By Angel De Mesa
QUEZON CITY – For 12 years of struggle, Damayan ng Paraoma (DAMPA) in Camarines Sur continues to fight their farmlands against land conversion and reclamation in San Agustin, Pili, Camarines Sur.
Peasant Artemio Sanchez, leader of DAMPA-CamSur, reminisced how they fought and brought the issue of land conversion along with their struggles way back in 2005. Series of consultation on farmers was conducted to urge them to sell their rights on land – but they never did until now.
These threats continue. The provincial government of Camarines Sur through Governor Migz Villafuerte planned to build another airport in the agricultural land of San Agustin despite the existing airport in San Jose, Pili.
Sanchez was among Bicol lakbayanis in the concluded national ‘Lakbay Magsasaka’ of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) last October 21-25 to register their sentiments against the fascism of the Duterte administration.
“We join this struggle because we want to elevate our fight. If the government will not act for the peasants’ rights and welfare, we farmers will,” said Sanchez.
To assure farmers that they have the rights on the land they are tilling, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded them the Certificate of Ownership (CLOA) as proof of title as the direct beneficiary of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
They failed to grip on the hope that the land will be theirs for a lifetime despite the distribution of agricultural lands to landless farmers under CARP.
According to Sanchez, the provincial government of Camarines Sur wanted to buy their land for about 8.85 pesos per square meters despite of being an agricultural land and the only source of their livelihood.
“Kami naman, ayaw naming ipagbili ito dahil bukod sa galing pa ito sa aming mga ninuno ay dito na kami lumaki at nandito na rin ang aming buhay at kabuhayan,” said Sanchez.
At least 134 hectares of the total 200 hectares would be converted for the airport construction, and about 500 families will be affected by the project. It excludes the 4 villages beside San Agustin that will be affected by the irrigation system.
It is clear in Article 1, Section 2.2 of DAR Administrative Order No. 1 series of 2002 that the agro-industrial crop land or land presently planted to industrial crops that support viability, those who have the potential for growing semi-temperate or high value crops, land covered by notice of land valuation and acquisition, irrigable land and those Environmentally Critical Area and Environmentally Critical Projects as determined by DENR are areas highly restricted from conversion.
The Camarines Sur provincial government even filed the writ of possession, an order granted by a court which allows a person not currently in possession of a property to take possession of the property.
Solution unfavorable to peasants
During the ‘Lakbay Magsasaka’, Sanchez, represented its peasant group DAMPA-CamSur, raised issues of land conversion in their province with the DAR central office.
Last October 24, different peasant groups from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao had a dialogue with the DAR Central Office to address their grievances regarding land disputes.
According to Atty. Enrique Sumogba Jr., ARB Legal Assistance Assistance Division chief, both farmers and the government have the rights on the land, but if the farmers insist to go against the government, the government will win due to its eminent domain.
“Kung hindi nagpabaya ang abogado nyo, kung totoo yang sinasabi nyo na prime agricultural land (San Agustin) maaaring nagamit itong depensa sa kaso ninyo because if it is a prime agricultural land it is a big no-no for land conversion,” said Atty. Sumogba.
To conform with their problem and difficulties, DAR office offered a ‘win-win solution’ to the farmers of San Agustin, Pili, Camarines Sur.
“Let us see if we can look for another land same us yours’ and swap it. We will ask the Regional Director (RD) to talk to your governor para magkaroon ng win-win solutions kasi po binabangga natin dito yung expropriations na power ng gobyerno, kahit po sino, kahit land owner kapag sinabing gagamitin yan for government use ay wala tayong magagawa kundi tanggapin ang just compensation na pambayad sainyo,” said Atty. Robert Anthony Yu, assistant director Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance.
DAMPA-CamSur was discontented on how DAR central office raised solutions to their problem during the concluded dialogue.
“Giving us a win-win solution is simply telling us to quit the fight and just be contented that we were still given the chance to live with a land that they will supposed to give us. They do not understand the fact that our lives is in there already especially our livelihood. How come that the government give us a land yet take it away from us later on?” said Sanchez.
Fight against land use conversions continue
Despite the solution and the judgment of DAR central office during the dialogue, Sanchez together with his colleagues in DAMPA-CS will still continue to defend and fight for their land.
According to KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos, the farmers struggle will not end on the dialogue to different government agencies concerning the peasants, the KMP will unrelentingly strive for genuine agrarian reform for farmers until they achieve it.
“We will still fight for our lands no matter what. We farmers have the right to the land and will never take that away from us,” said Sanchez. (BaretangBikolnon.com)