Settlers from Mindoro struggle to own the land that they have tilled for years in Palawan.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Joseph Celestino, 25, said he is happy and contented tilling and earning from a parcel of land in Coron, Palawan. He hopes to one day own it.
“Someday, I will have my own family, too. I want a land of my own to give to my future children so they will not worry about their livelihood,” Celestino said.
But that remains a dream until the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) distributes the almost 40,000 hectares of the Yulo King Ranch (YKR) in Palawan.
Celestino and others who came from Mindoro five years ago are fighting for their right to own the land they till.
He and other fisher folks and farmers from the Southern Tagalog region had gone on a pilgrimage to Manila since Jan. 12. They went on a two-day fasting to amplify their cry for land, food, and shelter in time for Pope Francis’ visit in the Philippines.
On Jan. 21, they held a dialogue with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Denr), which went to naught, because key persons from the agency were not present.
“All we want is for the government, through DAR, to give us the land that we have long been tilling. That is why we came here to Manila in time for Pope Francis’s visit: to let him know our condition and may he relay it to President Aquino,” said Buenaventura Casimiro, 81, a pioneer resident of YKR.
Casimiro joined the estimated six million people who attended the mass of Pope Francis in Quirino Grandstand on Jan. 18.
Part of the YKR is Paseco, where a table survey or mapping was conducted by DAR in 2012.
Edgardo Pilar, 66, member of Tala Pag-asa ng Magsasaka opposed the table survey, because only one hectare was to be given per occupant and the distribution is through alphabetical order.
Pilar and Celestino and other farmers who have been cultivating more than one hectare of land are against the table survey.
“They just measured the land and divided it among the occupants in alphabetical order. They even included the rivers and uplands. That would be very unfair for us who have been tilling the land for years. Who would agree to leave the land they till? No one. Not even me.”
Casimiro also said the distribution through alphabetical order will displace those who are already occupying the land.
For example, Lot 1 will be allocated to any occupant whose surname starts with letter A, regardless if the parcel he is tilling is far from Lot 1.
Casimiro also said the DAR did not consult the tillers like himself when the table survey was conducted. As of now, the table survey has not yet been implemented, said Casimiro.
“But the threat is always there that is why we are preparing by consulting legal counsels,” saif Pilar. “If they implement that table survey and we will be displaced from the land we till, we will fight,” he said.
From 2012 to 2013, Celeste said guards of private companies together with Marines are harassing farmers to leave the land.
Their houses were demolished. Cows and horses destroyed the crops they planted. A hut they made to rest after farming was also demolished.
The Marines have no name plates, said Celestino. He and the other farmers asked the Marines and guards for the court orders to demolish their houses, but they cannot show them anything.
Dexter Agondes, 23, said they coupdate not even leave their houses and harvested crops to go to their farms. “Life became more difficult. We cannot plant that is why we also don’t have anything to eat.”
As of May 2014, Agadones said the cases of harassments have declined and they were able to go back again to farming. “But we remain vigilant,” Agadones said.
“The Marines even point their guns to intimidate us,” said Rizal Evangelio, 50. He said the guards and Marines told them that they have no right to the land and therefore they should leave.
Evangelio is also one of the settlers from Mindoro who came looking for a living. He said he did not finish his studies and farming is his only way to feed his family. “We came here because Mamerto Dumayas said that this land will be distributed. We did not know of any law that we violated.”
No own land to till
Both Pilar and Celestino used to farm in Mindoro. It is due to their difficult life in Mindoro that they decided to move to Palawan.
Celestino, the eldest among five siblings, was brought along by his grandfather to Palawan to help him take care of his farm. After three months, he began to cultivate his own land.
Like Evangelio, Pilar was recruited by a certain Mamerto Dumayas.
In Mindoro, Celestino said he did not have his own farm or a regular job. “Our life was very difficult there,” Celestino told Bulatlat.com in an interview. The land inherited by his father was not agricultural and he had to take on odd jobs or be a farm worker. However, he said being a farm worker makes him vulnerable to exploitation as their income is on a percentage basis.
“When we harvest 100 sacks of rice, we only get 10 or 12 sacks. We do all the hard work but others reap the fruit,” he said.
Pilar also did not have a land to till in Mindoro. He has five children but he was not able to send all to school because of poverty. Now his wife and three children are in Palawan with him while his two older children are still in Mindoro working as construction workers.
“Here, we have a land to till. What we harvest is enough to feed our family if only there are no harassments, and if the land is truly distributed to the farmers,” Pilar said.
Celestino said, in one year, he can earn a gross income of P100,000 ($2,242) in two rice harvest seasons. “We incur expenses such as for carabao rental, crude oil and fertilizers but all in all, I am contented with it because all that I planted and earned will now go to my family.”
Celestino sends money to his family back in Mindoro.
Almost all their life, before they moved to Palawan, they did not have a land to till, making it almost impossible to survive every day. Now that there is a sprawling 40,000 hectare of land available to cultivate, Pilar said it is time for the government to act and distribute the land.