URGENT APPEAL FOR SUPPORT!
FREE CORDON 4 FARMERS! STOP THE CRIMINALIZATION OF AGRARIAN CASES!
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic gripping our nation, unjust arrests of farmers in criminalized agrarian cases continue. Four farmers residing in Brgy. Caquilingan, Cordon, Isabela have been arrested by the PNP on charges of arson based on a trumped up case filed by the Roque-Villaluz landlord clan in Cordon, Isabela.
MARIO GULOY SR., 51 years old, married with 7 children was arrested in his home last March 10, 2020 and committed to the BJMP Santiago City. Guloy, after a vehicular accident years back, lost one of his legs and has retired from farming to do finishing work in a small furniture shop earning a meager P300 daily before the Covid-19 quarantine.
RODRIGO BUAJON, 56 years old, a poor farmer and married with 3 children was arrested in his house last April 28, 2020 and is still detained at the PNP Cordon police station due to the delay of court proceedings during the COVID-19 quarantine.
VIRGILIO NIEVERA JR., 50 years old, married with 4 children and his brother MARLON NIEVERA, 37 years old, both poor farmers were arrested in a hut in Brgy. Capirpirwan, Cordon last April 29, 2020 and are also detained at the PNP Cordon. Virgilio Nievera tills a 1 hectare cornland which was mortgaged to another farmer years back due to financial constraints. Marlon Nievera has already mortgaged his 1.5 hectare farmlot to be able to pay for his legal fees.
Their families are original farmer occupants and settlers in Brgy. Caquilingan where they have been cultivating their occupied farmlands for 7 decades. The Roque-Villaluz landed estate used their blood ties and political influence with persons in the judiciary, lawyers’ circles, the police and even the DENR and DAR and attempted to take over 300 hectares of farmlands occupied and tilled by hundreds of farmers in the barrio. They acquired anomalous titles to the land, taking advantage of the farmers’ lack of knowledge in the legal aspects of land titling. The late landlord patriarch Don Rufino Roque Sr. was a surveyor who fraudulently acquired numerous homestead patents in his children’s names without any effort to till or nurture the land. Farmers were duped into setting up mango plantations with promises of co-ownership and a half share in mango harvests and were told to pay 30% land rent even for untitled land.
When their titles appeared in the 1980’s, the landlords then employed all means to forcibly evict the farmers from their farms and homes. Farmers were forced to give 90% of gross harvests as land rent. Those who refuse were prevented from tilling the land, some were shot at, corn harvests were confiscated and standing corn plants bulldozed. The farmer settlers formed their organization the Caquilingan Farmers Association in 1998 so that they could effectively defend their land rights since some earliest settlers among them were already ejected from the land and some even imprisoned. They hoped to be able to bequeath to their children the land which their forefathers tilled and occupied since 1948. They succeeded in asserting their possession and cultivation of farmlands previously usurped from farmers. The farmers’ petition for cancellation of the fraudulently acquired land titles has been gathering dust at the DENR for 19 years.
The landlords resorted to the filing of numerous criminal cases against the peasant leaders and members of the Caquilingan Farmers Association. The farmers faced seven criminal cases: six trespassing cases involving 15 peasants (11 men, 3 women and one minor) in 2001 and one arson case involving 16 peasants (13 men, two women and I minor) in 2002 which were all dismissed but only ten arrested farmers have been acquitted from the arson case.
The Roque-Villaluz landlords accused the farmers of burning their mango plantation when the farmers burned cogonal grasses during their normal land preparation activities. The mango trees that the farmers planted and cared for for years, which the landlords claimed as their property, even became healthier after the smoking. The landlords could not produce any evidence, not a single mango tree died and they could not even identify the farmers they were accusing. The arson case is non-bailable being considered a violation of Marcos’ plantation law.
Seven peasant leaders were imprisoned for 13 months at the BJMP Santiago City in 2003. The farmers succeeded in their request for bail, were able to pay the reduced bail of P350,000 with the help of the Diocese of Ilagan and later were acquitted of the case. Two more were given arrest warrants in 2016 and 2017 and were also acquitted and freed.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, four more farmers were arrested from March to April 2020 and their bail was set at P75,000 each. The criminalization of the agrarian case, incarceration of the farmers and numerous harassment cases have caused extreme hardships, psychosocial trauma and economic difficulties among the farmers’ families, especially after months of quarantine.
But the farmers realized that they have no other recourse but to continue to resist forced displacement and eviction from their lands and communities. DAGAMI, the provincial peasant organization in Isabela is appealing for support to raise the bail bond needed to set the four imprisoned farmers free. ###