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Farmers groups, lawyers laud dismissal of 2 charges against ‘Tinang 83’

The Capas Municipal Trial Court has dismissed the illegal assembly and malicious mischief charges against the Tinang 83, a decision immediately lauded by farmers groups and their lawyers.

In a decision released Monday, June 27, Presiding Judge Antonio M. Pangan said the prosecution failed to allege essential facts to the charges of illegal assembly and malicious mischief against the farmers and their supporters.

The judge added that the court has no jurisdiction over the case as it involves an agrarian dispute and should be referred to the Tarlac Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) office for proper action.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) welcomed the dismissal of the first two of seven charges against those mass-arrested in Concepcion town on June 9.

“We laud the Court for recognizing the utter baseless-ness of the charges against the farmer-beneficiaries and their supporters. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from everyone especially the lawyers and paralegals who worked tirelessly for this victory,” the KMP said.

Dispositive portion of Capas MTC’s dismissal of the first 2 complaints against the Tinang 83. (Photo by Atty. Jo Clemente)

The farmers’ lawyers belonging to the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA) also hailed the dismissal, saying they are glad that the Court acted objectively and speedily.

“As we have said from the start, there is no factual and legal basis for the charges,” SENTRA said.

“We laud the courage and independence of Municipal Circuit Trial Court Judge Pangan. His swift action saved not just the accused but also the Filipino People from the expenses and rigours of a long-drawn but useless trial,” the lawyers added.

The farmers and their supporters are facing five other charges before several Courts in Tarlac.

The dismissal of the charges is the second successive victory for the farmers after the DAR in Tarlac has recognized them as genuine land reform beneficiaries over the disputed property last June 20.

READ: DAR list affirms Tinang farmers are the real land owners—KMP

Countersuits

The lawyers said their clients plan on filing countersuits in behalf of their clients.

“[T]he anxiety and trauma that the illegal arrest and the filing of cases against the 83, who are mostly students and artists, should not be left unchecked and unpunished. Thus, the 83 will file counter-charges against the police, the officers of the Cooperative, and possibly against the inquest prosecutor who filed the cases against them,” SENTRA revealed.

The group also said the farmer’s cooperative claiming ownership of the disputed farmland should also be made liable for its use of the land for almost 26 years without paying a single centavo to the real beneficiaries.

The KMP said it remains vigilant as the quest for justice for the beneficiaries goes on.

“[T]he unlawful conduct of state agents led by OIC PNP Reynold Concepcion Chief Macabitas and Acting Provincial Prosecutor Mae Montefalco must not be left without consequences,” it said.

Members of the National Union of People’s Lawyers are also providing free legal assistance to the farmers and their supporters.

Time for the farmers to own the land

Both SENTRA and the KMP called on the DAR to finally resolve the land dispute, saying the real beneficiaries still do not have full control and access over their land.

“We call on the DAR to immediately install the farmers since there is no longer any reason not to. The farmers should enjoy the land and the harvests thereon being the legitimate owners.” SENTRA said.

“[W]e invoke the authority of the DAR to investigate the acts of incoming municipal mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac Noel Villanueva who from the very start favored the side of the complainants, and took an active role in the prosecution of this malicious and baseless case against the legitimate farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Tinang,” it added

“[T]he struggle of the Tinang farmers continues as their formal installation as beneficiaries remain undone. The threat of additional schemes also remain as (Tarlac Representative and incoming Conception mayor) Noel Villanueva and his minions desperately cling onto the Tinang farmers’ land,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Farmers dismiss mega-farm proposal as not viable, urges lowering of prices of farm inputs instead

A farmers’ group said the Department of Agrarian Reform’s (DAR) mega-farm project proposal is not viable without genuine land reform and subsidies for farmers, proposing the immediate lowering of prices of farm inputs instead.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said DAR’s blueprint to try to bring down rice prices to P20 per kilo as “aspired for” by incoming President Ferdinand Marcos Jr is another form of lip service and empty promise to farmers in an obvious effort to pander to the incomingadministration.

“Truth be told, these DAR officials are only attempting to score brownie points from Bongbong Marcos Jr to retain their government posts,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Marcos said during the recent campaign period he wishes to see rice retail prices reduced to P20, a statement he later clarified was only an aspiration.

KMP however said the dream of a P20 per kilo of rice will not happen under the government’s existing land reform program that obligates beneficiaries to pay for land amortization.

The group instead renewed its call for the DAR to cancel land amortization, grant more subsidies to farmer and reduce production costs for rice to ultimately become more affordable.

“In fact, most ARBs in rice lands still have unpaid principal amortization and cannot pay for the 6% interest per annum imposed by the government under the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP),” Ramos revealed.

Obvious pandering

In a press conference Monday, DAR Secretary Bernie Cruz proposed to consolidate small and individual rice farms into mega-farms he dubbed as the “Programang Benteng Bigas sa Mamamayan” (PBBM, PHP20 Rice for the People Program).

PBBM is an obvious reference to an acronym Marcos supporters are already using to refer to the incoming president: President Bong Bong Marcos.

“The mega farm is a cluster of contiguous farms that are consolidated to form a sizable plantation capable of producing a large volume of farm products to meet the demands of consumers,” Cruz said.

The DAR said the PBBM may start with an initial 150,000 hectares that can produce an average of 142 cavans or sacks of rice per hectare per cropping season.

The agency said it will translate to a gain of PHP76,501 annually for agrarian reform beneficiaries, adding that if approved by the incoming Marcos government, it may lower the price of rice to PHP20 and liberate the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) from subsistence farming.

The KMP however dismissed the proposal, proposing instead the following steps to bring down rice prices:

  1. Stop amortization payments and condone unpaid fees by ARBs;
  2. Give enough subsidies for rice production instead of loans; and
  3. Lower prices of very expensive farm inputs.

Expensive farm inputs

Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao

Former DAR secretary Rafael Mariano said the government must work to bring down rice production costs to P6 to P8 per kilo from the current P12.

“DAR’s capitalist farm-model in a small, old-fashioned and archipelagic country will not work,” he added.

The former KMP chairperson said the constantly rising fuel prices add to increasing fertilizer prices, now at a “staggering” P2,800 to P3,000 per bag.

 “Expensive cost of production hurts farmers economically and pushes them deeper into debts. All farm inputs, not just fertilizer, are at a record high, or at least 12% across agricultural commodities. Industry experts forecast that fertilizer prices will remain high until petroleum prices drop,” the KMP said.

The group said the addressing the problem of expensive farm inputs is imperative and more viable than DAR’s proposal.

“President-elect Bongbong Marcos Jr should first agree and heed the broad people’s demand to suspend fuel excise taxes. Ito ang unang hakbang para kagyat na mapababa ang presyo ng langis at bilihin. Bawat OPH ay nakakaapekto sa presyo ng bigas, pagkain, bilihin at mga serbisyo,” Mariano said. (This is the first step in order to lower the prices of goods and services. Every oil price hike contributes to spikes in the prices of rice and other food items, other goods and services.)

Mariano added that DAR’s PBBM’ target of 142 cavans (7.1 metric tons) per hectare is also too good to be true and is even higher than Vietnam’s average 10-year yield per hectare average of 5.41 MT.

The Philippines’ current average yield is only 4.35 MT per hectare (87 cavans).

Mariano ppointed out that Vietnam, one of the world’s top rice-producing and exporting countries, allocates around 6% of its budget to agriculture, in contrast to the Philippines average of around 3%.

“Gusto natin ng mura at abot-kayang bigas para sa masa pero dapat gawin sa makatotohan at siyentipikong paraan at huwag daanin sa bolahan.” (We want rice that is cheaper and affordable for the people. But we want factual projections based on scientific data, instead of false promises.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

KMP: Land-grabbers murder farmer, burn down houses

Landgrabbing has led to the gruesome murder of a farmer in Norzagaray, Bulacan and arson in Calamba, Laguna the last two weeks, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported.

Norzagaray farmer Rommy Torres was found stuffed inside a plastic drum in faraway Mabitac, Laguna last Friday after being reported missing last February 4.

The drum where Rommy torres had been stuffed. (KMP photo)

Torres reportedly went to harvest bananas in his farm lot within a disputed 75.5 hectare area in Sitio Compra, Barangay San Mateo last February 2 but has since failed to come home.

The stench coming from the drum led residents to discover the body of Torres that bore gunshot wounds in the mouth, chest, and back.

Torres was among agrarian reform beneficiaries involved in a land dispute with Royal Moluccan Realty Holdings Inc. (RMRHI) whose guards have recently filed theft charges against 14 farmers who were harvesting bananas and coconuts inside the property.

Investigators said the murderers poured concrete into the drum to further hide Torres’ remains. (KMP photo)

In a statement, the KMP slammed the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) for its continuing failure to farmers from land-grabbing by landlords and corporations.

“The DAR should be more proactive in resolving land dispute cases, especially when the entities involved employ violence and terror. In this case, instead of protecting the farmers and ensuring their right to the land, DAR watched from afar. The hands of DAR Secretary John Castriciones are stained with blood,” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

Ramos said that the Office of the President (OP), in a decision dated December 29, 2015, had ordered that portions of the disputed land in Norzagaray which have been developed agriculturally prior to 1988 should be compulsorily acquired by the government for distribution.

The farmer families residing on the disputed land have been tilling the land since the 1960s, he added.

The peasant leader explained that an April 25, 2017 decision from the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) had already dismissed a petition from RMRHI, which was affirmed by a Court of Appeals decision last June 17, 2020.

The farmers of Norzagaray thus have a strong legal basis for their continued assertion of their rights to the land they reside in and tilled, the KMP said.

WHAT WENT BEFORE: KMP reports more attacks against farmers in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog

“They have dutifully complied with legal processes as they faced the illegal and savage acts of Royal Moluccan. Meanwhile, DAR watched from afar as Royal Moluccan’s goons evicted the farmers, fenced their lands, and continually harassed them after, chasing them further off as they tried living on the margins of what was once their farm lots,” Ramos said. 

Both decisions failed in preventing DARAB sheriff Virgilio Robles Jr. from executing a demolition of the farmers’ homes in March 2018 and October 2019, however, KMP said.

A victim watches as their house burns to the ground. (KMP photo)

Arson in Hacienda Yulo

Torres’ gruesome murder followed the arson of two houses within disputed properties in Hacienda Yulo in Calamba, Laguna last January 22.

Houses belonging to Freddie Cacao and Mario Mangubat, members of the KMP-affiliated Samahan ng mga Magsasakang Nagkakaisa sa Buntog (Samana-Buntog), were torched by armed men believed to be employed by the Yulo-owned San Cristobal Realty, the KMP said.

The perpetrators dragged Cacao and wife Criselda at gunpoint before setting fire to the house, the group reported.

The same group set fire to Mangubat’s house an hour later while his wife Dottie was inside.

TERROR IN HACIENDA YULO: Mga gwardiya ng Hacienda Yulo, nanutok ng baril sa magsasaka

Last January 9, armed men also demolished two houses in the area while they trained high-powered guns on terrified residents, the KMP reported

The goons also attacked a certain Jojo De Leon while ransacking and destroying several houses.

The perpetrators also fired their guns that injured four farmers, KMP said.  

San Cristobal Realty has reportedly entered into a deal with Ayala Land, Inc. for the construction of another high-end project in the area.

Samana-Buntog said government’s inaction in land disputes and the absence of a genuine land reform in the country had led to violence against them.

Samana-Buntog spokesperson Leo Mangubat said the government has exempted portions of Hacienda Yulo from industrial development since the early 1990s but are yet to be given to agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Mangubat said their ancestors had been tilling their farm lots since the 1910 Taal Volcano eruption.

“Our ancestors have been here way before the DoJ (Department of Justice) opinion of 1990, the CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) of 1988, and the Yulo family’s claim which began only in 1948,” Mangubat said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Farmers condemn Mariano’s rejection as DAR secretary

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) condemned the rejection of Rafael Mariano as Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary and blamed President Rodrigo Duterte for the Commission on Appointments (CA) decision Wednesday.

“The marching order to reject Ka Paeng came directly from Malacañang and President Duterte,” KMP in a statement said after the CA decision.

KMP blamed Duterte’s “fealty to landlords and oligarchs” for the CA’s decision, adding the chief executive “chose to throw away whatever reforms Mariano has started in DAR.”

The group said Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio was among those who opposed Mariano’s confirmation because her husband Atty. Maneses Carpio is a legal counsel of Lapanday Foods Corporation (LFC).

“The Lorenzo family (owners of LFC) and Lapanday strongly contested Mariano’s installation of 153 farmer-beneficiaries of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (MARBAI) to the lands grabbed by Lapanday in Tagum City,” KMP said.

The Lorenzos also acquired the controversial Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac from the Cojuangco family.

The farmers group also said “militarists” in the Duterte cabinet led by Department of National Defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana, Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Eduardo Año also lobbied for Mariano’s rejection.

“Lorenzana and Año connived with Mayor Duterte-Carpio in leading the governors of Davao del Norte, Compostela Valley, Davao Oriental and Davao Occidental, through the Davao region’s Regional Development Council (RDC XI) and Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC XI) in blocking the confirmation of Mariano,” KMP said.

The Davao RDC, the opposition of Lapanday and Hacienda Luisita are among the reasons of the Commission on Appointments (CA) rejection of Mariano, KMP added.

KMP said the oppositors submitted a resolution dated May 11 this year to CA chairperson Sen. Aquilino Pimentel informing him of Mariano’s alleged “involvement” in the attacks by the New People’s Army on Lapanday.

The group said the document was based on fabricated “intelligence reports (that) smacked of a witch hunt that has been a feature of the Duterte government’s dirty and bloody counter-insurgency program.”

“Landlords like the Lorenzos and the Cojuangco-Aquinos have wrestled their way to get back control of DAR to favor and protect their interests,” KMP said.

“Mariano’s rejection is another proof that pro-US and militarist hawks are intent on ensuring that genuine socio-economic reforms – including free land distribution and other pro-farmer reforms at DAR advocated by Mariano – won’t prosper,” KMP secretary general Antonio Flores said.

“It is consistent with the Duterte government’s refusal to address the socio-economic demands of farmers, and is part of the AFP’s arsenal perpetuating the people’s suffering,” Flores said.

CA committee on agrarian reform chairperson Senator Vicente Sotto III made the announcement on Mariano’s rejection, saying at least 13 members voted against the secretary.

“After an exhaustive deliberation and impartial scrutiny of the testimonies, endorsements, oppositions, and documents submitted, your committee called for a vote. In accordance with the results, in accordance with the rules, I should say, the weight of the scales ultimately tipped the balance against the confirmation of the appointee,” Sotto said.

As in the case of Mariano’s fellow National Democratic Front of the Philippines nominee to the Duterte Cabinet Judy Taguiwalo, the CA also did not announce the names of the 13 members who voted against the nomination.

Genuine peasant leader

KMP said CA’s rejection of DAR’s first genuine peasant secretary is an injustice to Filipino farmers.

“The decision of the CA to reject Mariano does not represent the demand and clamor of millions of farmers for a pro-farmer DAR,” KMP said.

“Behind Ka Paeng Mariano are two million members of KMP and their families, tens of thousands of agrarian reform beneficiaries and millions of rural poor and Filipinos aspiring for genuine agrarian reform, food sovereignty and peace,” the group said.

“Ka Paeng Mariano has staunchly stood by his position against the conversion of agricultural lands, the very policy that the elite-dominated Congress of landlords and capitalists wants to pursue and perpetuate,” it added.

KMP said Mariano is pursuing free land distribution, social services for farmers, food security for all Filipinos and significant reforms at DAR.

“There’s so much more to accomplish at DAR but militarists and pro-neoliberal elements in the Duterte regime and President Duterte himself are preventing genuine public servants like Rafael Mariano and Judy Taguiwalo to do their tasks,” KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

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

Sec. Rafael Mariano

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

Mariano and Taguiwalo good for CASER implementation–Sison

JOSE Maria Sison expressed alarm the Rodrigo Duterte government may find it hard to implement socio- economic reforms if the remaining “good appointees” in the cabinet fail to get the nod from the Commission on Appointments (CA).

Reacting anew to the rejection of former environment and natural resources secretary Gina Lopez last week, National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Chief Political Consultant Jose Maria Sison said they have begun to doubt whether Duterte will be able to push legislation that will enable the implementation of the prospective Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) they are currently negotiating with the Duterte-led Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“If (Agrarian Reform secretary Rafael) Ka Paeng Mariano and (Social Work and Development secretary) Judy Taguiwalo are rejected by the CA, their rejection will be further proof that Congress will also reject the social and economic reforms agreed upon through CASER and will perpetuate the conditions for the civil war in the Philippines,” Sison warned.

The Department of Agrarian Reform, Department of Social Work and Development, Department of Environment and Natural Resources are the GRP agencies expected to implement the prospective agrarian reform, environmental protection and social services agreements currently being discussed by the NDFP and the GRP in their ongoing formal peace negotiations.

On the other hand, Sison said if the CA confirms Mariano and Taguiwalo, it will have a positive and favorable effect on the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations.

“It will raise hopes that Congress will make the laws to carry out the obligations of the GRP in CASER,” he said.

Like Lopez, NDFP nominees to the Duterte cabinet Mariano and Taguiwalo have performed “excellently,” Sison said.

“They deserve the public acclaim that they have received. They have proven themselves to be highly qualified, hard working, effective and honest public servants,” he added.

Meanwhile, Sison scored Senator Panfilo Lacson’s statement over radio station dzBB last Sunday that CA members were afraid the New People’s Army (NPA) might kill them if they reject Mariano and Taguiwalo.

“There were some members who expressed the possibility that they might be ambushed if they returned to their provinces because they openly rejected Secretary Taguiwalo,” an Inquirer.net report quoted Lacson to have said.

Lacson said this was the reason the 24 CA members decided on secret balloting.

But the Inquirer report pointed out that the secret balloting rule was first adopted two months ago when the CA was deliberation on former foreign affairs secretary Perfecto Yasay, Jr.

“The statement of Lacson is uncalled for. The NPA has never made any physical threat to the CA,” Sison said.

“What the CA should be concerned about is the public opprobrium for rejecting the good appointees of Duterte,” he added. # (Report and photo by Raymund B. Villanueva)

STREETWISE: High stakes confirmation hearing

Streetwise
by Carol Pagaduan-Araullo
On Wednesday 3 progressive cabinet members — Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez, Social Welfare Secrtary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano — are up for confirmation by the powerful Commission on Appointments (CA).
They have been twice bypassed by the CA and subsequently twice reappointed in the interim by President Rodrigo Duterte. But because the current CA has approved a rule that a cabinet member may only be bypassed three times after which the CA will have to reject or confirm the concerned official, it appears that Wednesday will be the final showdown.
The backstory to this is very interesting if only because it is so unusual.  Newly elected President Duterte surprised everyone when, even before he was sworn to office, he offered the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) four Cabinet positions.
Pres. Duterte said the four departments he offered to the CPP – Labor, Agrarian Reform, Social Welfare, and Environment and Natural Resources – dealt with the “most oppressed” and that the Left was known to be “the most vigilant” when it comes to pressing national issues. He also related his offer to restarting peace talks with the revolutionary movement under the umbrella of the National Democratic Front of the Philipiines (NDFP).
In response, NDFP Chief Political Consultant and CPP Founding Chairperson Jose Ma. Sison welcomed the offer but said the CPP could not accept any position not until the peace negotiations had reached the point of a comprehensive peace settlement. In the meantime, Sison said the NDFP could nominate people who are patriotic, progressive, competent, honest, and diligent but not necessarily communists.
Upon the NDFP’s recommendation, Pres. Duterte appointed University of the Philippines Professor and former political prisoner Judy Taguiwalo as secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Long-time peasant leader and former Anakpawis Party List representative Rafael Mariano became secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). The labor portfolio eventually went to former Justice Secretary Sylvestre Bello III, concurrent head of the government peace panel negotiating with the NDFP, while that of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) went to Gina Lopez, a known environmentalist and scion of a wealthy business clan.
The appointment of Leftists and social activists, including former Gabriela Party List prepresentative Liza Maza to the National Anti-poverty Commission, lent credence to President Duterte’s avowal that he too was a “leftist” and a “socialist” even as this became fodder for accusations of his political enemies that the Duterte administration had betrayed the country to the communists.
Policy differences surfaced when the burial of the so-called remains of the Dictator Marcos was allowed by President Duterte at the Libingan ng mga Bayani setting off a torrent of mass protests wherein victims of martial rule and anti-dictatorship activists from the Left figured prominently.  Taguiwalo, Mariano and Maza stood their ground in opposition to the Marcos burial but asserted that this was not sufficient basis for them to resign their posts.
While snide remarks surfaced in social media intimating that the three had sold their souls to the devil, these accusations of cooptation did not gain much traction.  The three have proven to be one of the most hardworking, competent, and upright in the Duterte Cabinet.  They have navigated the perilous course of holding top government positions and being subjected  to myriad pressures and enticements while remaining true to their Leftist principles and continuing to serve their “most oppressed” constituents.
The lines began to be drawn for Sec. Taguiwalo during the budget hearings last year.  Many congresspersons, not least of which were those in the leadership of the House of Representatives, objected to and resented the attempts of the DSWD to ensure that the department’s beneficiaries are those truly in need and not merely “lucky” recipients of patronage politics. A compromise was eventually hammered out: congresspersons’ recommendations would be taken into account and given weight by the DSWD even as the set of qualifications specified by the agency would prevail.
But that wasn’t the end of it. The “honorable” congresspersons wanted ironclad assurances from Sec. Taguiwalo that certain funds they had earmarked for the DSWD would only be spent in their districts in accord with their wishes.  In other words the old pork barrel system was alive and well albeit disguised as an informal arrangement between the head of agency and the “honorable” congresspersons. When Taguiwalo refused to play along, her confirmation in the CA was placed in jeopardy.
As for DAR Secretary Mariano, one of his orders that raised the hackles of his fellow Cabinet members particularly the economic managers, was the DAR proposal for a two-year moratorium on land use conversion. Mariano wanted to put the breaks on rampant conversion of farmlands for residential, industrial, commercial or mixed-use purposes. Not only has land use conversion been a tried-and-tested way to go around land reform, it has even been used to cover up landgrabbing itself.  But apart from frustrating the ends of social justice as envisioned by a series of failed land reform programs, this proposed moratorium is in line with ensuring the country’s food security what with the rapidly shrinking agricultural land devoted to food production.
Needless to say, the big landowners in the country especially the owners of sprawling haciendas and corporate farms are literally up in arms over Secretary Mariano’s unflinching support for the right of the tillers of the land – tenants and farm workers – to own their own plots of land.  Recent attempts of DAR to install agrarian reform beneficiaries in land awarded but forcibly taken from them have met with armed resistance from private security guards and hired goons. In some instances, the police have averred that they cannot help DAR enforce its orders because they are outnumbered and outfirepowered by private security forces.
DENR Secretary Lopez’ decision last February to close 23 mines and suspend five others for breaching environmental standards together with the cancellation of 75 contracts for mining projects located in watersheds constituted a declaration of war against large-scale corporate mining in the country.  For this the country’s mining firms banded together to not only oppose her confirmation, but to file corruption charges against her before the Ombudsman.
Too bad Lopez’ anti-mining stance is popular among a public reminded of the horrendous toll on the environment and affected communities from mining accidents and the over-all destructive effects of large-scale mining operations. Moreover her boss, President Duterte, has continued to back her.
For its part, the NDFP recently stated that it views “in very positive terms the presence of (the three) in the Duterte cabinet”.  Fidel Agcaoili, NDFP Panel chair said, “Ka Paeng will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants. Ka Judy will likewise play an important role in implementing expanded social services for the people. Gina Lopez meanwhile has expressed willingness to work with the revolutionary forces in protecting the environment against destructive mining operations. They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP.”
The stakes are truly high in the confirmation hearing of the three officials on Wednesday. Will the people’s clamor for meaningful reforms be dealt another serious blow by reactionary interests through their front men in the Commission on Appointments? #
Published in Business World
1 May 2017

NDFP endorses Mariano, Taguiwalo and Lopez confirmation

THE National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) endorsed the confirmation of three Rodrigo Duterte cabinet secretaries a few days before their final Commission on Appointments (CA) hearing by Congress.

In a statement, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel Agcaoili said they look forward to continue working with the three officials in the framework of peace negotiations and achieving meaningful reforms to benefit the Filipino people.

“The (NDFP) Negotiating Panel views in very positive terms the presence of DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) Secretary Gina Lopez in the Duterte cabinet,” Agcaoili said.

“Their inclusion bodes well for the entire peace process as they would be in a position to help push much-needed socio-economic reforms,” he added.

Mariano and Taguiwalo were NDFP nominees to the Duterte cabinet.

Mariano, Taguiwalo and Lopez have all been previously bypassed by the CA and will get their final chance at confirmation at the Senate on May 3, Wednesday.

The NDFP said Mariano and Taguiwalo will play an important role in implementing a program of free land distribution for poor peasants and in implementing expanded social services for the people, respectively.

Lopez on the other hand has earned the underground group’s admiration for her strong stance against destructive mining.

She also recently expressed willingness to work with the New People’s Army in protecting the environment, generating eco-friendly livelihood in mining affected areas and attending the formal peace negotiations between the NDFP and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“They will no doubt be helpful in implementing a Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) that may be agreed upon by the GRP and NDFP,” Agcaoili said of the three.

The NDFP likewise warned the officials’ removal from office “by reactionary interests” will run counter to the people’s long-standing desire for reforms in government.

Meanwhile, activist groups launched a social media campaign since yesterday calling for a rally at the Senate on May 3 in support of the three secretaries.

“There is an urgent need to show broad support for the progressives in the Duterte cabinet and thwart plans by the CA to confirm only those who wish to uphold “business as usual” politics. It is not every day that we have cabinet officials who truly work for the interests of the people and defy well-entrenched elite interests,” the online appeal said.

“Let us amplify the call to confirm Judy, Ka Paeng and Gina. Join us also in the mobilization and gallery trooping on May 3, 9am at the Senate,” it added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)