Failure of state responsibilities and its deadly consequences

Driving up and down the humpy road towards Hacienda Diaz, one passes coconut trees and sugar cane fields with a stunning view over the hilly countryside. At first sight, it is hard to imagine that these sugar cane fields are often at the center of land conflicts fought with repression and brutality.

The story of farmer Alexardo Maicom proofs that the first impression is deceptive, as in reality these landscapes are the scene of repressions and agrarian reform related human rights violations. On the 5th of January 2012, the conflict on one particular parcel of land escalated. On this day, the brother of Alexardo Maicom was killed.

In order to understand the story of Alexardo and his family, knowledge of land conflicts in the Philippines and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is crucial. For centuries a few powerful families owned most of the land in the Philippines, forming the breeding ground for an often violent struggle for land. Introduced in 1988, the CARP aims to take pressure off the social struggle for land and break up the feudal structures by enabling farmers to petition for the land they cultivate. The group of farmers led by Alexandro was one of the many farmers that petitioned for land within the CARP. They were awarded the land title on 31st of August, 2011.  According to the official paper, Lot No. 60, located in Barangay Bagtic, Negros Oriental, belongs to them and should have been cultivated by them since that date. However, words on paper do not always meet reality.

Farmerleader Alex discusses the next steps in their struggle for implementing their rights with the other farmers

Farmerleader Alex discusses the next steps in their struggle for implementing their rights with the other farmers

A group of 25 others farmers ignored the ownership certificate and continued to occupy the land. Three months later, officials from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) promised to carry out a land-handover ceremony (called installation) on November 29th . However, the strong resistance from the opposing group resulted in a withdrawal of the original plan. The failed installation was a major setback and it left the rightful owners disappointed. Ever since, Alexardo and the others have to pass their property on a daily basis to see the other group making profit from it.

The failure of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to officially hand over the prior awarded piece of land to the farmers is not uncommon. While the reasons for this inactivity may vary, it deters the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries from cultivating their properties and keeps them (financially) dependent. When farmers decide that waiting for the DAR to take action is no longer an option, some use the symbolic act of a so-called “self-installation” as an instrument to finally start working on the field and to safeguard their livelihood. A self-installation means that the farmers enter their land without the usually required assistance of the DAR and the police.

At the beginning of the New Year, Alexardo and 30 other land-holders decided to become active. Meanwhile, they had been waiting to cultivate their land for fourth month – to no avail. After informing the police about their plans, the land-holders entered their land in the early morning hours of January 5th in order to install themselves. The police was not present. It was an act of hope for an independent and prosperous future. But what then happened is cruel and hard to come to terms with. No one thought that this event would turn into a day that will always be remembered as the day when Alexardos´s brother was killed and he himself got seriously injured.

Shortly after they entered their property, the farmers were attacked by the occupants. Stones were thrown, machetes (bolos) were used as weapons and suddenly, the sound of shots was heard. Seized with panic, most of the farmers fled the field. But this didn´t stop the aggressors from attacking the beneficiaries. Driven by anger and the purpose of preventing the actual CLOA-holders from taking possession of the land, the occupants attacked Alexardo, his brother Arturo and other farmers with the words “Pamatyon tamo” – “I will kill you all.” As a letter later testified at court, one attacker hacked Alexardo with the use of a cane knife, hitting him on the right side of the head and the left arm. While Alexardo was taken care of and carried towards his home, he got injured with a third wound at the back. At the same time, his brother Arturo tried to escape and run in the direction of his house. He was chased by an attacker who hacked Arturo with a bolo and hit him on the back portion of his body. Being already seriously wounded, another person hacked him with a bolo on the right side of his face and on the right shoulder. These multiple injuries caused the untimely death of Arturo. Only the fact that the farmer dispersed and fled the field stopped the aggressors from continuing the attacks.

The medical wounds Alexardo will have to cope with are an additional burden apart from the loss and grief he and his family have to live with. The day of the 5th January 2012 is ingrained in the minds of the farmers. The scar on Alex forehead reminds him daily of the loss of his brother and the injustice they have experienced. But instead of allowing the sorrow to predominate their everyday life, the human rights defenders led by Alexardo are driven by the will to continue the fight for their land.

Even though already more than a year has passed since the terrible incident, the situation on Hacienda Diaz has not changed.

IPON asks members of the military and police about the security situation in the area

IPON asks members of the military and police about the security situation in the area

Because of the ongoing resistance of the opposing group and their readiness to use violence, Alexardo and the other land owners are still unable to enter and cultivate their land. On a daily basis, they struggle to safeguard their existence and future. And even though the DAR is aware of this unacceptable situation, the responsible state actors are not true to their words. They still don’t take action and fail to safely install the human right defenders.

In the end, the story of Alexardo alarmingly emphasizes that being a farmer and fighting for the right to land is very dangerous in the Philippines. The threatening circumstance and the continuous backlashes challenge the will of the human rights defenders to continue their struggle and not to give up. Against all risks, they still sacrifice their and their family’s well-being in order to demand their human rights, which the Philippine state officially signed and agreed upon.

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