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Pampanga farmers march to reclaim land ‘grabbed’ by big developers

More than 200 farmers marched from Monumento in Caloocan to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City on Thursday to protest its supposed lack of action against land grabbing and related killings across Central Luzon.

Farmers from Floridablanca and Hacienda Dolores in Porac were joined by farmers from Mabalacat and Hacienda Luisita to call on DAR to implement the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and to reclaim land they've made productive.

The farmers were joined by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women - Asia Pacific and other supporters.

The group stopped in front of Trinoma mall on North Avenue as part of their protest against Ayala Land for the firm's supposed "gross violations of farmers' rights."

"In municipalities such as Porac (and) Canlubang in Laguna, where Ayala's projects are taking place, gross violations of farmers' rights have long been reported, yet DAR has still done nothing to end these worsening violations," Cornelio Pineda, a farmer from Hacienda Dolores in Porac, said in a statement.

No land, no livelihood

Pineda, who was at the rally, told GMA News Online in an interview that Porac farmers weren't even aware that their lands were owned by Ayala Land or LLL Holdings Inc. or its partner (Leonardo-Lachenal-Leonio Holdings, LeonioLand) until they started development in 2013.

The two firms are developing a new community called Alviera in Porac. A new park called SandBox had already opened in the area, allowing visitors to go on rides such as roller coaster ziplines, aerial walks, and giant swings.

"Nabulaga na lang yung mga tao (tulad nung) nagawa yung SCTEx," said Pineda, who suspects that Porac was scouted during the expressway's construction.

He said LLL Holdings acquired the land for next to nothing and has banned farmers from harvesting their fruits and other crops since acquiring the land.

"Halos walang bayad, dahil ang sabi ng kompanyang LLL, na matagal nang nakikinabang dun, e como sa kanila yung lupa, nakatitulo sa kanila, sila naman daw ang puwedeng kumita doon dahil sa kanila yung lupa," Pineda said.

Barricades have been erected and guards have been posted to keep farmers out of the property.

"Ngayon, 'di na nila pinapapasok at 'di na sila (farmers) nakikinabang sa sarili nilang pananim kundi yung mga security guard na lang ng LLL ang pumipitas sa mga prutas na tinanim ng mga tao."

Deprived of their livelihood, he said their children can barely attend school and they have had to resort to growing crops in their backyard. The only relief they've received from the government has been a few food packages.

The lack of jobs in such areas force some women to venture out of the country to earn a living. Jean Enriquez, CATW - Asia Pacific executive director, said their need for income makes them easy victims for exploitation and human trafficking.

"Nakikita namin kung gaano ka-tindi ang epekto sa mga kababaihan. Marami sa kanila napipilitan na pumunta sa ibang bansa, nata-trapik sila dun dahil nga inaagawan sila ng lupa ng mga malalaking korporasyon kagaya ng Ayala," said Enriquez.

Unsolved killings and detention

Sister Maribeth Manguil, who had lived in Hacienda Dolores for 38 years, said lives were also stolen in the farmers' struggle to reclaim lands they have cultivated.

"Doon na po ako lumaki, tapos po ngayon kinukuha na ng LLL Holdings," Manguil said.

The most recent casualty of their cause is barangay captain Antonio Tolentino, currently detained in Angeles City, Pampanga on allegedly trumped-up car theft and kidnapping charges.

"Namatayan rin kami ng kasamahan, si Armand Padino. Hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring katarungan para sa kanya," she added.

Padino was killed on January 12, a few months before fellow farmer leader Menelao “Melon” Barcia was slain in an ambush on May 2. Both were members of the Aniban ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan ng Hacienda Dolores (Aniban). No suspects have been identified in either men's death.

Other provinces in central and southern Luzon have experienced similar cases of land-grabbing and murders.

Kaisahan at Samahan ng mga Mamamayan sa Canlubang leader Pablito Egildo was murdered on April 23, 2013. The farmers said he was killed because of his involvement in the land dispute over Hacienda Yulo, which Ayala Land also purchased.

Another Ayala acquisition, Sicogon island in northern Iloilo, is also causing concern for local residents still reeling from Typhoon Yolanda last November.

"Ang masakit sa Sicogon, ang mga farmers na kinukuhanan ng lupa ay mga biktima pa ng Haiyan. Biktima sila ng Yolanda, tapos ngayon may mga vultures na ganito na lalo pang pinapahirap ang buhay nila," said Enriquez.

Developments will generate jobs, benefit people

An Ayala Land official who wished to remain anonymous told GMA News Online that their new development in Pampanga will "spur economic activity and generate jobs that will benefit many people."

Meanwhile, the properties in Porac and Canlubang are exempted from the agrarian reform program.

"We conducted due diligence and confirmed the exemptions before we embarked on these projects," the official said.

The official explained that "the Porac property was deemed not suitable for agriculture by the government."

"Informal settlers in the area were provided with proper resettlement. The people involved in the Canlubang property who were employees of our partner were provided benefits in accordance to their Collective Bargaining Agreement," the official also said.

DAR has yet to respond to GMA News Online's email inquiries. — JDS, GMA News