Farmer killed by gunmen in Capiz land dispute picket
MANILA, Philippines – On Monday, February 6, Orlando Eslana joined some 60 other farmers in occupying part of the 198-hectare Nemesio Tan Land Holding in Pilar, Capiz in protest. The camp-out was supposed to be an exercise of their right over the property granted to them through the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) they received 20 years ago.
Owned by Nemesio Tan, the property is currently being administered by Culilang village chief Ferdinand Bacanto.
Eslana wasn't able to last even a week at the picket. Five days into the protest on February 11, Saturday, the 49-year old farmer was killed. At least 5 men opened fire at the 68 agrarian reform beneficiaries who had set up fences in the area.
Five others were injured, including Ana Bocala, Nida Amo, Adel Vergara, and Melinda Eslana Arroyo. The last one remains in serious condition after sustaining a gunshot wound in the head.
In an interview with Rappler, Cecilia Maquirang, the lawyer for the agrarian reform beneficiaries, said the farmers initially did not know they were granted CLOA in 1997.
They only learned about the value of the document they were holding when, in 2013, a non-governmental organization visited their area to conduct a livelihood beneficiaries orientation for those who survived Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
CLOA is the document that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) releases to its beneficiaries. It is proof of their ownership of the awarded land. According to Maquirang, a total of around 100 farmers were granted CLOA over the disputed land in 1997.
In 2000, landowner Nemesio Tan filed a case to cancel the farmers’ CLOA. The case, which is still pending before the office of the secretary in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), has been preventing the official installation of the farmers on the disputed land. Nemesio Tan died in 2013.
The Tans also filed a just compensation case with the regional trial court against Landbank and DAR, claiming that the value of the land for agrarian reform was higher than what was paid to them.
“The legal battles started in 2015 because we started to send in our comments regarding the cancellation case,” Maquirang explained.
Who started the violence?
There are conflicting sides to the story.
According to Maquirang, the violence erupted when the protesters noticed that a tractor rammed through the fences that they had set up in the area.
"Other beneficiaries, mostly women, tried to block the tractor using their bodies. Some took pictures. And then at that point, the shooting incident began," Maquirang said.
This version of the story was contradicted by Ferdinand Bacanto, a nephew of Leopoldo Lachica, one of the suspected gunmen in the incident.
In an interview with Inquirer, he insisted it was the farmers who started the violence. According to him, Eslana “tried to hack my uncle."
The incident occurred a little past 4 pm on Saturday, February 11.
Maquirang added that, days before the commotion, unidentified assailants also attempted to burn the area where the agrarian reform beneficiaries camped out. This was captured on video posted on Facebook.
"This is the height of brutality against poor farmers who were only demanding what is due them," said Lanie Factor, deputy national coordinator of Task Force Mapalad (TFM).
Following the attack, TFM urged DAR to immediately address the issue and expedite the distribution of the land to the agrarian reform beneficiaries.
According to news reports, Bacanto also said that the ongoing conflict would have been avoided if DAR properly executed the awarding of the CLOA to the beneficiaries.
Following the incident, Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano ordered the DAR Region VI office to seek police assistance and immediately conduct an investigation. He also expressed his condolences to the families of the victims as he condemned the shooting incident. "Necessary steps must be done to prevent further injuries," he said.
The DAR secretary also instructed Regional Director Gideon Umadhay Jr and the provincial agrarian reform officer to probe the land dispute in the Nemencio Tan landholding to prevent bloodshed and more injuries in the agrarian reform-covered land. – Rappler.com