NOTE: This is an archived story originally published on UPLB Perspective Editorial Vol 45 Issue 1, on September – October 2018.
For agrarian reform and genuine development to thrive; the state must commit to the providing security and welfare to farmers and redistribute the powers and resources of the landed elite to the landless and powerless – to truly fulfill its promise and mandate of being a state of the people, by the people and for the people.
In Negros, sugar is sweet but those who toil and harvest sugar lands are deprived of the sweet life and starved of economic power.
While there might have been success stories of agrarian reform beneficiaries under the reform programs in Negros; they remain to be overshadowed by accounts of harassment, intimidation, abuse and deaths because of political struggles and land disputes among landowners, private armies, paramilitary groups and rebel groups. Innocent civilians like farmers continue to be pawns to political interests.
Nine farmers conducting bungkalan (cultivation of undistributed land by farmers), in preparation for tiempo muerto (a season of no work for farmers because of no harvest), were brutally massacred in Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. Investigations from multiple parties have been launched yet their conclusions appear as unfounded accusations; instead having the intention to bring justice to victims, investigations have been used for political gain.
Agrarian Reforms should not end at policy-making, funding agencies, data-gathering and awareness programs rather a humane and just state should commit itself to mobilizing all its institutions, resources and manpower to aid, protect and support farmers.
Our state is dominated by landed elites — their money and their interests. The EDSA I revolution ousted Marcos, but it did not oust the hacienderos, armed groups and political actors that continue to wreak havoc, hold rural areas hostage and use farmers as pawns and baits since the Martial Law era.
The landed elite in Negros have finances, police power, armed groups and courts at their disposal to reverse and nullify land titles of farmers and to reverse orders from the national government to redistribute lands to farmers. While the Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon and Sagay City Mayor Alfredo Maranon III demanded justice, provided ransom and ordered investigations — the local government positions have been occupied by landed elites and their scions. How then can a genuine agrarian reform usher in an area controlled by the landed elite?
Independent international human rights groups like International Peace Observers Network (IPON) observed rampant authoritarian enclaves ruled by landed elites in rural areas use local state institutions and take advantage of a weak national government to suppress locals. The national government has allowed this social condition to persist through neglect and turning a blind eye.
While some might claim that bungkalan is trespassing of land — killing the farmers is overboard and excessive.
Agrarian reform groups such as Task Force Mapalad and the National Federation of Sugar Workers have been red-tagged (e.g. allegations of NPA membership because of a person’s strong opposition to the Philippine state) because they initiated bungkalan, protested for their concerns to the Department of Agrarian Reform, criticized the current administration, and heavily opposed the landed elites of Negros.
Red-tagging and the filing of multiple lawsuits of robbery, trespassing and murder have been used by landowners to diminish the credibility and claim of farmers over disputed lands. Red-tagging has also been used by government institutions to arrest farmers without due process and to discredit their claims of police and military violence in farmlands.
Farming communities and civilians have also been displaced by the ongoing conflict between different political actors in the countryside – many have been forced to give up their land because their safety and security have been compromised by the presence of armed groups in the area and by the continuous crossfire that disrupted their communities that were once peaceful. Farming communities and civilians from the rural areas are forced to migrate to other towns or to the city.
Up to this day, human rights cases related to agrarian reform remain unsolved and inconclusive because of local elites constantly paralyze state institutions in provinces like Negros. Other political actors have constantly fomented violence amongst actors, confusion in investigations, and chaos in communal relationships. The use of paramilitary groups by landed elites and the participation of armed groups in land disputes complicate the issue by increasing violence that has put the lives of farmers and civilians at risk and has delayed agrarian reform.
This publication stands for Genuine Agrarian Reform and a politics that is truly-representative and progressive espousing the interests of farmers and marginalized sectors. The government should immediately distribute land to farmers and should give uncompromising and steadfast commitment to supporting farmers.
Red-tagging of farmers; and the military, paramilitary forces and other armed groups in rural areas should withdraw – human rights violations delay and deprive agrarian reform. To complement agrarian reform activities, the state should mobilize all state institutions to protect farmers and workers from abusive and exploitative landed elites.
Agrarian reform cannot be genuinely actualized under a state that is polluted with elitist interests, monopolized by elites and disrupted by self-interested political actors; a new nature of politics that prioritizes the marginalized sectors need to be realized. A state should not neglect its responsibility to investigate and resolve cases involving farmers. A state should embrace its mandate to protect the lives of civilians and farmers in rural areas against powerful and violent political and armed groups.
It is time that Negros and the rest of the Philippines starve the haciendero class of power or else their entrenchment and hold on Philippine society will starve all of us to death.[P]