Bungkalan; When the Filipino peasantry tries to assert their rights
by Caev Solas
MANILA-Farmers of Hacienda Tinang, Concepcion, Tarlac were illegally arrested without warrant while having a peaceful activity along with other youth and peasant advocates and volunteers. Officers from the Philippine National Police detained over 90 people last June 9, 2022 and were charged with obstruction of justice and malicious mischief. The recommended bail was P3000 each. The farmers and advocates faced criminal charges for destruction of property which would prevent them from testifying.
83 out of 92 arrested was also charged with illegal assembly with recommended bail of P36,000 each according to ABS-CBN News reporter Jervis Manahan. Lawyers and other progressive groups are now helping to process the documents and the financial support for the bail that would be roughly around 3.2 Million Pesos in total.
What is Bungkalan?
‘Bungkalan’ is a collective farming activity initiated by the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) within the 200 hectare-Hacienda where the 34 year land dispute is happening. Through bungkalan, peasants assert their right to self-determination through the collective act of tilling idle land. How did this cultivation work, a peaceful activity, drastically turned into a violent incident wherein farmers and advocates were dragged, harassed and got injured? The farmers and advocates were simply tending the disputed land which was supposed to be distributed to them long time ago.
Since 1995, the Certificate of Land Ownership Award title or CLOA has been awarded to the 236 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform beneficiaries (ARBs), the local group of farmers said. The aim of the agrarian reform law is to give away lands to farmers in order to improve food security and their standard of living, and to promote social justice. Additionally, the agrarian reform was intended to resolve the centuries-old issue of landlessness in the Philippine countryside. However, landlords have opposed the agrarian reform in every step of the way. The implementation of land distribution in the country is already the longest in the world.
It was only in 2016 when the 236 ARBs were informed that they were in fact awarded the CLOA titles, establishing them as “co-owners” of the disputed land. This fact was hidden to them for since for 21 years. For decades, the farmers were not aware that the lands were already issued under their names. Why do farmers have to wait for decades to be able to farm the lands that already owned? Why were they charged for destruction of property when they were just asserting their right to farm their own land and secure their food sources? How can local landlords and police officers deny the rights of farmers and instead subject them to abuse and harassment? Cultivating the the idle lands would allow farmers harvest crops and feed their families amidst soaring inflation.
Last 2018 and 2019, a finality order and writ of execution was served by the DAR to officially distribute the lands and integrate it to the farmers. However, until this present day, the 236 ARBs have not received any land or space they can call their own. A dialogue with DAR was scheduled last 15th of August 2021 but the department conveniently cancelled it due to the pandemic. Instead of installation of beneficiaries as the rightful co-owners of the lands, DAR is now asking for a revalidation of the status of the 236 ARBs.
The finality order and the writ of execution should now take effect and be enforced. The 236 ARBs have suffered long enough to go through another arduous and tedious bureaucratic process of revalidation that ultimately aims to discourage the ARBs from claiming their lands. When the state allow this kind of impunity, the state willfully neglects their rights and denies their access to livelihood and social justice. These are in direct contradiction to the very essence of the Comprehensive agrarian reform program.
The criminal neglect of the government answers the question why many youth, peasant advocates, and volunteers went to Tinang to stand along with the farmers. The farmers have all the right to reclaim the disputed land because they are the legitimate owners. The police who stormed the bungkalan activity have no legal grounds to stop and unlawfully arrest the rightful owners. It is not a crime to support the call for a genuine agrarian reform.
The dastard violation of human rights in Tinang, Tarlac is not new to our farmers. Due to the semi-feudal system of our country, only few individuals and families own vast tracks of arable land while the police and the military repress farmers from asserting their rights. Our farmers have a long history of experiencing social injustices such as land grabbing, exploitation, delayed land distribution, high-priced amortization, red tagging, and even killings perpetuated by their local landlords and the state itself.
Feudalism and landlessness are deeply embedded in our society and were brought about by centuries of oppression by local landlords, large foreign corporations, and big capitalist compradors in the Philippines. Under the current Duterte administration, our farmers, who form the backbone of our economy, experienced the slowest land distribution and state terrorism. The Philippines has the longest running and yet poorest-performing land reform program in history. Without sustained effort from the government to address landlessness, food and economic crises will devastate not only the peasantry but the entire population.
We, the nationalist youth, stand with our farmers and join their call for a genuine agrarian reform program.
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