Six of the 14 Norzagaray, Bulacan farmers charged with theft for harvesting their own crops have been arrested by the police Monday night, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said.
In an alert, the farmers’ group said Salvacion Abonilla, John Jason Abonilla, Jenny Capa, Marilyn Olpos, Catherine Magdato, and Eden Gualberto were taken to the police station in Norzagaray at past seven o’clock in the evening last January 18.
All are members of the Samahang Magsasaka ng San Mateo (SAMA-SAMA) and are residents of Sitio Compra, Barangay San Mateo.
The farmers were charged with theft after Royal Mollucan Realty Holdings Inc. (RMRHI) guards alleged they chanced on the six and eight others harvesting coconuts and bananas inside a 75.5-hectare disputed property.
The farmers said it could not have been theft if they were harvesting the crops they themselves planted on a property that their elders have tilled when the area was still wilderness.
The KMP denounced the arrests as harassment of the farmers who have a more legitimate claim to the land than the realty company.
It also denounced the Philippine National Police for “abetting a landgrabber” and for violating a court of Appeals decision ordering the Office of the President to award the land to agrarian reform program beneficiaries.
The disputed property had been placed in a Notice of Coverage as well as Compulsory Acquisition under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
“Since the 1950s, peasant families lived and tilled the agricultural lands located in Sitio Compra, Brgy. San Mateo, Norzagaray Bulacan. Around 50 families cultivate the 75-hectare land planted with rice, corn, varieties of vegetables, and other crops,” the KMP said.
The farmers’ ancestors were tenants who paid land rent to the family of former landowner Roman Aquino, the group added.
The KMP revealed that the arrested women farmers were forced to leave their young children unattended at their homes as their husbands are all away for work.
The group also recalled that in February and October 2019, Royal Mollucan demolished a total of 38 houses within the farmers’ community, forcing farmers to leave their farms and look for livelihood outside the fenced agricultural land.
The KMP said the arrested farmers have no money to pay for bail. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)