THE SAGAY MASSACRE IN THE CONTEXT OF AGRARIAN REFORM

in Countercurrent
by Tagumpay Felipe 


(Editor’s Note: In one of his recent rambling speeches, President Duterte vowed to carry out agrarian reform, minus the participation of the Left revolutionary movement represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). How he would do that is not clear, considering that the futile amendatory Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reform (CARPeR) has long lapsed without being completed.

What is clear is that Duterte let pass the opportunity to carry out a genuine agrarian reform program, mutually agreed on in a three-month back-channel talks (which he had authorized) and set for signing by the GRP and NDFP peace panels in June 2018. But he unilaterally cancelled the formal talks. Earlier in November 2017, he issued Presidential Proclamation 360 “terminating” the GRP-NDFP peace talks, sans the required notice to the NDFP.

Had he not done that, the infamous Sagay Massacre, the subject of this article, could have been averted.)

On October 20, 2018 nine peasants, including three women and two minors, were brutally massacred in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. They were part of a bigger group of sugar farm workers working on a land cultivation area (LCA) within Hacienda Nene, a 75-hectare plantation.

The LCA is a project of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) to help peasants during the tiempo muerto or dead season, a 4-month period between the sugar cane harvest and the next planting cycle when sugar farm workers have no income. Rather than watch their families starve, the farm workers plant food crops on idle hacienda lands (“bungkalan”) to tide them over this dreaded season.

However, many hacienda owners would have none of this. They violently harass peasants engaged in “bungkalan.”

The National Democratic Front in Negros has since identified the four perpetrators of the Sagay 9 massacre. They are former elements of the renegade Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) who had joined the AFP-directed Special Civilian Armed Auxiliary (SCAA) and were in the employ of Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. and his son, Sagay City mayor Alfredo Marañon III.

The Sagay 9 massacre brought to 197 the total number of peasants killed in agrarian-related struggles under the Duterte regime.

With Duterte’s orders to the police and military to shoot peasants engaged in “bungkalan,” the death toll is sure to rise further.

Evils of the hacienda system

The gruesome massacre at Hacienda Nene has once more brought to the fore the utter failure of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to effect social justice through genuine agrarian reform.

For too long, peasants have had to bear the brunt of the evils of the hacienda system. Continuing land monopoly by a handful of landlord families have left peasants severely impoverished, heavily indebted, chronically hungry and poorly nourished.

The fight for land at Hacienda Nene began 30 years ago, when the peasants first petitioned the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to put the estate under land reform coverage in 1988. It took another 26 years for the hacienda to be covered by the program. On June 27, 2014, the DAR issued the Notice of Coverage for the 76 hectares of the 90 hectares of Hacienda Nene. Thanks to landlord-bureaucrats like the Marañons, estates like Hacienda Nene have remained intact, their centuries-old evils kept alive.

The graver responsibility, however, lies with the Duterte regime for having scuttled the peace negotiations and preventing the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)’s section on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD).

The draft ARRD was scheduled for signing by the two peace panels as early as November 2017, when Duterte abruptly, unilaterally cancelled the peace talks.

ARRD as key to social justice and economic development

Putting premium on uplifting the countryside is both socially just and economically sensible. Neglecting agricultural development and the welfare of the peasantry means neglecting the largest number of Filipino producers and the single largest sector of the domestic economy. ARRD is thus the key to ending rural poverty and the starting point for rapidly developing the Philippine countryside.

Agrarian reform under the CASER’s section on ARRD calls for breaking land monopolies through expropriation with selective compensation. It covers not only private and public agricultural land but also fishing grounds, fisheries, and aquaculture while recognizing ancestral domain.

The policy of expropriation with compensation was adopted to encourage landlords to invest in industrial and other productive enterprises. It shall also apply to landlords who have a proven record of actively supporting progressive land reform.

The applicability, amount and methods of compensation shall be determined in close consultation with peasant associations and according to the criteria and general guidelines outlined in the CASER.

However, landholdings proven to have been acquired through illegal and fraudulent means— such as land-grabbing, misrepresentation, circumvention of agrarian reform laws, distortion of the history of tenancy, and the use of violence—shall be subject to confiscation without compensation.

Abandoned and idle agricultural lands over the retention limit specified in the CASER shall also be subject to expropriation without compensation.

Surplus landholdings and other means of production of rich peasants and middle peasants shall not be subject to expropriation. Rich and middle peasants shall be required, however, to raise the wages of the farm workers they hire in accordance with the standards set by the peasant associations.

There will be measures to prevent reconcentration of land, such as a prohibition on the sale or mortgaging of distributed land to former owners, money lenders and local officials.

In distributing the land, preference shall be given to immediate family members and relatives of tenants who are willing to cultivate the land and able to make the land as productive as possible, provided their landholdings do not exceed the land retention limit.

In the absence of a member of the immediate family, the peasant association or peasant cooperative of the farmer beneficiary shall be encouraged to purchase the land for cooperativization.

The ARRD moreover prohibits the conversion of land producing food into other use in order to ensure that the country achieves food self-sufficiency.

Notably, the ARRD section of the CASER goes beyond land distribution. Agricultural production shall be developed with ample budgets for developing agricultural science and technology, agricultural credit, irrigation, post-harvest facilities, farm-to-market roads, and marketing support.

The section likewise upholds and promotes the rights of the peasantry, including farm workers and fisherfolk, to living wages, humane work conditions, benefits, and to be free from usury.

The ARRD section identifies 16 rural industries to be targeted for development: coconut, sugar, cacao and coffee, meat processing, fish processing, fruit, spices and vegetable processing, salt and seaweeds processing, dairy products, leather processing, abaca products, bamboo and rattan, clothing and textiles, pottery, furniture, and agricultural by-products processing.

The ARRD would have provided for the free distribution of big landholdings and landed estates, including lands targeted by the GRP for distribution; haciendas controlled by private individuals or entities; disputed lands with local agrarian reform and peasant struggles; and lands already occupied by peasants through various forms of land cultivation and collective farming programs.

In a statement condemning the Sagay 9 massacre, the NDFP’s Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER), which helped draft the ARRD, stressed that the break-up of land monopolies and free land distribution are the “just, necessary and urgent corrective measures to the centuries-old social injustices suffered by the peasantry.”

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