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)