DAVAO CITY— Winifreda Cabisay, 62, carried a placard during the kick-off ceremony of Lakbayan, a 10-day farmers’ caravan that will bring together farmers from as far as Davao in the south and Tarlac in the north to dramatize their age-old clamor for land and justice.
“Batukan ang Oplan Bantay Laya (Oppose Oplan Bantay Laya),” read the placard which referred to the government’s counterinsurgency program that, according to Danilo Ramos, the secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), killed mostly unarmed farmers in the country.
Cabisay, a farm woman from Tamugan in Marilog district, said she is rooting for the caravan to voice out the demands of small farmers like her.
In 1996, she was awarded with less than a hectare piece of land in Upper Tamugan village under the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). But she had difficulty paying for the amortization in the bank.
“No matter how much I wanted to pay, I did not have enough money,” said Cabisay. She has not been issued a certificate of land ownership (Cloa) for her piece of land until now.
To pay for the land amortization, Cabisay leased her piece of land to the Dole banana company in 2004. Dole rented the land for five years for only 53,000 pesos. Of the total amount, 15,000 pesos was spent for the first down payment of the amortization fee.
Cabisay also said she decided to lease her land because the rest of her neighbors already converted their ricelands into banana plantations. She was the last one to hold on to it.
According to Pedro Arnado, spokesperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas [KMP] in Southern Mindanao, over 100 hectares of land in Tamugan village have already been planted with bananas.
Cabisay used to plant corn but she ended spending a large part of her income to pay her debts. She said she used to borrow from big financiers to pay for the soaring prices of fertilizers, corn seedlings and even pesticides.
The 10-day nationwide caravan aimed to bring to government’s attention the issues of farmers like Cabisay. More than 7,000 farmers coming from as far as Tarlac in the north and Davao City in the south will converge in Quezon City to join the long March to Malacañang on the day that marks the 23rd year of the massacre in Mendiola.
Ramos said 13 farmers were killed and 51 were wounded in Mendiola when they demanded for genuine agrarian reform from the government 23 years ago.
Ramos said farmers continue losing their lands to big landlords and big multinational companies. People like Cabisay, who owned a small piece of land, lacked government support to make their land profitable.
The land problems of farmers all over the country persisted and are getting worse, he said.
The caravan will also demand justice for the farmers killed under the Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency program. Ramos said, 561 farmers nationwide have been killed under President Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program; 119 of them were leaders and members of the KMP. In Southern Mindanao alone, 32 farmers were killed since Arroyo assumed power in 2001. He also said 129 farmers nationwide have also fallen victims of enforced disappearances.
As part of the kick-off activities, farmers gathered at the Freedom Park on Tuesday before proceeding with a torch march towards the office of House Speaker Prospero Nograles along Quirino Avenue.
There, they burned a copy of Carper Law (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms), which according to Ramos, only contained “deceptive” provisions that will prevent farmers from finally owning the land.
Ramos said Nograles has been instrumental for the passage of Carper law, a five-year extension of Carp, which he believed will not answer the farmers’ clamor for land.
Nograles has also been pushing for Charter change in Congress, a move that will perpetuate Arroyo’s power hold. In a liturgy held for the Lakbayan delegates at UCCP Haran, youths rendered songs and poems depicting the farmers’ situation.
Farmers left Davao City early morning of Wednesday for Butuan City, where they will meet the delegates from Cagayan de Oro City before proceeding to Surigao. In Surigao, they will take a ferry to Liloan, Leyte, where they will meet up with delegates from the Visayas. Another delegates coming from Tarlac in the north will also set off to meet them at the national office of the Department of Agrarian Reform. Together, they will march from Quezon City to Malacañang on January 22 to remember the Mendiola massacre and demand justice for the farmers. (Grace S. Uddin/davaotoday.com)