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Agrarian reform deal ready for NDFP-GRP approval

A common draft on agrarian reform is ready for approval by The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) after three days of bilateral discussions by the parties’ reciprocal working committees on socio-economic reforms over the weekend.

NDFP peace consultant Allan Jazmines told a peace forum yesterday the parties met from Saturday to Monday to finalize a common draft on agrarian reform for approval by the parties when formal peace negotiations resume next month.

“The GRP committee responded positively to the NDFP committee’s draft and both worked on enhancing and polishing the document,” Jazmines said.

“When formal talks resume sometime next month, it should be ready for initializing by the NDFP and GRP panels,” he added.

Jazmines said that since agrarian reform is only a part of the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms, the document would only be “initialled” by the parties.

The NDFP and GRP announced their agreement to free land distribution to farmers during their third round of formal talks in Rome, Italy last January.

“Once initialled, the parties may already start implementing agrarian reform programs, such as the legislation of a genuine agrarian reform law by the GRP,” he added.

The working committees are now ready to move on to the rural development, national industrialization and economic development, social services and environmental protection agenda, Jazmines said.

“It may even be proposed that another meeting by the working committees should be held later this month,” he said.

GRP chief negotiator Silvestre Bello III did not make it to the forum after failing to get an early flight from Mindanao.

Bello attended an emergency meeting in Davao City Monday night, the Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum, organizers of the event, said.

5th round in Oslo

Jazmines said the fifth round of formal negotiations may be held from mid-August.

“There are no exact dates yet. We will know after panel members from both sides would meet later this month to finalize the details with the Royal Norwegian Government,” he said.

Jazmines said the next round would focus on the other items in the social and economic reforms agenda, as well as constitutional and political reforms.

“The parties are also expected to thresh out issues that led to the temporary suspension of formal negotiations,” he added.

Jazmines said the GRP may again propose the inclusion of ceasefire declarations in the agenda.

The NDFP for its part may also propose discussions on the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law in relation to reported plans by GRP President Rodrigo Duterte to extend his martial law declaration in Mindanao to the end of the year, Jazmines said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva / Photo from Ruben Manahan III’s Facebook page)

 

 

 

Lapanday guards threaten MARBAI farmers anew

Farmers recently installed by the Duterte Government in their agrarian reform-awarded lands are threatened anew by armed Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) security guards, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) reported.

Two days after the Duterte government gave back 145 hectares of land to 159 agrarian reform beneficiaries in Tagum City last May 18, armed LFC guards reoccupied foxholes, trenches and guard posts along the perimeter fence they abandoned during the farmers’ installation.

DAR said farmer-beneficiaries have expressed alarm over their security with fears of being ejected again from their government-awarded lands.

The Philippine National Police in Tagum City have withdrawn from the MARBAI farms that allowed LFC guards to reposition themselves along the perimeter fence.

WATCH this DAR-released video. Read more

Mariano accuses Lapanday of mocking Duterte

Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary Rafael Mariano denied he committed graft and corruption when he personally led the installation of 159 agrarian reform beneficiaries last May 18 in Tagum City.

In a press conference, Mariano said all agrarian reform disputes are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the DAR and only the Supreme Court may restrain the agency from implementing its decisions.

Instead, Mariano said Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC) mocks the Duterte government’s call for change by using the courts to thwart the implementation of genuine agrarian reform.

“President Duterte has time and time again warned against the ‘use of courts’ to block the mandate of land reform, which is to distribute land to agrarian reform beneficiaries,” Mariano said.

“We are just following the president’s directives,” he added.

Harassment

Mariano said the criminal and administrative complaint filed by LFC counsel Noel Oliver Punzalan “is a move by the LFC to harass officials of the DAR.”

Punzalan filed the graft and corruption charge against Mariano and DAR undersecretary for legal affairs Luis Meinrado Pangulayan before the Office of the Ombudsman for “unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference” to Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Inc. (MARBAI) on the day the farmers were formally installed in the property last May 18.

Punzalan sought a preventive suspension against Mariano and Pangulayan “due to the seriousness and depravity of the acts they committed.”

Punzalan also alleged that Mariano’s successive Cease and Desist Order (CDO), Writ of Installation and Break Open Order from December last year to this month violated a Writ of Execution by the Regional Trial Court of Davao City.

“Mariano’s CDO disregarded the fact that LFC’s possesion and management of the area is by virtue of a prior and final and executory order issued by the RTC of Davao City,” Punzalan said.

The embattled secretary however countered, saying “Lapanday’s contract is not binding to MARBAI as it was executed with the Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1 which already ceded the disputed portion of the banana plantation to MARBAI farmers.

He said he also served the writ of installation after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered him to proceed with the installation during his visit at the MARBAI farmers’ protest camp in Mendiola.

Pangulayan for his part said the DAR just executed its quasi-judicial powers and gave no undue benefit to MARBAI farmers.

DAR said Republic Act 6657 (the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law) gives DAR the sole authority to determine if a case in Court is an agrarian in nature.

“This is the reason why all Courts are required by Section 50-A of RA 6657, as amended, to automatically refer all such cases to DAR,” it said.

He also denied that the agency committed gross negligence and bad faith in installing the farmers.

“The charges are just selfish corporate interest manifesting itself,” Pangulayan said.

“We will reply to the charges when required by the Office of the Ombudsman,” he added.

Lapanday is liable

Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao for his part said LFC should in fact be grateful to Mariano who gave the agri-business corporation more leeway than it deserved, more so in light of its continuing violence against the farmers.

“DAR could have filed contempt charges against the company for refusing to comply with the agency’s lawful orders,” Casilao said.

The charges against Secretary Mariano and Undersecretary Pangulayan are “weak, baseless and should pave the wave for disbarment complaints against Punzalan for ignorance of the law,” he said.

“We call on Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales to be impartial, as (another Lapanday counsel) Mans Carpio is her nephew as we also condemn LFC’s continuing harassment of the farmers,” Casilao said.

Casilao said Philippine National Police personnel in Tagum City have noticed 100 LFC guards near the MARBAI property a day after Mariano installed the farmers.

DAR also said that armed LFC security guards have positioned themselves near the MARBAI farmers’ campout with military amphibian vehicles stationed within the 70-meter radius.

The farmer-beneficiaries have expressed alarm over their security with fears of being ejected again from their government-awarded lands.

Progressive murals

Meanwhile, Mariano and the DAR received support from other government officials who attended the agency’s flag-raising ceremony and installation of murals at the DAR Central Office lobby.

Murals on agrarian reform, national industrialization, social justice, self determination and other social issues by progressive artists have been installed along the main stairwell of the main DAR building in Quezon City.

Department of Social Work and Development secretary Judy Taguiwalo as well leaders of progressive groups, farmers and peasant organizations attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony.# ( Report and photos by Raymund B. Villanueva)

Progressive murals at the DAR lobby. (Photo by R. Villanueva)

 

Lapanday farmers hold solidarity night

Farmer-beneficiaries held a solidarity event last May 12 on the last night of their camp out on Mendiola Bridge in Manila that started on International Labor Day.

The farmers said their protest action was successful as evidenced by the unprecedented dialogue with President Rodrigo Duterte who assured them they will be installed in their farms in Tagum City, Davao del Norte.

The Department of Agrarian Reform tried to install the farmers but were were prevented twice by armed guards of Lapanday Foods Corporation and the refusal of the local police to provide assistance. Read more

Wilma Tiamzon explains the agreement on interim joint ceasefire

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands–The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) signed the Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire yesterday after four days of intense formal and informal negotiations.

The parties said the document aims to encourage the forging of a more stable and more comprehensive joint ceasefire agreement and to provide a more enabling environment for the earlier signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER).

They said the interim joint ceasefire shall be signed simultaneous to, or immediately after, the signing of the CASER, which is expected to be finished within the year and after ground rules and guidelines are forged by their respective ceasefire committees.

The prospective ceasefire’s guidelines and ground rules shall govern the presence of armed units and elements of both parties in local communities and the creation of buffer zones.

The ground rules would also include agreements on what constitutes prohibited, hostile and provocative acts by armed groups of either party.

The guidelines shall also allow for a ceasefire monitoring and verification mechanism to oversee the prospective ceasefire’s implementation and to handle complaints of violations.

Watch NDFP’s ceasefire committee head Wilma Austria Tiamzon explain the agreement on interim joint ceasefire as well as the advancement on CASER negotiations. # (Interview and video by Jola Diones-Mamangun / Text by Raymund B. Villanueva / Featured photo by Nwel Saturay)

Talks conclude with more agreements on free land distribution

NOORDWIJK, The Netherlands—The “difficult and exacting” fourth round of formal talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) concluded successfully today with significant advances in socio-economic reforms negotiations.

After four days of intense formal negotiations and an extra day of back-channel talks, the parties firmed up their agreement on free land distribution “as a basic principle of genuine agrarian reform.”

“This is the main message of the bilateral meeting of the RWCs-SER (Reciprocal Working Committees-Socioeconomic Reforms) and an achievement of the Fourth Round of Talks,” the parties’ Joint Statement said.

The parties also said the signing of an Agreement on an Interim Joint Ceasefire is a “significant step forward” for a conducive environment for the negotiations and encourage the eventual and early signing of a Comprehensive Agreement on Socioeconomic Reforms (CASER).

The parties reported that the GRP recommended the conditional pardon of 23 NDFP-listed prisoners, including three consultants.

The NDFP and GRP also agreed to undertake measures to immediately and safely release the four remaining New People’s Army captives.  Those held in SOCSKSARGEN are to be released before Easter (April 15) and those in Bukidnon and CARAGA after Easter.

Joma in good spirits

NDFP Chief Political Consultant delivered his closing remarks congratulating the panels, consultants and staff for the “successful conclusion” of the talks.

Sison then proposed that the RWCs and bilateral teams of the negotiations to start drafting the executive orders and legislative bills to be annexed to the CASER.

“The Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill should be taken into account in making a new land reform law.  The priority industries to be established in order to lay the industrial foundation of the Philippine economy should be listed up in consultation with the industrial experts and prospective Filipino investors,” Sison said.

In a separate interview, Sison said the Filipino people should put more faith into the peace process given the important strides made on agrarian reform and rural development.

Sison said he expects the next round for formal talks to begin discussions on national industrialization and economic development.

The parties agreed to meet again in this city on May 26 to June 2 for their fifth round of formal talks. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

 

 

Farmers challenge Duterte anew on first year of Kidapawan carnage

Peasant groups from all over the Philippines and their supporters marched to Mendiola in commemoration the first anniversary of the shooting of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City last March 31.

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao challenged President Rodrigo Duterte to show the same compassion to farmers killed by government troops as he usually does when visiting the wake of soldiers killed in encounters with the New People’s Army.

The groups also called for justice for all farmers killed under the Duterte government.

Read more

Joma terror delisting, free land distribution among agreements in third round of talks

ROME, Italy—The National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and government negotiators are set to end their third round of formal talks today on a successful note with advances on the substantive agenda and new goodwill measures included in the prospective Rome Joint Statement.

NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili and his Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) counterpart Silvestre Bello III said their joint statement will include the signing of the supplemental guidelines on the Joint Monitoring Committee as well as agreements on the ground rules for future negotiations on socio-economic and political and constitutional reforms.

They also agreed to hold a special meeting in The Netherlands in February 22 or 24 to discuss the GRP proposal for a bilateral ceasefire.

“This round is turning out to be a success, despite the apparent sabotage with the killing of the activists in Negros Occidental and Surigao del Norte and the attack on the NPA (New People’s Army) encampment in North Cotabato,” Agcaoili said.

Joma Sison delisting

Bello for his part revealed that the joint statement shall include a request to the United States of America (USA) that NDFP chief political consultant Jose Maria Sison be delisted from its terror list.

“We have a basis (for such request), considering he is in the process, the peace talks, which negates the character of a terrorist,” Bello said.

Bello said it is important for Sison to be able to travel outside of Europe in response to GRP President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement he is willing to meet his former professor in any neutral Asian country.

NDFP panel member Benito Tiamzon and consultant Wilma Austria welcomed the move saying it would help in the negotiations.

“We have long been saying that the revolutionary movement, the Communist Party of the Philippines, the NPA, most especially Prof. Sison are not terrorists,” Tiamzon said.

“It is also important that President Duterte is saying he is independent of the US and this is one concrete step showing he really is independent,” Tiamzon added.

Sison has yet to issue a statement on the development.

Painstaking SER negotiations

NDFP socio-economic reforms Reciprocal Working Committee (RWC) spokesperson and agrarian and rural development focal person Randall Echanis said their bilateral meetings with their GRP counterparts have taken a few steps forward.

“For the first time, the GRP has submitted a comprehensive draft and we have agreed that both our drafts would be discussed with a matrix comparing both versions,” Echanis said.

Echanis also said that the Preamble and Declaration of Principles mostly based on the NDFP draft has already been agreed upon by the Reciprocal Workings Committees (RWC).

“We have identified commonalities on the Bases, Scope and Applicability provisions of our respective drafts and these are three important parts that our bilateral negotiations have disposed with,” Echanis said.

Echanis also revealed that the GRP has agreed in principle that there should be free land distribution to farmers, subject to consultations with other government agencies.

“We are for free land distribution while the GRP is for land distribution at least cost to the farmers.  We met halfway by saying the compensation should not come from the farmers but from the government,” he said.

“They said the NDFP draft’s use of the word of ‘confiscation’ is unconstitutional.  We clarified that land grabbed with use of violence and intimidation should be confiscated without compensation but we have no question with just compensation for landlords whose land was accumulated through just means,” Echanis clarified.

Echanis said the NDFP had been meeting GRP halfway in their negotiations as long as the essence and principle of agrarian reform is not compromised.

The closing ceremony of the third round is expected to be held at three o’clock local time (nine o’clock in the evening, Philippine time).

The fourth round of NDFP-GRP formal peace talks shall be held in April in Oslo, Norway. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Justice, land reform still elusive 30 years after Mendiola massacre

ON January 22, 1987, farmers led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) marched to Mendiola to demand genuine agrarian reform from the newly-installed Corazon Aquino administration.

There, they were met by a multitude of police and military. While the farmers held a peaceful program, state forces proceeded to shoot at the protesters, leaving thirteen dead and at least fifty injured.

The massacre also led to the breakdown of the peace talks between the Aquino government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“Agricultural workers were only calling for genuine agrarian reform, but the landlords and hacienderos responded with violence,” said Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of Unyon ng Manggagawang Agrikultura (UMA). “Until now, there is no justice for the victims of the massacre.”

Ramos drew parallels between the 1987 Mendiola massacre and today’s farmers who still experience state violence as they continue to demand for their rights. “The situation has not changed greatly. The demand for genuine agrarian reform remains relevant to this day,” Ramos said.

The Mendiola massacre was investigated in succeeding years, but the government findings were inconclusive. Tessie Arjona, widow of a Mendiola massacre victim, now calls on Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to reopen the case made against the perpetrators.

“We were only calling for land. Why did they have to use violence against us?” Arjona asked.”Pres. Duterte must put on trial the military and police officers who killed my husband and bring about justice, even after all these years,” she said.

 Little victories

Farmers from Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and other nearby areas held a protest Friday in Mendiola to commemorate the 30thanniversary of the massacre.

Rafael Mariano, secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform and who was part of the Mendiola protest in 1987, assured the demonstrators that his agency would continue to assist farmers in their struggle for genuine land reform, in the face of abusive landlords and officials.

Since his appointment in 2016, Mariano has opened the national office of DAR to farmers, convened the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) for the first time in 10 years, and distributed hundreds of hectares of land to peasants. The issue of genuine land reform is also a major agenda in the ongoing peace talks between the Duterte administration and the NDFP.

These are little victories, Mariano said, but reminded that farmers need to continue their vigilance and action in their struggle for real land reform. “The best thing that peasants should still rely on is still their continued organized struggle for genuine agrarian reform,” Mariano said. # (Abril Layad B. Ayroso)

Bayan happy with Duterte’s foreign relations and peace talks policies

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Secretary-General Renato Reyes cites two important achievements in the first 100 days of Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s administration — asserting Philippine sovereignty against US domination and resuming peace talks to address the roots of the armed conflict.

Reyes however added that Duterte’s anti-drug campaign needs socio-economic reforms and not killings. Read more