Supposed farmworker-beneficiaries of Hacienda Ilimnan in Murcia, Negros Occidental, site of an anomalous ranch project of the Provincial Government headed by Governor Alfredo Marañon, are appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to immediately pull-out armed state forces deployed in the area.
Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the President must also “discipline” these government troops who are shamelessly protecting the interests of local oligarchs.
“Negros has been the traditional playground of caciques and landlords since the Spanish colonial period. President Duterte is well aware that troopers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and special units of the police, such as those currently harassing farmworkers in Ilimnan, are most often than not corrupt mercenaries serving as ‘private armies’ of society’s powerful elite,” said Ramos.
“If the President is truly for a just peace, he must go after these abusive oligarchs and dismantle their private armies and goons. He must start by listening to the appeal of small farmworkers in Ilimnan and most any other hacienda in Negros. Farmworkers are still enslaved by hunger and poverty, and are being threatened, shot at, and massacred by goons and soldiers,” added Ramos.
Since Juy 15, a peasant camp-out by members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng PIlipinas (KMP) in Negros and the Hacienda Ilimnan Farmworkers Association-National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)-UMA, has been ongoing at the Provincial Government compound in Bacolod City to protest against militarization and the unjust eviction of farmers.
Farmworkers say that Gov. Marañon has resorted to harassment and intimidation using government troops after the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued a decision in favor of the farmers. Last May, the DAR’s Land Use Case Division –Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance denied the Provincial Government’s Petition for Exemption / Exclusion on the said landholdings.
Last month, some 40 farmworkers embarked on land cultivation of around 12 hectares in Ilimnan for food crops to ease extreme hunger and poverty in the community due to the annual tiempo muerto or off-milling season. This year’s tiempo muerto is aggravated by drought caused by El Nino.
Instead of abiding by the DAR decision, the Provincial Government forcefully insisted on holding on to the lands with brute force. State troopers and goons immediately evicted the farm workers. The eviction order was given by Marañon and executed by Col. Mario Baquiran of the Special Action Forces. Other than that, the police set up barbed wire fences around the area to bar farmers from embarking on land cultivation.
The 12-hectare area is part of a 155-hectare property formerly owned by the Arguelles family who sold the land to the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental in 2010. Since then, the land has become a subject of a long-running legal battle between supposed land reform beneficiaries composed of hacienda workers and the provincial government which supposedly “developed” the area into the Negros First Ranch livestock farm.
NFSW has also appealed to DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano to immediately facilitate land acquisition and distribution of 101 hectares of Hacienda Ilimnan and 55 hectares of Hacienda Arloc to legitimate farmers and farm workers.