Who’s afraid of the Tinang farmers’ ‘bamboo monument’?

The agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) of Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion, Tarlac thought they could commemorate the first anniversary of the building of their bamboo hut with a simple and peaceful gathering. The farmers erected it last February 1, 2022 to mark their decision to cultivate a contested farmland they believe is rightfully theirs.

As the members of the Malayang Kilusang Samahan ng Magsasaka ng Tinang (MAKISAMA-Tinang) prepared to gather at their kubol (hut) last Wednesday, however, they were greeted with the news that military personnel put up checkpoints on the paths leading to their hut. “Soldiers in fatigues came and went on their motorcycles in front of our hut, while a police mobile drove by several times, even parking close to us at some point,” MAKISAMA-Tinang said.

The group added that the previous night, military elements called some of their members to a “gathering” to “offer aid.” They refused, fearing that once they succumb to the enticements, they would be forced to disaffiliate from their organization, inadvertently giving up on their claim to the land.

A bamboo monument to resistance

The hut was put up in 2022 as COVID-19 restrictions loosened and as MAKISAMA-Tinang prepared to launch their “bungkalan”, a type of protest action involving collective cultivation by farmers of a contested property to assert their right over it.

Built at the edge of a path leading to a 200-hectare sugarcane field called Hacienda Tinang in Concepcion town, the hut is the group’s meeting and gathering place, especially when they have organizational and cultivation activities.

It was in the hut that more than 100 agrarian reform beneficiaries, kin and supporters were violently arrested by the Philippine National Police (PNP) last June on orders of then Representative, now Concepcion town mayor Noel Villanueva.

MAKISAMA-Tinang’s hut being rebuilt after a strong typhoon destroyed it last September. (MAKISAMA-Tinang photo)

Nine-three of those arrested were detained under the scorching heat of the sun or crammed inside stifling hot jail cells at the Concepcion PNP station for several days, causing the hospitalization of some of those arrested. Through the effort of local and Metro Manila-based human rights lawyers and other supporters who raised bail funds, those arrested were temporarily released after four days.

Last September, a strong storm also completely demolished the hut, which was promptly rebuilt by the farmers. Less than a month later, the rebuilt hut was ransacked by unknown men in the dead of night. 

MAKISAMA-Tinang chairman Felino Cunanan, Jr. being arrested in June 2022. (MAKISAMA-Tinang photo)

Last November 6, MAKISAMA-Tinang members suffered their biggest blow of all. Their courageous chairperson, Felino Cunanan, Jr., died of abdominal aortic aneurysm after another threatening visit by the military the previous night.

All these threats and violations, despite the fact that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has repeatedly affirmed that Hacienda Tinang shall be distributed to legitimate 236 agrarian reform beneficiaries, including MAKISAMA-Tinang members.

Military preventing farmers’ installation

 “Almost three decades have passed since DAR ruled in favor of these farmers, yet instead of installing them on their land, the government has only militarized their community,” Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) spokesperson Milton John Lozande lamented.

“Soldiers have already put up unwarranted checkpoints around the ARBs’ land. In possible violation of International Humanitarian Law, state forces have been occupying civilian structures in the vicinity to terrorize them. Now they also have the gall to crash this simple celebration?” he continued,

Lozande’s group had been urging the DAR to expedite the farmers’ installation at Hacienda Tinang, despite ever-worsening harassments by the military and Mayor Noel Villanueva.

In the just concluded high-level International Labor Organization (ILO) visit to the Philippines, the mass arrest of the farmers had been included in the complaints submitted. The state assault on and vilification of MAKISAMA-Tinang, many of whose members were agricultural workers as well, constituted a violation of their internationally recognized freedom of association, UMA said

“The farmers of Tinang have suffered long enough. Decades of landlessness are a bad enough injury, and the Marcos regime dare add the insult of violating their right to organize?” Lozande asked.

MAKISAMA-Tinang members and their hut. (MAKISAMA-Tinang photo)

Despite the ongoing harassments, MAKISAMA-Tinang farmers said they are not giving up their fight and have added the militarization of their community as among those they resist against.

They may have failed again to peacefully gather at their hut last Wednesday because of the soldiers’ harassments, but their humble one-year old bamboo structure has once more proven its value as a symbol of their resistance against decades-old injustices. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Scenes at a police parking lot

CONCEPCION, Tarlac–It wasn’t midmorning yet but the heat is already unbearable. Crammed under two tents are more than 80 farmers and land rights advocates arrested on Wednesday afternoon by the police for trying to till a portion of a farm lot they say has already been awarded to them as early as 1995 under the government’s land reform program.

The detainees, dubbed the Tinang 83, were trying to till a portion of the hacienda with the same name as the community where it is located. They were taking a lunch break when the police arrived in droves in several vehicles, intent on arresting them.

“They were in no mood to negotiate. They surrounded our hut and started arresting as many as they could lay their hands on,” peasant rights activist and poet Pia Montalban said.

The detainees were given not given enough chairs at the parking lot where they were taken by those who arrested them. What paper cartons they have been using as bedding the past two nights are what they sit on. Paper plates they use to eat with are what they frantically fan themselves with, an arduous task under such wilting heat.

‘Tinang 83’ detainees under tents at a police parking lot. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

The lone paralegal with them is busy, asking everyone how they are doing while constantly relaying the infuriating information to lawyers on standby that Concepcion acting police chief Lt.Col. Ronald Macabitas has not shown up yet. Their release papers lay unattended at the police officer’s desk inside an air-conditioned office.

Meanwhile, detainees with health conditions are being looked after by their fellows more attentively. One with asthma keeps pumping her inhaler, obvious it is about to run out.

Still, they are in a good mood, the student activists more so. Yesterday, one of them scheduled to attend her college graduation rites, Denise Macalino of Holy Angel University in Angeles City, wore the toga she had in her bag when arrested. She probably had the most number of well-wishers in her entire graduating batch, albeit attending the rites remotely and as a police detainee at a parking lot.

Denise Macalino wearing her toga at the police station as her unjust arrest withheld her supposed attendance to the graduation rites. (Photo from Denise Macalino’s Facebook Account)

The activists had another happy moment this morning. A fellow activist slipped in notes for them through the fence, drawings by children in communities they are organizing, wishing them well. Tears of joy flowed.

Detained student activists receiving notes by children from the communities they are organizing. (Video by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

Concepcion’s food delivery businesses appear busier the past two days, thanks to the support the detainees are receiving even from strangers. Food keep on arriving even if instructions on the delivery receipts are somewhat unusual.

A food receipt with a note to the delivery person, saying “Hanapin niyo po si *name of one of the detainees.* Naka-detain po siya sa parking area.” (Please find *name of one of the detainees,* who is detained at the parking area.) (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

Even the coconut juice vendor across the parking lot seem to be doing brisk business.

Supporters of ‘Tinang 83’ giving them fresh coconut juice through the fence. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

It has been two days since the detainees are being forced to suffer inhumane conditions. But there is another thing that keeps their spirits up: a stray kitten they managed to save from the brink of death.

The stray kitten the detainees saved and was later given the same name as the land they are fighting for. (Photo by Jek Alcaraz/Kodao Productions)

“It was already here in the parking lot when we were brought in. It was so weak and dying, ignored by the police who had their cars and motorcycles parked where it was. It could not even lift its head up. We fed it and let it drink water. Now, it eats on its own and walks around. So we gave it our red ribbons with slogans because it is now our comrade,” one of the student activists said.

They even gave it a name: Tinang.

(Text by Raymund B Villanueva, photos and video by Jek Alcaraz)