About 1,000 sugarcane farm workers marched down Bacolod’s streets yesterday to call on President Rodrigo Duterte to make good his plan to declare the entire Negros Island a land reform area, and to replicate what he did on Boracay Island.
The farmers, who are member of Task Force Mapalad, also joined a dialog with Department of Agrarian Reform officials led by assistant secretary for field operations, Elmer Distor, to demand the immediate distribution of about 5,000 hectares of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
Distor said the directive of the president is to expedite distribution of land in Negros that has the largest pending backlog.
“I might declare the entire (Negros) island as a land reform area. I’m studying that…because there’s a lot of trouble there…I’m telling you now, the problem really is land,” Duterte told reporters in an interview in Bohol recently.
Distor assured the farmers that the DAR is trying its best to resolve their concerns and expects to have a resolutions to the 5,000 hectares sought for distribution by early next year.
The 5,000 hectares are part of the balance of 125,000 hectares in Negros Occidental that have yet to be distributed, Lanie Factor, TFM deputy national coordinator, said.
Factor, in the dialog with the DAR officials at the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office in Bacolod City, called on government to replicate its enforcement of land reform in Boracay Island in Negros Occidental, which still has 125,000 hectares up for coverage.
She said they are calling on the president to make good his statements and hasten action on land reform in Negros Occidental, pointing out that the root of hunger, poverty and conflict in the province boils down to land.
Negros Occidental remains with the biggest backlog in terms of land acquisition and distribution (LAD) of CARP covered lands in the country, she said, adding that TFM is prepared to help government in giving farm workers what is due them under CARP.
During the protest march some of the farmers wore festival masks as a symbol of the province of Negros and carried sugarcanes to signify their hardships.
They also bore placards with messages that said “President Rodrigo Duterte: Replicate Boracay Land Reform in Negros Occidental”, “Mr. President: The lack of land for the farm workers is the reason for the conflict”, and “Stop the killing of farmers: Justice for all victims of agrarian related violence.”
Terry Tarlac, TFM provincial federation president, said they commend the decisiveness of the president in ordering for the CARP coverage of lands in Boracay and eventual distribution to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
They agree with him that land is one of the primary causes of violence and conflicts in Negros, he said.
A TFM statement said the national DAR target is around 53,000 hectares for distribution this year, but as 2018 nears its end, it only accomplished around 13,000 hectares for the whole country, making it the lowest accomplishment rate for the agency.
TFM also pointed out that 5,000 hectares of CARP covered lands in Negros Occidental are long overdue, but transfer and distribution to rightful beneficiaries are impeded mainly due to bureaucratic issues and severe resistance from landowners.
They are not only calling for the full implementation of CARP in Negros, but also for the whole country, and their victory in Negros will also mean victory for the rest of agrarian reform beneficiaries across the nation, it added.*
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