Monday, August 10, 2009

Extending CARP: Travails of Farmers Young and Old

I would like to share this feature story I wrote during the campaign for the extension and reform of CARP. It was published in the local paper, Sunstar-Davao.


The two faces of AR struggle. Lola Inday (L) and Mark, the oldest and the youngest marchers calling for the immediate enactment of HB 4077.


It was nine o’clock in the morning of Easter Sunday. Some 120 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) from Davao Province alongside farmers from Davao Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Sur and Davao City busied themselves preparing food, banners and streamers to continue their march-rally that started on Holy Thursday (April 9). The farmers are members of Ugnayan ng mga Nagkakaisang Organisasyon sa Kanayunan (UNORKA)- Mindanao.

Wearing her tattered peach jacket, shirt and cardigan, 66-year old Manang Eleuteria (or Lola Inday) joined the marchers to support the call for the immediate enactment of House Bill (HB) 4077 that aims to extend and reform the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). As she sat on the stairway of the now abandoned former DAR Regional office, Lola Inday started sharing snippets of her life and endless struggles that she and her family had gone through in claiming their right to land.

Asked if she can still bear another five-kilometer walk to the Congressional Office in Davao City, Lola Inday nodded and smiled. “Mas layo pa ani ang akong nalakaw kaniadto. Kaya pa nako mulakaw aron musuporta sa pagpalawig sa CARP (I have walked longer before. I can still walk further to support CARP extension).”

Like Lola Inday, hundreds of women and men ARBs, farmers and farmworkers braved the sweltering heat of the sun and made a Via Crucis or station of the cross during the Lenten Season to call on the legislators particularly House Speaker Prospero Nograles (also representative of Davao City first district) to finally decide on the pending HB 4077 that contains salient provisions for reforms of the two-decade old agrarian reform program. Completion of the remaining 1.3 million of undistributed lands, recognizing women as beneficiaries and increased budget for support services are just some of the provisions in HB 4077 that aims to correct the errors from the past implementation of the program. The creation of an Oversight Committee that would supervise the completion and program implementation is an equally important provision of the HB 4077.

Asked why CARP should be extended, she looked away in deep thought and replied, “Naay dili maayong kaagi parehas sa amoa nga human nahatag among lupa, padayon gihapon among pag-antos. Apan kung wala mi nagtugot nga paabangan among yuta sa plantasyon basig mas maayo unta among sitwasyon. Daghan pa ang wala naapud-apud nga yuta ug angayang humanon gyud nila ang programa (There are bad experiences like in our case where after the land was awarded to us, we continue to suffer. But if we did not venture into that agreement, we could be in better situation now. There are still many undistributed lands and they should finish the program).”


Neck-deep in Debt


Lola Inday and her husband Manong Floy used to work as banana workers in the 689-hectare Checkered Farms in Carmen, Alejal, Davao del Norte. Checkered Farms, alongside with Diamond Farms and Golden Farms are Filipino corporations formed through House of Investments (HOI). HOI is a joint venture between Stanfilco and Yuchengco Group of Rizal Commerical and Banking Corporation. Stanfilco, later on became a division of Dole Philippines (de Leon & Escobido, 2004).

In 1996, Lola Inday was head of the cooperative of the Checkered Farms when she joined other workers in the plantation to petition the Department of Agrarian Reform for redistribution of the three plantations – Diamond Farms, Golden Farms and Checkered Farms. They organized themselves into a cooperative, thus Checkered Farms Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative (CFARBEMCO) was born. “Ang pagpanag-iya sa yuta nga imong gitikad sa pipila ka tuig usa ka daku nga kalingkawasan (Owning the land you used to till for how many years is a good start),” Lola Inday said, holding the placard as the march-rally started. She thought that having a title to certify their ownership of the land was enough.

But she was wrong.

Their move to organize CFARBEMCO was supposedly supported by Dole. The coop was able to enter into contract growing agreement with the former plantation owners, covering the 689-hectare banana plantation. “Apan sa mga negosasyon nga mga ningsunod, dunay mga arrangement nga gusto nila ipasulod sa kontrata. (In the succeeding negotiations, there were provisions that they wanted to include in the contract). ”

The agreement was controversial since the former farmworkers entered into a venture wherein they had to grow the cavendish bananas and all the inputs such as seedlings, fertilizers would be supplied by the company. The company agreed to buy all their bananas; however the buying price would depend on the quality standards that the company also set. And when the market conditions for banana export changed, the company would use the ‘quality standard issue” and had the option to purchase small amount of their produce. They did not understand fully the details of the contract. The DAR, Lola Inday said, should have acted as mediator between the cooperative and the company and ensured that the provisions in the agreement would benefit the farmers.

Later on, the farmers learned that there were provisions of the contract that worked to their disadvantages. The prices of the input such as the pesticides were so expensive while the price for the bananas was already set regardless of the increase in the global demand. Prior to land distribution, they were required by the company to ratify the contract in exchange for their severance pay as their employment contracts ended, they being the new landowners.

The contract was deemed onerous. However, the agreement was approved and upheld by the DAR. “Wala sad mi kasabot unsaon pagcompute kanang mga gastos aron makita unta namo kung makaganansya ba mi o makakuha ba mi ug maayong presyo sa among produkto. (We didn’t understand the computation on expenses so that we could determine whether we were gaining profit or we were able to get good prices for our produce.),” said Lola Inday, shaking her head while following the crowd.

Lola Inday further shared that their cooperative incurred debts from the company due to various “additional expenses”, “production costs” and other complex computations beyond their knowledge and understanding on how those expenses came to being. Aside from the PhP148 daily wage they received from the company and the PhP3,700 annual lease rental, their families had no other sources of income.

When their contracts as farmworkers ended, she lost all their medical and other benefits.
Losing all her medical and other benefits, she joined others in a picket but was dispersed by the members of the 432nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Armed Forces. Lola Inday distinctly remembered the exact date and time - December 21, 1997 at 4:30 in the morning. A hundred people from their ranks were hurt. “Grabe gyud ato ang among gibuhat, nagvigil mi aron ipakita among protesta sa maayong pamaagi apan gipadal-an mi ug sundalo. unsoan man namo, mga armado man sila. (It was a difficult situation, we had our vigil to show our protest through peaceful means but they sent soldiers to disperse us. We could do nothing, they were armed.) “

They filed a case against the company but a counter-suit was filed by the company against them for disturbance and noncompliance of their contract. She shuddered at the thought of that incident. It has been 12 years and all of her four children are now married. The debts they incurred and the cases filed remain unsolved.


Struggling for Land Still


Across Lola Inday was Mark (not his real name), sitting on his father’s lap while his mother packs rice for their lunch. As the march began, Mark held a streamer. Finding the streamer to high for him to hold, he requested to use the megaphone instead.

As the march progressed, 11-year old Mark shouted loud into the megaphone, “Repormang Agraryo Ipadayon (Continue Agrarian Reform)! Only in the fourth grade, he might have been the youngest farmer in the group, but he is already aware of how important his parents’ cause is for his future. “Si Nanay ug tatay magtrabaho aron mapakaon mi, mutanom sila pero dili pa man amoa ang yuta. Unta amoa na to kay si Lolo pa dati ang nagtikad ato. (My mother and father are working in order to feed us, they toil the land but we do not own it. It should be ours since even my grandfather had tilled the same land.)

His grandfather was a migrant from Visayas and had long been cultivating the land in Ising, Carmen since 1960s. He was illiterate and did not bother to apply for land title. When the government opened the area for plantation expansion during the 1960s, the multinational corporations were given rights to cultivate the area. Stanfilco, with its joint venture agreement with HOI, organized Golden Farms. Golden Farms reportedly did the groundwork for enticing the farmers to enter into contract growing agreements with Stanfilco in 1967. Their grandfather was enticed into signing the contract offered by Stanfilco but the buying arrangement was no different with that of Lola Inday’s case. The price for bananas was already set by the company. They also incurred debts that eventually forced them to give up their lands to the company sometime in 1978.

When the agrarian reform program was enacted during the Aquino administration in 1988, they rejoiced thinking that they could finally own the land. But the program has provisions that enabled these corporations to evade the program. For instance, the agricultural areas intended for commercial farming of export crops such as bananas and pineapples were given a ten-year deferment (Sec. 11, RA 6657) . Thus, distribution of the 464-hectare land covering Golden Farms became a struggle for Mark’s family and other farmworkers.

Traversing Quimpo Boulevard, San Pedro then Quirino Avenue, the marchers finally reached the Congressional Office of House Speaker Nograles. Mark shouted louder. Lola Inday held the placard higher.

The marchers arrived at Speaker Nograles’ Office but were snubbed by the House Speakers’ staff. Their petition was not received.

Their travails indeed never end yet Lola Inday, Mark, and the hundreds of agrarian reform beneficiaries who made the Via Crucis, remain certain that every action is a way closer in realizing their right to land.#




Note: There’s consent from Lola Inday and Mark’s parents to publish their story as well as their picture. J


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