Justice for Ka Frank, the quest for land continues...
Volume 21 Number 2 & 3
Tuesday, 24 November 2009 17:01

Franklin “Ka Frank” Labial, a peasant leader was gunned down by unknown assailants in front of his house in Don Carlos, Bukidnon, on August 10, 2007.

Ka Frank was the president of the Don Carlos Bukidnon United Farmers Association, Inc. (DCBUFAI). As agrarian reform beneficiaries, Labial and his group of farmers were claiming some 100- hectare parcel of the 2,900 hectares of the Construction Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP) owned by Rodolfo Cuenca and Danding Cojuangco (both known as cronies of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos).

In 1989, CDCP was among the huge tracks of lands sequestered under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL). As a sequestered property, CDCP was later renamed Bukidnon Farms Inc (BFI) comprised of three (3) big land titles covering the municipalities of Don Carlos and Maramag in the province of Bukidnon. The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) granted Labial and his group 109 hectares, but it was found out later that they only have 60 hectares left since the intrusion of DAVCO in 2005.

On July 13, 2007, Ka Frank was his organization's representative to the newly formed Task Force ARAD, which was among concerned government agencies, NGOs and affected People's Organizations concerning the contested CARPable Cojuangco estate. He also acted as vice-chair of the Makabayan Pilipinas, Bukidnon Chapter (Makabayang Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Inc); provincial chair of Sanlakas- Bukidnon, and; Secretary General of the Coalition of Actual Tillers and CLOA Holders in Bukidnon Farms, Inc (CATCH -BFI).

Prior to his killing, he already received death threats after he attended the inter-agency meeting on July 13, 2007 in Don Carlos, Bukidnon. In fact, the day before he was killed, Ka Frank alone went to the office of Southern Fruits Products, Inc, a subsidiary of Davao Venture Corporation (SFPI-DAVCO), sister companies owned by the Floirendo family (prominent farm developers. DAVCO has a lease agreement over the land Labial and his group is applying for CLOA. Labial confronted the manager to stop the clearing operation over the area they are claiming. As reported, about 20 hectares more of their claim will be subjected to land clearing and would be acquired by the said company.

He took a bold stand in questioning the implementation of the CARL and contracts of the SFPI-DAVCO. He cited the destruction of crops and houses of the farmers who refused to enter into lease agreement with SFPI-DAVCO. He accused the company of using a backhoe in clearing the land already planted with crops, fruit trees and coconut trees by the farmers and in tearing down their houses. He also condemned the killings of the farmers and indigenous people struggling for their right to land.

Reportedly, DAVCO, under the lease-agreement, already appropriated some 800 hectares of the 2,900 hectares claimed by agrarian reform beneficiaries and the indigenous peoples who are actual tillers and/or occupants.

Background of the Land Struggle

The land problem in Don Carlos, Bukidnon began after World War II when companies came one after another. They occupied vast tracts of lands known as ancestral domains of the Manobo people. Control of these areas has changed from one investor to another until today.

In 1974 to 1982, the Construction Development Corporation of the Philippines (CDCP) owned by Rodolfo Cuenca assumed control of all the lands of the former investors and later subdivided and renamed them into the following: the San Roque Ranch covering some 768 hectares; San Isidro Ranch with 905 hectares and the San Ramon Ranch with 1,023 hectares.

The Manobo struggle began

In 1979, some of the Manobo descendants reoccupied the areas but failed, while others preferred to be absorbed as laborers of the CDCP farms. At that time, CDCP farms employed more than 1,000 regular and contractual workers. During harvest seasons, they hired additional workers among the students in the secondary schools in the municipality of Don Carlos who were willing to earn some extra money. Truckloads of students were brought to the CDCP farms every weekend to manually thresh out corn grains.

In 1982 to 1985, the National Development Corporation (NDC) owned by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuanco Jr., took over CDCP farms. Twenty-seven (27) Manobo families led by the late Datu Masikampu who settled near the Molita River were ejected. All their houses were razed to the ground. The Manobos were joined by farmer-petitioners who wanted to own a land. They were fired from their jobs, subjected to death threats and constantly harassed to leave the area.

In 1988, when the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL, R.A. 6657) came into force, the entire Cojuangco estate was among the first sequestered by the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) for distribution to landless farmers and tenants.
The sequestered areas were then converted to the government-owned property known as the Bukidnon Farm Incorporated (BFI). BFI covers 2,965 hectares of prime agricultural lands, perhaps the biggest single tract of land in Bukidnon. Although all the activities in the farm ceased, the top management of NDC remained intact and controlled the BFI.

The advent of the agrarian reform law opened the floodgates to a lot of interested parties. All of the company workers, landless settlers, and professional squatters were among those who applied for land ownership. This clash of interests caused land conflicts between and among the stakeholders. Land grabbing continued with the entry of fake claimants who filed claims with the Department of Agriculture (DAR) but were actually dummies of some politicians and businessmen.

During this period of struggle, the Manobo people were not oriented well with the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Their struggle to regain their ancestral land was muffed by the excitement brought about by the CARP in every corner of the country. They were not prioritized among the claimants and greatly deceived in the process of land acquisition. They could hardly even put their hands on application papers distributed by DAR.

In 1992, a new hope dawned on them upon the introduction of Department Administrative Order No. 02 or DAO 02 of DENR which allowed for the recognition and delineation of the ancestral domain claim. Ten years hence, the enactment of the Indigenous Peoples' Right Act (IPRA) consolidated their claim. But it maybe too late because all the lands they claimed as theirs were already distributed to the landless farmers who were prioritized by DAR.

In March 1995, the Manobo tribe led by Petronilo Col-ong registered its tribe with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) as the Nagkahiusang Tingog sa mga Manobo sa Muleta (NAGTIMA). They initiated to accomplish the requirements for Certificate of Ancestral Domain
Claims but failed due to lack of support and resources.

Presence of armed groups

From 1979 to present, the Manobo people who refused to leave the area were subjected to gross human rights violations by the warring armed groups of farmer beneficiaries (FBs) and other parties. Aside from being the primary targets, they were caught in the crossfire between the so-called “Pulahan” and “Putian” groups who clashed regularly for control over the entire area. Accordingly, the Pulahan group was supported by the NDC management to maintain control over the entire area while the Putian group was composed mainly by genuine farmer beneficiaries. A certain Kumander Ligaya, a rebel returnee with military backings, led the Pulahan. Later, the Manobo tribe joined the Putian group where they could associate their struggle. Since then, the necessity of arms is inevitable due to the massive cases of human rights violations and the local government of Don Carlos, Bukidnon was inutile in maintaining the peace and order in the area.

NGO & GO Intervention

From 1979 to 1998, the Manobo tribe experienced more than 20 major assaults causing numerous deaths and hundreds of houses razed to the ground. The Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) along with other NGOs assisted the community by bringing in relief goods, documenting their cases and lobbying for their cause. The conflicting provisions of IPRA and CARL were scrutinized and blamed on the difficulty of resolving the issues brought about by the conflicts among the groups of claimants. The office of the DAR-X under Director Antonieta Borra was blamed mainly for the conflicts. The Director is accused of haphazardly - by going after figures for accomplishment - awarding the land to the false claimants without first going into proper verification and validation of claims. She came up with the list of claimants otherwise known as the “Borra's List” which continues to spur controversy.

Various government inter-agency quasi-bodies and multi-partite formations were set up to resolve the issues in the area. The Presidential Task Force for Indigenous People (PTFIP) was formed in 2000. Then, Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued EO. No. 1 creating the Office of OPA-IPA as Emergency Quick Response Team under the chairmanship of Ambassador Howard Dee. In 2002, Task Force 63 was also created through Presdential EO # 63 to primarily respond to the peace and order situation which was getting worst. Secretary Deles of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) was appointed as the lead-convenor. The top management of DAR and NCIP, NAPC, PMS, OPAPP, DENR, DILG, Provincial Governor Zubiri and representatives from IP and farmer organizations composed the TF 63. It is also tasked to resolve land acquisition of the Manobo tribe for the following options: CADT or Tribal Reservation area or Collective CLOA, without compromising the farmer beneficiaries.

TF 63, with the intervention of Governor Zubiri went only as far as screening and validating the priority farmer beneficiaries and in facilitating dialogues between the collective CLOA holders and the group of financiers and investors. It was the time when many of the CLOA holders were convinced to lease their claims to the latter. However, resolution of the IP claim has been left unattended until TF 63 was faced out in 2003. Now, its concerns had been transferred to the Special Transition Team (STRAT), which was under the NCIP headed by a certain Atty. Melanie Pimentel. This is beefed up by another Joint DAR/NCIP Circular Memorandum #15, signed by DAR Secretary Roberto M. Pagdanganan and NCIP Chairman Reuben Dasay A. Lingating to accommodate the Manobo tribe as beneficiaries of the contested land.

All the above initiatives failed to resolve conflicting claims and bring peace and order in the area.

The entry of DAVCO

In 2004, DAVCO-SFPI, by entering into a MOA with DOLE Philippines to buy their farm products, seized the opportunity for investment in the BFI area. Almost all of the FBs of Collective CLOA were easily lured to their scheme. Individual farmers are paid lump sum for five years at P15,000.00/hectare with condition of employment with the company of one family member per hectare leased. A certain Juny Arances, holder of the biggest collective CLOA , was instrumental in making the FBs agree to the conditions by DAVCO.

At present, it is estimated that about 800 of the 2,965 hectares of BFI prime agricultural lands have been leased to DAVCO already. Area occupants, with pending CLOA who refused contract with DAVCO, are subjected to constant threat and harassment by the company's security guards. Ka Frank's organization, DCBUFAI, is only one among the many other small farmers' and IP organizations which opposed the DAVCO operation.

DAVCO is accused of perpetrating the human rights violations in the area and in undermining the free prior and informed consent of the affected communities in securing its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) with the office of the DENR. While Gov. Zubiri along with the former MARO Florencio Garcia of Don Carlos and PARO Julio Celestiano of the province of Bukidnon are accused by the aggrieved groups of farmers and Manobo people of being in cahoots with DAVCO, thus failing to provide due attention to their demands. There are still more than 1,000 families who remain deprived of their right to land and continue to struggle for survival. Their lives are in constant danger due to harassment and environmental hazards brought about by chemicals sprayed over the banana and pineapple plantations which are gaining ground into their occupied areas.

A glimmer of hope

An inter-agency meeting was held between government agencies concerned in the municipality of Don Carlos and the Province of Bukidnon and the aggrieved groups of claimants. Upon the insistence of Commisioner Romy Rubion of the NAPC, that meeting gave birth to Task Force Agrarian Reform and Ancestral Domain or TF ARAD which was first convened on July 19, a week after the untimely death of Ka Frank. During that meeting, TF ARAD firmed up its resolve to address the land problem in Don Carlos invoking the full support of the NAPC and expanded its membership to other stakeholders among non-government organizations helping the affected communities. The body also demanded from the local authorities investigation result on the death of Ka Frank.

When TF ARAD again met on August 28, it was fully represented by all concerned agencies and NGOs. A demand was issued to the MARO of Don Carlos to produce the names of actual FBs under the “Borra's List”, number and names of FBs validated by December 22, 2007, number of remaining areas of land available for distribution and their location and the list of CLOA holders who did not lease theirs to DAVCO. A Committee was formed to obtain other relevant information such as the names of the farmer beneficiaries who leased their lands to DAVCO and the actual number of hectares controlled by DAVCO at present. Availability of these documents will help the TF ARAD analyze “doables” for the resolutions of the cases. It was also revealed during the meeting that the entry of DAVCO in Don Carlos is not reflected in the development plan of the municipality. TF ARAD, although organized locally, operates under the auspices of the NAPC to be able to act independently from local influences.

On the other hand, a movement calling for justice for Ka Frank has been launched at the national level. The movement is dubbed “Coalition of Actual Tillers and CLOA holders of Bukidnon Farms, Incorporated” (CATCH-BFI). It is a movement composed of individuals, groups, institutions and organizations committed to seek justice for Ka Frank and the small farmers and indigenous peoples in Bukidnon who continue to struggle for land ownership and ancestral domain. The core of the movement activities depends largely on the initiatives of the affected organizations and communities at the provincial level.

There are many farmers and indigenous people who died before Ka Frank in their struggle for land and survival. Ka Frank died fighting only for just a hectare of land. May his blood be the last blood spilled and may justice be brought to all the landless people in Bukidnon.

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Last Updated on Friday, 15 January 2010 11:43

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