CARP takes on a face

Group picture. Men and women farmers from Lubao and our Gender class. My classmates are not per se Ateneo students but UPEACE students getting their advanced degree from different cities.

Ka Elvira was very articulate and very passionate.

Our professor, Lourdes Veneracion-Rallonza

Mother and child, the next generation of farmers

A bilao of pancit palabok greeted me and my classmates. The paste is slightly spicy -- quite different from all other preparations I have had before.

Following is my think piece for by political science elective -- Gender, Human Rights and Globalization -- class, a reflection on our exposure trip to Lubao and Porac towns, Pampanga. I chose to write about the Lubao trip, about the farmers still struggling to claim the land they are tilling.


Yesterday the famers of Lubao, Pampanga laying claim to 134 hectares of farmlands (from the original 300) shared their food and their stories with us. After the meeting, there was a lot left to digest: The food that made its way up to mountain, to the next group of people whom we visited, and more importantly, the reflection points that the farmers’ individual and collective stories stirred in our minds.

I took note of the following points:

First, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program is an ideal – if not utopian -- piece of legislation in the Philippines. We discussed that it was passed into law under the Cory Aquino administration, with the Mendiola Massacre of 1987 acting as a catalyst. That event angered the people so much and raised questions as to the sincerity of Mrs. Aquino in effecting social justice even when—or especially since -- it could run against her personal and familial interests.

The passing was merely symbolic. The Cojuangco-Aquinos themselves tried to circumvent the law through the stock distribution option they gave their famers. The farmers were not given land, but shares of stock. That issue has only been recently resolved by the Supreme Court.

But the Luisita problem is only the most talked about agrarian reform issue because it concerns the current president. There are numerous other cases that are not in the public consciousness. There are many other wealthy and influential landowners throughout the country exploiting farmers and suppressing any attempts to claim the land. And since they are powerful, they have on their side some agents of the government who are supposed to implement the law.

This leads us to my second point, that exploitation and injustice happens regardless of whoever is in power. The Cojuangcos-Aquinos are by no means the only influential people to have made life difficult for the farmers. The Lubao farmers we spoke to have been fighting the influential Pinedas of Pampanga, known friends and allies of the Aquinos’ political rival, the Arroyos.

Third, precisely because of the culture of hypocrisy in government – where an official trumpets his concern for others but is actually driven by his personal agenda – farmers fighting for another piece of land, led by Ka Armando, are thinking about employing the “political” tactic in order to prod the Aquino administration into action. Another property, 194-hectare, has been converted by the Pinedas from agricultural to residential to make it “non-CARPable.” The matter is now with the Office of the President. Will President Aquino act on the matter, because it is a way for him to vilify the friends of the Arroyos, not necessarily because he believes the farmers should have the land?

Fourth, one cannot help being impressed at the organizational skills of the farmers. They are simple folk, hardly university educated, yet they are able to set in motion complex principles of management and human resources. Internally, they are able to inspire and help each other achieve their common goals. They are also able to get past their difference and resolve any infighting and conflict of interest among themselves. The fight has gone on for at least 30 years and as a group, they are still intact even as some may have already died or given up.

They are also able to relate well with the other groups: farmers with similar problems, the media, government officials, non-government organizations. The farmers themselves said they want to pursue their objectives within the legal system. They must be conscious of the legal consequences of their actions and ensure everything is documented for future reference. They do not want to do anything extra-legal, or illegal, lest it backfire on their quest. After all they have been through, they still believe in the rule of law even as its agents have often failed them.

Against their adversaries, the farmers employ well-thought out strategies. For example, when a tractor came to destroy the crops, the women lined up and linked arms in protest. At another time, a woman took off her top as she was being arrested on trumped up charges. IN yet another occasion, women formed the first line of defense, but should anything untoward be done to them, the men are right there behind them, as well.

Finally, the fight for social justice and human rights is not free from moral ambiguities. The farmers recognize that there are certain realities they must contend with. Some of their companions, out of material need, have renounced their rights for money. And then, farmers must raise money to pay good lawyers even this meant they have to resort to loans they would be burdened with for years. They also shell out cash for fares, food and other expenses, competing with the expenses they already have at home. Sometimes, too, they give in and bribe agrarian reform workers if only to ensure that their case progresses, however slowly.

Advancing their cause means time spent away from home, chores undone, land untended. These farmers, after all, are not fighting for some political ideology that they read about in books. They are fighting for something very close to home, and thus their struggle is very closely intertwined with their everyday lives.

Ka Menang Osbual hopes that the next few months will bring good news to her and her
companions. A decision has been made by the courts in their favor but the forms they have to fill out have not arrived yet -- it has been two months.

Even when it does arrive, it would be dangerous to believe that all will be well afterward. Challenges remain. How can the farmers be sure their opponents will be willing to let go of the property just because the court has said so? How can these private persons prove their good faith? How shall transition be effected? Can the farmers do well on their own? What will happen to the pending criminal cases, what they say are trumped-up charges against them? What will be the challenges facing the next generation of farmers?

Our trip to Lubao did me one big favor. Prior to it, I had only a theoretical knowledge of human rights and agrarian reform issues. These have become more concrete now because I have gotten to know women and men advancing this cause. I hope that their story inspires other groups to carry on. Moreover, these realizations convince me that there are no clear-cut rules on how to wage a generations-old battle for something as basic as land to live on and till. It is a dynamic of internal and external factors that has no specific beginning and has no happy-ever-after end.