May 31, 2012
Imagine the walk: The sharp air and scorching sun, the hot cemented road as mirror of heat, cheap rubber slippers almost melting. The cool wind and soft earth of farm life albeit slowly drifting away, could have been the only thing that provided for them a mirage of hope, at least in their minds. It was in December of 2008 when the Banasi Farmers had their 444-kilometer ‘Baklay’ or walk from Barangay Pawili, Bula, Camarines Sur to Malacanang. Four years hence, both the administrative case before the DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) and the judicial matter before the RTC (Regional Trial Court) are still pending resolution. A reprise of the Sumilao Farmers’ walk, it also brought to public consciousness the same issue: The implementation of our Agrarian Reform Program.
“Sadi nako namulat. Ading baluy ko 1980’s pa di, alagad diri ko mapa-finising ta adi nganing kaso,” (I have always known this place. My house has been here since the 1980’s but I cannot do finishing touches because the case is still pending.) says Jesus Clavero, one of the farmer-beneficiaries of the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) of a 123-hectare land in the Banasi area. The families are supposed to be given 1.7 hectare each. Their title however, is constantly being assailed by the Fajardo family.
Various non-government organizations supported them in their cause. They also found an ally in the person of the late “Ka Rene” Peňas of PAKISAMA who also led the Sumilao Farmers. “Maboot iyang tawo. Tatao makisama dawa kiisay. Tatao magseryoso, tatao magpatawa. Mahilig sa videoke. Kaya ku mabadil iya ku pag-uli niya sa Mindanao, namundo ako,” (He was a kind person. Able to adjust to people. He can be serious, as he can be funny. He loves the videoke. So when he was shot when he returned to Mindanao, I was saddened.) Jesus Clavero adds.
Communing with the Farmers
The SALIGAN-Bikol (Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal) is also one of the NGO’s that are rendering support to the Banasi Farmers. The group serves as their legal arm, helping them on the side of litigation. This writer, together with two other SALIGAN interns spent four (4) days from May 20 to May 23, 2012 with the farmers, communing with them so as to understand their economic, social and legal standpoint. We ate with them, bathe in their water-source, experienced their daily farm-work, shared stories with them, advised them on legal matters when we can. We lived with them for only this way can we appreciate fully their legal standing.
The law protects the concept of property ownership, but likewise regulates it. This is due to the social function of property. Property ownership has a social function in such that property owners are obligated to maximize the use of their property not only for themselves but for others as well. National food security and social security are just some of the purposes of the agrarian reform program. Agricultural lands must be utilized to the maximum to ensure sufficient food production. Agricultural lands must be accessible to those who have talent in farming as not everybody is endowed with a green thumb. This also allows for farmers to have their own livelihood as giving them the opportunity to own lands would inspire them to produce more. But this must come with government support on infrastructure, credit, farm extension, legal assistance, electrification and development of rural institutions. The land owner is also justly compensated, and the farmer-beneficiaries disallowed from selling the land acquired through the program, but only with some exceptions provided by law.
The oldest of the peasant-folk in Banasi is Publio Clavero, now 85 years old. He was among those who joined the ‘Baklay’ of 2008. He was hospitalized when the group got to Lucena, but somehow, he survived the long walk. He lived to tell the tale that this legal battle started in 1972. But their story started much earlier, when the Fajardo family allowed the farmers, then comprised of only four families, to live in Banasi and till the land. When the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program was implemented, and with the Banasi Farmers as applicants, the relationship between the Fajardos and the farmers turned sour. Jesus Clavero, now 59, and son of Publio says: “Sabi kuno ku gurang na Fajardo: Ka ginibo ninyo, bagana ninyo ko sinuntok, kaya bumabalus ako kaninyo,” (The old Fajardo patriarch is said to have stated: Because of what you did, it is like as if you punched me. I will have my revenge.)
“Pero nguwan, maray naman kintana su mga Fajardo, kaya lang, ading Gaite na namanugang kanda ana desidido na ipadagos a kaso,” (But now the Fajardos have mellowed down, it is Gaite who married into the Fajardo family, who is determined to pursue the case) Jesus Clavero adds.
Currently, there is an ejectment case pending before the RTC against the Banasi Farmers. But the determination by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) whether or not the Banasi farm is covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) serves as a sort of a prejudicial question for the determination of the ejectment case. The Fajardos are contending that the Banasi farm cannot be covered by the agrarian reform law since they claim that said area is a grazing land for cattle. They appealed before the Office of the President for the purpose. The administrative case is still awaiting resolution. The law provides that agricultural lands are covered by the agrarian reform program, while grazing lands are not.
Life in the Banasi Farm is simple. The house of Jesus Clavero is near the ‘salog’ or river which runs down from Mount Isarog. You wake up early at around 5AM, drink fresh water from the earthen jar or tapayan, and go through the daily obstacle course of trees, grass and cascading path of earth and stones going down the river for a bath. Then there’s the farm work: The rice paddies, sugar cane plantations (Banasi is near PENSUMIL, a sugar factory), fruit-bearing trees and some livestock (goats and cows) and poultry (chickens, swans and ducks) to take care of. You will not go hungry there as high-grade rice is abundant as well as fruits and freshly-picked vegetables. Huge damulags or carabaos abound the place, but they are nice enough to give way when you are passing by the dirt road where they stand. Guard dogs keep their watch specially during the night when everybody has gone to bed and the place is pitch black. There is the kamalig and the farm hut where people do deskanso or take their break from farm work. It is also a place where they gather to tell stories and discuss social issues.
The Banasi Farmers are a socially aware lot. One night there was a thunderstorm and the lightning exploded near our roof. We were not sure if it was the lightning or the wind that broke the TV antennae down. But I saw the two old men, Manuy Jesus and his cousin Manuy Galdo seriously fixing the antennae the next day. So I approached them to offer help. Their backs at me, I heard the latter say in a soft voice, almost a whisper: “Mabayad ta sana si Corona.” (Just so we could see Corona.)