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On Thursday, June 9, 2022, in Concepcion town, Tarlac, Philippines, 20 local policemen, and three teams of the Philippine National Police accosted and arrested 93 people for holding a cooperative planting on a 2-hectare piece of the 200-hectare Hacienda Tinang. This arrest is the biggest mass arrest of farmers and peasant advocates under the outgoing Duterte administration.
Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Undersecretary David Erro, the head of the Task Force Tinang Tarlac (TFTT) created by DAR Secretary Bernie Cruz, said that at least nine of the farmer beneficiaries had coordinated with his office of their plans to grow vegetables on the land to help feed their families. The farmers said they would be tilling idle land, but Cruz claimed that one of the farmers had planted sugarcane on half a hectare of the land.
Among those arrested were a) the farmers and agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) Felino Cunanan Jr., 63, Chino Cunanan, 34, Abigail Bucad, 36, and Sonny Dimarucut, 45, all residents of Tinang village; Sonny Magcalas, 58, a resident of Sto. Niño village in Concepcion; and Pia Montalban, 39, and Alvin Dimarucut, 36, both residents of Tarlac City; b) around 30 students from different universities in Central Luzon, Baguio City and Manila, including a campus journalist and three volunteers from the youth sectoral party Kabataan Partylist Cordillera; c) nine master’s and doctoral researchers; and d) 40 members of farmers’ groups. The charges against the five foreigners and three observers were dropped.
Mayor-elect Noel Villanueva, who accompanied the police during the arrest, is co-owner, with his relatives, of the Tinang Multi-Purpose Cooperative (TMPC) which filed complaints against the farmers who were cultivating the idle land for alleged destruction of property and malicious mischief.
The police had no warrants of arrest, and the press has been unable to verify if the police complied with the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office’s procedures for warrantless arrests. The videos show the police accosting the farmers and their supporters.
The Concepcion Police Station did not have space for the nearly a hundred people arrested so those charged had to take turns being locked up in the police station! The Police chief denied the paralegals’ request to check on those arrested. Two of the youth who had difficulty breathing due to the cramped conditions collapsed and were rushed to the hospital. No covid mitigation procedures were undertaken in the lock up.
A bail of PhP 1.2 million was demanded, with PhP13,500 for every individual facing complaints of illegal assembly and malicious mischief, plus a processing fee of PhP 1,000 per person. Despite the court order issued on the afternoon of June 12, Police Lt. Col. Reynold Macabitas, Concepcion, Tarlac’s acting police chief delayed the release of those charged for several hours.
The 34-year-old History. This dispute between the farmer beneficiaries and the TMPC and the Villanueva clan has a 34-year long history. Hacienda Tinang which originally belonged to the Dominican Order of the Philippines came under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program in 1988. The Dominicans sold Hacienda Tinang to the government under the Voluntary Land Transfer of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). The CARL land transfers were supposed to go to peasant farmers, but it wasn’t until 1995, seven years later, before the farmers who were to receive these 200 hectares were identified by the DAR. The collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) through the Transfer Certificate Title was issued in September 1995 to 236 beneficiary farmers. However, this CLOA was initially kept from the beneficiary farmers by Vernon Villanueva, then village chief and brother of Noel Villanueva. Nevertheless, the beneficiary farmers have been tilling this land since 1995. The Villanuevas are not agrarian reform beneficiaries.
In 1999, four years after issuing the CLOA, the DAR held a referendum on the request of the Villanuevas. The Villanuevas created the Tinang Multi-Purpose Cooperative (TMPC) and convinced some of the panicked farmer beneficiaries to join and turn over their land shares to the TMPC because Noel Villanueva claimed that a “second screening” had inflated the number of ARBs. There are eight members of the Villanueva family owning 2,680 shares of the TMPC. At this referendum, 94 ARBs voted against joining the TMPC and have their lands managed by it, instead the farmers preferred to get a share of 50 hectares. The DAR attempted to segregate the lands for those who did not want to join the TMPC but was blocked by the Villanuevas.
Nineteen years after this referendum, the Department of Agrarian Reform finally decided to install the ARBs as legitimate recipients in 2018. This decision was never enforced because of the pull of the Villanuevas. The 94 ARBs had asked the DAR to subdivide the land and to issue their individual titles.
Now the Villanuevas, via the TMPC, have petitioned the DAR to annul the 1995 CLOA. The farmers have protested this on February 24, 2022 at the DAR central office in Quezon City. In response, the DAR created the Task Force Tinang-Tarlac on March 11, 2022, with the task to check the records and validate the ARBs. The DAR re-evaluated the ARBs in May 2022 but has not released its results as of June 16, 2022; this information has eminent bearing on the hearing of the Tinang 83.
The farmer beneficiaries should have had their titles and land transfers in 1995, thus the bureaucratic process of the DAR and the Task Force Tinang Tarlac exposes the strong-arm maneuverings of the Villanuevas in delaying the awarding of these titles to the farmer beneficiaries, with the help of the DAR. Either the DAR and the Task Force are incompetent in enforcing the 1995 decisions or both are complicit in the scheme o of the influential Villanuevas to deny these farmer beneficiaries their land transfers. Very clearly, procedural injustice is one more burden of these farmers.
On a bigger scale, this story shows a more sinister record than that of bureaucratic incompetence. Outgoing tyrant Rodrigo Duterte, whose human rights record is under investigation by the International Criminal Court, has also targeted farmers. In March 2021, at least three peasant leaders who had previously been red-tagged were arrested in Central Luzon during the Holy Week in 2021. In July 2022, four farmers in Mindoro were arrested for alleged violation of the anti-terror law. The Tinang 83 are also now being red-tagged by the government. Their arrest is the biggest mass arrest of farmers and peasant advocates under the Duterte administration. DAR Secretary Cruz himself has engaged in criticism of land reform advocates as politicizing an issue, despite it obviously having been politicized from the beginning by the Villanuevas.
In Tarlac, the Villanuevas have been the bane of the farmer beneficiaries or ARBs. Why can non-ARBs like the Villanuevas delay the just awarding of ownership to the long-suffering ARBs? Because the political reality is that the Villanuevas can. Noel Villanueva is currently Mayor-elect of Concepcion, Tarlac and has been Congressman of the third legislative district of Tarlac Province since 2013. Before that, he was Mayor of Concepcion, Tarlac since 2004. His older brother Vernon is an incumbent Provincial Board Member. Recall he was Village Head when the CLOA was first issued. Meanwhile, the younger brother Antonio is Municipal Councilor, his nephew Ato Villanueva is a village head, and his eldest son is First Councilman of Barangay Tinang and president of the First Councilman’s League. The Villanuevas are a political clan in Concepcion, Tarlac, and powerful enough to stop the DAR at every step for decades, assuming that is the DAR was ever serious about land reform.
CARP itself, as the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism long ago noted, is riddled with problems such as corruption, “landlords evading CARP …[, an] agrarian reform bureaucracy that seems to be more concerned with “fast-tracking” land distribution than in checking who actually gets the land, …[and] DAR bureaucrats … beholden to landowners.”
Farmers are the poorest of Philippine society, yet they play the most essential role of producing the foods that Filipinos rely on for their sustenance. Landlessness, low income, and the frequent threats of starvation are the burdens of oppression on their shoulders. The laws and the government agencies tasked to help them, in their historical experience, have proven to be most often inutile, and many times actively hostile. Time after time, they have proven unable to redistribute land to farmers from the grip of landlord power, as exemplified by the ongoing 34-year ordeal of the Tinang farmer beneficiaries against the greedy Villanueva political clan. Large tracts of Philippine agricultural land are directed not at food security for the country and a basis of national development, but for the profiteering of a parasitic class of landlords hellbent on providing the raw materials, such as monocropping, for big foreign capital.
The Tinang 83 case is not the first and it will not be the last example of this outrage and injustice.
Filipino farmers will never be free as long as the Philippines is not free, and the Philippines will never be free as long as its farmers are not free.
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