MANILA, Philippines – The Climate Change Congress of the Philippines (CCCP) and Pesante-Pilipinas on Monday, September 26, issued a statement condemning the September 20 killing of peasant leader Arnel Figueroa and injuring another farmer at the Yulo King Ranch (YKR) in Coron, Palawan.
According to the statement, on Tuesday, September 20, seven members of the Pesante-Palawan, a provincial farmers’ federation, were cultivating their farm at the YKR.
Later that day, a contingent of four security guards of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) of the Department of Agriculture, two Forest Management Bureau staff and four Philippine Marine soldiers arrived around 4 PM and ordered them to stop their farming activities, the statement further said.
This encounter triggered a heated exchange between the farmers and the authorities.
Without provocation, however, BAI security guard Dan Nelson Mayo aimed his shotgun and killed Figueroa, 44, while the latter was talking with an FMB staff member.
It was caught on video by Maria Maaya L. Thind, 36, general secretary of the farmers group.
Ronald Paguntalan, another BAI blue guard, also fired his gun and seriously wounded another farmer, Levy Embanisido.
The CCCP and Pesante-Pilipinas called on the Department of Justice, the Commission on Human Rights, and the Philippine National Police “to render swift justice for farmer leader Arnel Figueroa and bring to the bar of justice all who conspired in the murder and physical violence against the farmers.”
“We call on the DAR and the DENR to distribute the 2,000 hectares agricultural lands to Pesante CARP petitioners and distribute all alienable and disposable lands in the Yulo King Ranch to qualified farmer beneficiaries,” they said in the statement.
Land of dispute
The YKR is composed of 22,268 hectares of pasture land in Coron (32% of Coron’s total land area) and 16,970.53 hectares of land in Busuanga (43% of Busuanga’s total land mass). It was declared as the Busuanga Pasture Reserve in 1975, through Proclamation Number 1387, and was acquired by Marcos cronies Luis Yulo and Peter Sabido using public funds.
The BAI and Pesante want the distribution of the same area by the DENR – the reason behind the conflict between the two groups.
The Coron farmers’ clamor over the right for the land traces back to the 1980s when the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) sequestered the land and transferred its management to the Bureau of Animal Industries. Since then, management of the Yulo King Ranch has shifted to different agencies of government.
In March 2010, the Supreme Court lifted the sequestration order and transferred the management of the YKR to the Philippine Forest Corp. In 2013, President Benigno S. Aquino III signed Presidential Proclamation 663 transferring its administration to the Forest Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
According to the DENR, YKR’s 12,817 hectares of land are alienable and disposable lands where 10,376 hectares are public land and the remaining 2,441 hectares are private and titled. Figureoa’s farm group tilled a portion of the land since 2009.
They filed petitions for Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) coverage. The group said discussions were conducted with the government for the distribution of the land to the farmers, but nothing has come of it.
The BAI is petitioning for the same land area for pasture.
Farmers have repeatedly filed cases of violence and harassments against the security guards of the BAI
“We call on the BAI, DENR and DOJ to drop all cases against the farmers and curb the violence against the CARP petitioners who are in active dialog with the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Agriculture,” the pesant group said.
According to a report, Figueroa leaves behind his pregnant wife and three other children. He led the group’s fight for the distribution of part of the Yulo King Ranch. – with a report from Raisa Serafica/Rappler.com