ORMOC CITY — Farmer Pablo Silva began his day last March 28 brimming with hope. He and his fellow agrarian reform beneficiaries were about to harvest their first sugarcane as landowners since they were awarded their 35.56 hectare land 20 years ago under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
But at the end of the day, no harvest took place.
Their former landowners, the Potenciano and Aniceta Larrazabal Enterprise Corporation (PALEC), stopped the 23 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) from harvesting sugarcane from the 35.56 hectares in Barangay Sumangga, Ormoc City yesterday.
PALEC Board member Geraldine Larrazabal arrived at the area minutes before the harvest for an on-the-spot dialogue with the officials of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to postpone the activity as per instruction of the corporation’s board of directors.
DAR and PNP officials speak with Timoteo Lagahit, group leader of the PALEC farmworkers who mobilized in the area on Tuesday morning.
PALEC was the previous owner of the CARP-covered land and the previous employer of the ARBs. The corporation planted the existing sugarcane one month before the formal installation of farmers last June 2016. They have been continuously using the land for large-scale sugarcane farming, even though the certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) over the area was distributed among the ARBs 20 years ago.
According to Larrazabal, the Board is requesting for a court order before the corporation allow the ARBs to proceed with the harvest. DAR insisted that a court order is unnecessary since the activity is part of the implementation of the agrarian reform law, and that the land legitimately belongs to the beneficiaries.
Silva, one of the CLOA holders and leader of the Sumangga Farmers Association (SUFA), insisted that they should proceed with the harvest since they already waited for 20 years to have a control over their awarded land.
Larrazabal then proposed to postpone the harvest until April 4, so that the other PALEC board members can sit down for another dialogue with the ARBs and DAR to further discuss the issue.
The ARBs were furious and frustrated.“Nag-request ng dialogue yung PALEC para mapag-usapan itong mga nakatanim na tubo. Gusto nila na sila ang mag-harvest kasi sila daw ang nagtanim. Pero beinte taon na nilang pinapakinabangan ang lupa na matagal nang inaward sa amin. Sila nga ang dapat magbayad ng upa sa amin,”Silva asserted.
(“PALEC requested for a dialogue to we could settle the issue on the existing sugarcane. They wanted to harvest the crops since they planted it in the first place. But they have been using our land for their own benefit for 20 years since it was awarded to us. They should be paying us their rent,” Silva asserted.)
Atty. Sheila Enciso, DAR Region 8 Director breaks the news to the ARBs that the scheduled harvest is postponed.
Atty. Shiela Enciso, DAR Region 8 Director, and Renato Badilla, Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer II, then explained to the farmers the possible security risks if the team proceeds with the activity. The DAR officials said that violence might erupt with the arrival of some 300 PALEC farmworkers in the area.
With a heavy heart, the ARBs signed a resolution and reluctantly agreed to wait for another week just to come up with a resolution and to avoid further conflict.
In the resolution, it was settled that no harvesting activity shall commence before April 4, 2017, until the issue is settled between the ARBs and PALEC.
Present in the area for the harvest were DAR officials, 170 officers from the Philippine National Police (PNP), and around 20 representatives from other line agencies such as the Bureau of Fire Protection, City Health Office, and City Social Welfare and Development Office. DAR requested the agencies to provide assistance for the activity to ensure a peaceful harvest.
PNP City Director PSSUPT Ramil Ramirez speaks with the agrarian reform beneficiaries and the farmworkers of PALEC.
Existing sugarcane: who owns it?
According to Atty. Rolly Peoro, legal officer of KAISAHAN, an NGO assisting the ARBs, the existing sugarcane already belongs to the CLOA holders since the crops were planted by PALEC in bad faith.
“The DAR rules are clear:crops that were introduced from the time of or after the former landowners receipt of the notice/advice that the landholding/s has/have already been effectively acquired by the state as evidenced by Certificate of Deposit (COD) shall be considered as planting or sowings done in bad faith by the former land owner.The former land owner/agent loses what is built, planted, or sown without right of indemnity. The crops shall automatically redound to the benefit of the CLOA holders,”explained Atty. Peoro, quoting the rules of the DAR.
Despite these rules, PALEC was still given a chance to negotiate the ownership of the existing crops with the ARBs.
PNP’s drone hovers over the 35-hectare sugarcane field in preparation for the harvest.
The one-month long harvest was scheduled to begin on March 28, as decided by DAR, PNP, and the ARBs, after a series of DAR-facilitated dialogue with the representatives from PALEC which started last December.
The counter-proposal of the ARBs is for them to harvest the sugar cane and give it to PALEC. They also proposed that PALEC should pay them a labor fee of 70 pesos per day, the regular rate for PALEC farmworkers, for harvesting the existing crops. The ARBs insisted that no other person shall enter their lots aside from them, their families, and the members of SUFA, showing their authority as landowners.
However, the representatives of PALEC during the previous dialogues always say that they cannot decide for PALEC’s Board. With that, no clear resolution over the existing crops was made by both parties despite the number of meetings held. DAR then decided to proceed with what the agrarian reform law dictates—to let the ARBs harvest the existing crops, since the area is already owned by the CLOA-holders since the title’s issuance.
DAR’s decision was changed, though, on the day of the harvest due to the last-minute appeal of PALEC.
Silva expressed his frustration on the turn of events. “Mahalaga ang anihang ito para sa amin dahil sa wakas natapos na rin sana ang 20 taon namin na paghihirap. Pero hanggang ngayon hinaharang pa rin nila,” cried Silva.
(“This harvest season is very important for us since this marks the end of our 20-year struggle. But they keep on blocking us to use our land,” cried Silva.)
The ARBs demand DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano to issue orders for DAR field officials to proceed with the harvest. They believe that the law will prevail and that, soon, they will be tilling the land they rightfully own.