All they need is land
The passage of time and naked exposure to the often harsh elements have caused the tarpaulin at the makeshift gate fronting the piece of farm property in the remote village of Mimbuahan in Sucbongcogon, Misamis Oriental to fade and fray at the edges.
But to the members of the Tinamay ARB Association and their families, the tarpaulin that reads “farmers installed 2015” is a source of immense pride.
To these agrarian reform beneficiaries, it reads clearly and boldly tells the world that they can finally call themselves owners of the roughly 13-hectare property that they have been tilling for years.
This was made possible through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) that was designed and funded to help farmers across the country own the land they are tilling as part of the overall social justice program.
And since Tinamay beneficiaries have assumed ownership of the land in 2015 through their certificate of land ownership award (CLOA), the economic benefits are already being felt, from the spike in their income from a high of just P15,000 a year to at least P9,000 per harvest of coconuts, to the development of alternative sources of income such as livestock raising and hollow block making.
But still, peace is fragile in the barangay about 50 kilometers south of Cagayan de Oro City.
For while the eight members of the six-year-old Tinamay ARB Association have been able to gain access to the land planted mainly to coconut, the legitimacy of their claim continues to be challenged by the previous owner, Anacleto Ranises Trading and Realty Corp.
They used to work on the company’s land as seasonal farmworkers, earning around P60 a day for harvesting 500 coconuts.
If they are lucky, they earn P15,000 a year from the four times that coconut is harvested.
Mario Sapa, president of the association and its only paralegal, tells the Inquirer in Bisaya that threats, harassment and forcible entry into their territory are a constant in their lives, thus they remain vigilant and jealously guard their hard-earned territory.
Fortunately, it has gained allies such as the barangay leaders and nongovernment organizations such as Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw Inc. (Balaod Mindanaw), which has helped it secure its legal claim over the property that was covered by the Department of Agrarian Reform under CARP in 1991.
A long legal battle since ensued with the Ranises company filing claims and counterclaims against the agrarian reform beneficiaries.
In 1998, the DAR issued the CLOA in favor of Emedio Pila and seven other farmer-beneficiaries but in 2005, the former landowner filed a case seeking the nullity of the CLOA, on grounds that the supposed true owner of the land was not properly notified of the CARP coverage and no just compensation was made, thus, the whole proceeding, including the issued CLOA, was null and void.
The farmers were scheduled to take over the property in 2005, but then a decision was issued by a DAR provincial adjudicator, ordering the cancellation of the CLOA.
The farmers, however, would not be denied. And thus with the help of partners such as Balaod, it was able to file a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals (CA).
These efforts bore fruit as in 2012, the appeals court ruled in favor of the farmer-beneficiaries.
The CA reversed and nullified previous rulings of the provincial adjudicator.
What’s more, it upheld and reinstated the CLOA issued in favor of the farmer-beneficiaries.
The battle is not yet over, however, as the former landowner has elevated the case to the Supreme Court, where the case remains pending.
Despite these legal impediments, DAR fortunately went ahead and formally installed the Tinamay farmers on the land awarded to them on Nov. 25, 2015 and life has turned for the better for the families.
They may still be counted among the 25 percent of Filipinos living below the poverty line, but they face each day with enthusiasm and hope for a better life for their families.
They are spurred to plant more and make their land more productive than ever, such that they can now eat three full meals a day and even splurge on occasion. Their children are busy with their studies and their homes are made of sturdier materials.
“We used to just eat root crops when we did not have enough money. Now, we can even buy lechon manok (roasted whole chicken) during birthdays, fiestas (feast days of patron saints), Christmas and New Year’s Day. We can even afford to hire a videoke machine on occasion,” says Sapa.
Adds 53-year-old Bernardo Simene, “Now that we have our own land, we can plant whatever and whenever we want. It was not like before when sometimes, what we planted ourselves were taken from us.”
These days will find the farmers tending to their crops as a community, paying themselves the daily rate of P120 a day for 1,000 nuts.
They even help out neighboring landless farmers by hiring them during the harvest season.
According to the farmers, they now have peace of mind.
They can now dream and plan. Aside from coconut, the farmers plan to plant bananas, cacao, ginger, fruit trees particularly lanzones, and corn on fallow parts of their land.
The Tinamay farmers are also in the process of strengthening their organization. They have just completed their vision and mission setting workshop and have applied for registration with the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), to access support services and financial assistance from the government.
The Tinamay farmers are helped in part through the Joint Action for Land Rights, a project jointly implemented by the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Angoc), Balaod Mindanaw, Solidarity Towards Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (Kaisahan Inc.), and People In Need (PIN).
JALR contributes to the work of civil society organizations, including human rights organizations, working with vulnerable and socially excluded groups with particular focus on supporting the empowerment of farmers and indigenous peoples to claim their rights, including protecting the rights of human rights defenders.
The project is supported by the European Union’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EU-EIDHR).
Bernabe Felizarta, one of the members of the Tinamay ARB, looks at the land through new eyes, and he sometimes can’t believe how far he and his fellow farmers have come despite their lack of education, influence and power.
He can still recall the fear that constantly gripped them as they fought for years in the courts for their land, and how they managed to overcome, driven by their desire to have land they can call their own.
Felizarta encourages his fellow farmers to likewise take up the fight for their economic rights.
“You just need to sacrifice and persevere despite the challenges. We were constantly in fear, but when you’re fighting for principle, the fear fades away, and what remains is courage,” he says.
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