“Pangulong Aquino, nasaan ang pangako mo? Buwan ng Pebrero HB 4296 ipasa mo. Bakit nang siningil namin ito, bumbero at tear gas binigay mo sa harap ng Kongreso? Pangulong Aquino, hustisya kailangan namin dito. Kapwa magsasaka umaasa sa tulong mo. Bakit ‘di namin nakamtan at pinagkait sa amin? Pangulong Aquino, nasaan ang pangako mo?”
These were words sung by Velmor Segura, a farmer affiliated with Task Force Mapalad (TFM) last June 6, when Lasallian volunteers had a solidarity visit with the federation of farmers and individuals fighting for agrarian reform at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City.
Segura (leftmost, second row) has long been an advocate of CARPER and an active member of Task Force Mapalad.
The song alludes to an incident that occurred on May 26, when the farmers rallied in front of the House of Representatives. The farmers were allegedly met with policemen who used water cannons and teargas in dispersing them, recounted Segura. Already 66 years old, Vargas, a TFM leader, was one of the oldest individuals present during the gathering.
One of Segura’s companions is Dorita Vargas, fondly referred to among the farmers as Nanay Dorita. Like Segura, she has been fighting for her own parcel of land in Negros Occidental.
At 76 years of age, Nanay Dorita is the eldest among the members of Task Force Mapalad present at the Department of Agriculture.
Segura and Nanay Dorita are just two of more than fifty farmers who camped out in front of DAR beginning May 25 in the pursuit of the passage of House Bills (HB) 4296 and 4375, twin bills that call for the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
The unrelenting fight for CARPER
“Mga walong taon na po ang karanasan ko sa pakikibaka dito at hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin po ako nagkakalupa,” lamented Segura. He recounted that in his many years of fighting for land and the CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPER) law, he had been involved in a march from Batangas to Manila and took part in a hunger strike in 2012.
“Hindi naman namin gustong maging mayaman,” Segura argued. “Ang gusto namin ay magkaroon ng kaunting kabuhayan para sa kinabukasan ng aming mga anak at magkaroon ng bahay na [hindi mapapabunot muli o ide–demolish],” he spoke, echoing the sentiments of the other farmers coming from various parts of the country.
With most of the lobbyists hailing from Visayas and Mindanao, the farmers had to shell out anywhere from P7,000 to P10,000 each in order to travel to Quezon City, where they set up makeshift tents that served as their living quarters in front of the DAR compound in Diliman. Most of them are landless farmers who have long-established issues with their respective landowners and implementation of CARP.
The farmers are part of Sulong CARPER, a national multi-sectoral alliance comprised of farmers and religious groups such as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines – National Secretariat for Social Action (CBCP-NASSA). The movement lobbied for the passage of HB 4296 and 4375 into law in front of the DAR central office until June 10, the 27th anniversary of the agrarian reform program.
HB 4296 works towards renewing the authority of DAR in issuing notices of coverage to lands not yet placed under CARP. On the other hand, HB 4375 calls for the creation of an independent body to review the implementation of CARP and to investigate violations and circumventions against the CARP law. Reportedly, the passage of the twin bills will help over 1 million farmers rise from poverty.
Power politics at play
Vargas spoke of her personal experiences with former landlords in Negros. “Masama ang nangyari sa amin doon sa Negros,” she admitted, citing that her involvement with the strong CARPER movement has resulted in her losing her job and her house being demolished twice.
“Sana matuwid na ang daan. Pero paano [maitutuwid] ang daan kung nasa gobyerno ang mga corrupt na pulitiko?” she questioned, referring to several lawmakers from the Visayas who have expressed strong opposition against passage of the CARPER law. The wealthy lawmakers forming the Visayan bloc who are known to be landowners in the region have recently moved to modify the bills by proposing “nine killer amendments” that will water down provisions of the twin bills, reported the landless farmers.
“Ang mayayaman may baril, may pera, at may mga tauhan. Ito ang ginagamit nila laban sa amin,” Vargas spoke. Despite her old age and frail state, she joined the other farmers of TFM in lobbying for the passage of the bills. Like the rest of the “lakbayan” farmers clamoring for CARPER, Vargas is hopeful that their voices will be heard by President Benigno Aquino III.
Despite being declared urgent by President Aquino in June 2014, the House of Representatives has yet to pass either of the twin bills. Meanwhile, the Senate, after passing its own version of HB 4296 in September 2014, is currently working on HB 4375, which is currently pending at the committee level.
Lasallian involvement, engagement
The Center for Social Concern and Action (COSCA) brought 14 student volunteers under its Lasallian Outreach Volunteer and Effort (LOVE) program to visit the landless farmers and bring food donations in a simple program held last June 6. During the program, the volunteers were able to interact with the farmers.
“COSCA is doing this initiative to bring the volunteers and connect them with the farmers from different parts of the country,” shared COSCA Program Manager John Lingatong Jr. He continued, “[We want these students] to understand the underlying issues of agrarian reform. Primarily, we are here to understand why there is a need for us to support the extension of the comprehensive agrarian reform law.”
Lingatong explained that since the plight of the landless farmers has been a longstanding issue, it is “important for students to articulate the sectoral issue to the academic community.” He described that one of the duties of student volunteers is to be conscious of relevant social issues and relate them to the rest of the academic community.
Convenor for COSCA-LOVE Danika Madulid was among the volunteers present during the event, where she was invited to speak on behalf of the students. “Sobrang hinahangaan ko po kayo at ang dedikasyon niyo. Sa mga pinagdadaanan niyo, ang mga sitwasyon na hinaharap niyo, patuloy pa rin po kayong lumalaban para sa mga karapatan niyo,” she expressed, speaking in front of the landless farmers. “Nandito po kami ngayon, at kami ay sumusuporta sa mga adhikain niyo. Susubukan po namin sa aming makakakaya na ibahagi ang mga kwento niyo sa mga kapwa po naming estudyante.”
Following the solidarity visit, a eucharistic celebration for the farmers was also held last June 11 at DLSU.
For students and faculty members interested to volunteer for COSCA, please get in touch with Mr. John Lingatong at the COSCA Office located at 2/F Br. Connon Hall.