved with the land grabbers while the current Brgy. Captain of Tartaria, Wilfredo Maala has enabled the Aguinaldos to access and enter the land.
Beginning in 2016, Maala supposedly enabled Orange Aguinaldo and the surveyors hired by him to enter the land. Maala replaced pro-peasant Alfredo Sarmiento as barangay captain and has been attempting to convince farmers to negotiate with the Aguinaldos ever since.
Furthermore, since the pandemic began in the country, the farmers have so far received relief goods from the local government on only four occasions.
Genuine agrarian reform now
Approaching the end of the interview, Nora begged the question on the state of farmers if the area is taken from them then developed.
“Ngayon, kung ang lupang ito ay patuloy na kakamkamin at iko-convert nila o gagawing sementado na para tayuan ng mga establishimento na para sa ikagagaling o ikauunlad di umano ng ating sambayanan, paano na mangyayari sa mga magsasaka kung patuloy itong mawawala ng lupang sinasaka?” she said.
Nora and the rest of the farmers then called for genuine land reforms.
“Kami ay nananawagan sa lahat ng kinauukulan na sana ay magkaroon ng tunay na pagpapatupad ng reporma sa lupa kasi kaming mga magsasaka ang gumagampan ng pinakamahalagang tungkulan sa lipunan,” Nora proceeded.
She also hoped for support from students who could witness their hardships and learn from them.“At nananawagan kami sa lahat ng pwedeng sumoporta sa amin lalo na sa mga estudyante na sana ay makabisita sila sa aming lugar para makita nila yung aming kalagayan at makatulong sila sa pagpapalaganap sa sitwasyon sa aming lugar,” Nora concluded. [P]
Photo from Kaye-Anne Carungay