The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura condemns the unlawful arrest of twelve (12) farmers affiliated with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Manapla town, Negros Occidental.
“Farmers – especially supposed beneficiaries of government land reform – should not be treated like criminals,” said Ramos. “It is a shame that farmers are still harassed and targetted because of their affiliation with militant or Left-leaning organizations, even when the Duterte government is currently engaged in peace talks with Communists,” said Ramos.
The farmers were arrested by local police in their homes on October 7, coinciding with the second round of Peace Talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) held from October 6-9 in Oslo, Norway.
The farmers, now collectively called the “Manapla 12,” are currently detained at the Manapla PNP Station are all members of Sitio Magsico, Pinanongnan United People Association (SAMPUPA – NFSW), and were charged by despotic land claimant Gemma Dequito with several trumped-up cases at the municipal and regional trial courts.
UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that Dequito’s complaints were earlier certified as agrarian in nature by no less than Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, during a dialogue with Negros Occidental farmers last September. Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Teresita Mabunay issued a certificate that the accused and several others are land reform beneficiaries in the disputed land. Despite the DAR certification, the judge still issued warrants of arrest.
“The cases should have been referred to the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) for proper resolution,” added Ramos. The farmers were charged with three (3) counts of alleged theft; two (2) counts of qualified theft; grave oral defamation; unlawful detainer; contempt of court; and recovery of possession by Gemma Dequito, who claims to be the heir of the late Virgilio Gaylan, who used to own the disputed land.
Those arrested are Jerry Elarde, Manuel Batislaon, Rolando Palomo, Wooden Celes, Jr Dequito, Lavinia Belandres, Lydia Belandres, Girlie Esmedia, Marlyn Jordan, Nelly Gaylan, Verginsita Dosa, and Rodolfo Belandres. SAMPUPA has embarked on land cultivation for food crops in around 52 hectares since 2013, around the time when the DAR declared the area for land distribution.
Three of those arrested, namely Lydia Belandres, Nelly Gaylan, and Rodolfo Belandres, are senior citizens aged 67 to 72 years old. “It is inhumane to keep these elderly farmers in jail. They simply exercised their right to till,” added Ramos.
Farmers and land reform advocates comprise the majority of 400 plus political prisoners in the country. Even Ramos and many other farmers and leaders across the country are only out on bail and still charged with various trumped-up charges filed by despotic landlords such as the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Hacienda Luisita.
“Peace advocates must work for the release of all political prisoners and the junking of all trumped-up charges against farmers,” said Ramos. “There can be no peace without justice,” he added.
UMA also asked DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano to once again intercede to ensure the release of the Manapla 12, and prevent the arrest and detention of other farmers charged by Dequito.