The ideal situation for any sector in any community is to be united in campaigns, calls for action, and even in planning up to implementation.
However, in same cases, members have differences in intents and ideologies, leading to infighting and counterproductive or even hostile actions from one group to the other. Saddening as this might be, this is the reality of some of the farmers in the country.
In Negros Occidental, for example, farmers from Panihugsa sang mga Obreros sa Barangay Jonobjonob (POBJ) in Escalante City continuously challenge the legitimacy of the Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs) issued to farmers from Don Esteban Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association (DEARBA).
A report from the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC) detailed the issue between the groups:
Conflicts within the landholding have arisen because of conflicting beliefs and differences in ideologies among farmers. Four farmers associations have been formed in the Bongco landholding: DEARBA, Hacienda Leonor Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Farmers Association (HALARBFA), Hacienda Bongco Farmers Association (HABFA), and the Panihugsa sang mga Obreros sa Barangay Jonobjonob (POBJ). The first three mentioned organizations are allies, operating with mutual respect for and mutual assistance of one another. POBJ members on the other hand, not only question the legitimacy of the CLOAs issued to farmers from other organizations, but also disrupt agricultural activities on the former’s lands.
POBJ is a subgroup of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), a broad-based organization of farmers associated with the radical left. According to DEARCO Chairperson Felix Bucaling, Jr., some members of DEARBA are formerly associated with the NFSW. They however decided to break away from the group to establish their own organization because of fundamental differences in beliefs.
[Mr. Bucaling] maintains that they do not see POBJ or NFSW members as enemies, for the rival groups are composed of farmers like themselves. However, while DEARBA members are willing to undergo the legal process of owning lands, their rival groups see the present agrarian reform program as ineffective and futile, and thus opt to forcefully (and illegally) seize landholdings instead.
DEARBA was established through the help of Task Force Mapalad (TFM) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Around that time as well, combined efforts of the farmers, TFM, and DAR also resulted to the creation of HABFA.
In 2013, 53.0533 hectares of sugar land were awarded to members of DEARBA through Certificates of Land Ownership Awards (CLOAs). However, the same documents lacked required number of signatures from the Registry of Deeds, rendering it void and toothless.
Farmers from the Panihugsa sang mga Obreros sa Barangay Jonobjonob (POBJ) and National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) seem to take advantage of the other groups’ misfortunes through hijacking their lands, the report showed:
As the rest of the farmland later became arable, POBJ seized the opportunity to plant their own sugarcanes on their claimed land. As if Mother Nature exacted due karma, drought later withered all crops planted by the rival group. The sugarcanes which DEARBA later planted to replace the withered crops then yielded abundant dividends amounting to PhP 4,000.00 per member.
POBJ and NFSW had however continued to employ various tactics to block DEARBA members’ access to their land. In several instances, NFSW/POBJ had also uprooted crops planted by DEARBA. On Feb. 15, 2017, members of DEARBA found rival farmers plowing some of their plots using a rented tractor from the city government. This was immediately halted after Felix filed a police report against one of POBJ’s leaders on the same day.
In June of the same year, POBJ had once again planted crops on their claimed parcels, only a few days after DEARBA members had plowed and prepared the land. DEARBA implored the assistance of the local police force in reclaiming their land. They were eventually denied by a certain Capt. Tagumira who asserted that they could only assist DEARBA upon the orders of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Office (MARO). Frustrated but in no way disheartened, DEARBA members proceeded to uproot and chop down bananas planted by POBJ, replacing them with corn and sugarcane crops as they go. Felix shares, “we needed to be brave, to implant hope in each member.
Members of the DEARBA group, however, are very open and are initiating peaceful negotiations with POBJ to co-exist and continue their farming in the areas.
For one, the alliance formed between DEARBA and KAISAHAN led to the expansion of the farmers’ operational CLOA-covered land. The group started with 3 hectares of operational land, which rose to 7, then to 13.5, and finally to 51 hectares, according to the ANGOC report.
The report also mentioned that a series of negotiations had also been participated in by representatives from both sides. There had been several occurrences wherein peaceful discussions led to DEARBA allowing POBJ/NFSW members to temporarily cultivate and harvest crops on contested land. – RealTalk, January 2018
Note: This story is created under RealTalk’s agriculture and environment desk with support from the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (http://angoc.org/) and Joint Action for Land Rights (https://www.facebook.com/JointActionforLandRights/). You may check out their social media accounts at https://www.facebook.com/AsianNGOCoalition/ and https://twitter.com/ANGOCorg.