Anakpawis urges support for Bukidnon farmers fighting for land rights over CMU lands for 30 years

BTL farmers' protest at the DAR regional office in Cagayan De Oro City. Photo by BTL.BTL farmers' protest at the DAR regional office in Cagayan De Oro City. Photo by BTL.

Manila, Philippines – Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao urged the public to support the 100-farmer contingent from Bukidnon who were fighting for their rights to a 517-hectare land covered by the Central Mindanao University (CMU) for more than 30 years. Farmers who are members of Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus (BTL) group marched and travelled from Maramag town, Bukidnon to Cagayan de Oro City, before arriving in Manila yesterday to set up camp in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City.

“They are living witnesses that past agrarian reform programs or laws failed the Filipino farmers, hence, they are intensifying their actions by directly travelling and camping out at the DAR office,” Casilao said in a statement.

The farmers’ plight began in 1958, when former President Carlos Garcia granted CMU with a 3,401-hectare educational reserve through Presidential Proclamation No. 476. In 1975, CMU implemented a rice project with the Philippine Packing Corporation, which was a failure. Subsequently, more than 1,200 farmers organized as Bukidnon Free Farmers Association and Laborers Organization (Buffalo). In 1989, the DAR adjudication board approved the distribution of 400-hectare land, thus, other farmers were encouraged and formed the groups Tried Agricultural Movers Association of Rural Active Workers (Tamaraw) and the Landless Tillers Inhabitants of Musuan (Limus). But the CMU administration opposed the coverage that in 1992, the Supreme Court ordered the cancellation of the farmers’ certificate of land ownership awards (cloas), basically because the Republic Act No. 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) exempted educational reserve lands for distribution.

Though with cloas cancelled, they stood firm on their farms, and clinched a lease agreement with the CMU and required relocation for their displacement. Until 2007, when the agreement was supposed to expire, farmers could not be relocated, thus, their staunch opposition against their displacement. After a decade of united struggle against harassment by CMU, they are pressing the Duterte administration and DAR to uphold their rights and sincerely fulfill agrarian reform at their lands. They are part of the tens of thousand-mass action of the peasant sector in the country to mark the 45th anniversary of the Presidential Decree 27 or the land reform program of the Marcos dictatorship this October 21.

“The case of BTL farmers has exposed the bankruptcy of CARP, for its loopholes, but with their united struggle to press this administration to exhibit political will for the welfare of the marginalized sectors, they action is more political than legal,” Casilao said.

Casilao is the primary author of the House Bill No. 555 Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill at the lower house, that basically proposes free distribution of land to farmers and covers all agricultural lands in the country. The lawmaker said that it is being “dribbled” at the Committee on Agrarian Reform, though, there is no existing program under the Duterte administration.

“The absence of an agrarian reform program under an administration is the clear declaration of its neglect and callousness to millions of landless farmers in the country. Without it, farmers only have the option to hold tens of thousand-strong rallies or more vividly, to join the armed struggle in the countryside, therefore, it is the government who are actually recruiting members of the New People’s Army or NPA,” the lawmaker said. ###