A generation after People Power “restored” democracy, it is difficult for those living far away from the countryside to grasp the immense hardship of many small farmers seeking agrarian justice and socio-economic emancipation for themselves and their families.
One case in point is the ongoing travails of 17 families who have been cultivating as share tenants (some since the 1960s) the 36-hectare Arsenio Imperial estate in sitio Pasto, barangay Tagbong, Pili, Camarines Sur.
Last September 1st, at 5:45 a.m., armed men entered the estate. With the use of a big tractor and several hand tractors, they forcibly destroyed or uprooted the farmers’ standing crops and tore down their homes. Over the next two weeks, a reign of terror ensued as the assailants set up guardhouses around the area and indiscriminately fired their pistols and Armalite rifles. Last September 14th, two ladies and two small boys were traumatized by the goons’ leader, a certain Nicanor Carbonel, who fired his handgun a mere meter away from them.
The farmers say that, over the years, they had been paying their land shares or rentals to a Willy Imperial and, later on, to Nicanor Carbonel. Without the knowledge of the 17 actual farm tillers, then Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer Nelson Tongco allegedly facilitated the transfer of the estate to Carbonel and other outsiders (many of them residents of Naga City) under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
Sadly, despite numerous appeals from the farmers, police, local government and Department of Agrarian Reform representatives have been unable to disarm the armed men. Nor have they managed to protect the farmers and reinstate them in their former landholdings.
In this kind of situation, what further recourse can our democratic system of government offer to our farmers? How is it possible that, instead of attaining liberation from social bondage and poverty under the CARP, they have seen their human rights trampled upon and yet have received no easing of their burdens?
Will extension of the CARP beyond 2014 solve their problems and those of many more long-suffering and would-be agrarian reform beneficiaries?