DAR: Luisita farmers in their land by May

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is confident it will finish installing Hacienda Luisita farmer-beneficiaries in their land "in the next few weeks."

In a press statement issued on Wednesday, April 9, the agency said it is finishing up the monumenting of farm lots – the process of installing boundary markers or mujon to delineate lots to be awarded to the more than 6,000 qualified beneficiaries. 

As of April 7, 86% or 5,947 farmlots have already been monumented, and of this number,  65% or 4,478 already have beneficiaries installed, meaning they are now living on or making use of the land.

The DAR says they can meet their goal to install all 6,212 beneficiaries in their land by May "unless outside forces obstruct its activities."

Harrassment?

Just last April 3, 5 farmers from the nearby village of Malapacsiao were arrested for allegedly harrassing a survey team hired by the DAR to plot out land for beneficiaries.

The team was hired by the DAR to speed up the monumenting and installation of beneficiaries.

They were charged with violating section 73 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law which condemns the malicious and willful prevention by any person, association or entity in the implementation of CARPER. 

The 5 were members of farmer alliance group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

According to UMA press officer Gi Estrada, the 5 farmers only wanted to ask FF Cruz, the surveying company hired by DAR to plot out lands, what they were doing in that part of the estate. The 5 were not violent, Estrada said.

They were eventually released but may still face charges to be filed by the DAR. The group said they plan to file counter charges against Police Superintendent Felix Bervo of the Macabulos police station "for unlawful arrest and arbitrary detention" of their members.

The harrassment of the survey teams is tantamount to obstructing agrarian reform which could lead to 6 to 12 years of imprisonment.

“Everytime such incidents occur, it is the beneficiaries who are affected because they have to wait some more in order to get installed in their allocated lots,” said DAR Undersecretary for Legal Affairs Anthony Paruñgao. 

Social support services for farmers

Aside from the physical installation of farmers in their land, the DAR says it is helping farmers tap social support services and livelihood programs, a CARPER requirement.

The agency is encouraging and helping farmers organize themselves into groups since this would make it easier for the DAR to channel support services and other government resources.

"We are helping them to organize themselves so that they are able to better organize farm production and marketing of their produce," said Paruñgao.

The DAR also encourages the voluntary physical grouping of contiguous lots to make the deployment of farming machinery like tractors much more efficient.

Farmer activist alliances have long accused DAR of preventing farmers from grouping their lands together with those in their organization or family, allegedly to create rifts between farmers and prevent them from making a united front.

The continuous awarding of land to farmers was instigated by a landmark Supreme Court decision in April 2013 ordering the distribution of some 4,000 hectares of the 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita to farmers.

The hacienda, a vast sugar estate owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III, had successfully dodged agrarian reform until the decision.

In October last year, the DAR distributed land titles to the 5,800 qualified beneficiaries. Yet some farmer groups still believe the DAR's land distribution is a hoax and that the agency is protecting the interests of the president's family, the powerful Cojuangco clan.

Farmer groups also accuse the DAR and Cojuangco-owned Tarlac Development Corp (TADECO) of violently displacing farmers who have lived in the estate for years. The DAR maintains there is no illegal conversion of land in the estate. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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