Text, photos and video by VINCENT GO
Hundreds of farmers from Negros Occidental and Batangas marched to Manila to ask President Benigno Aquino III to immediately distribute land to farmer-beneficiaries before the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program ends in 2014.
The farmers’ mass action started on June 1, when thousands of them marched from different parts of Negros Occidental to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) office in Bacolod City.
The farmers, all of them affiliated with the peasant federation Task Force Mapalad (TFM), stormed the gates of the DAR compound demanding a dialogue with Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes who was then in the city, but he snubbed them.
Some 200 farmers continued the journey toward Manila, traveling by sea to Batangas City, where Archbishop Ramon Arguelles provided them food and shelter. They were also joined by farmers from TFM Batangas.
Bad weather accompanied the farmers, with Typhoon Ambo hitting the country as the farmers embarked on their journey.
On June 4, the farmers resumed their journey on foot toward Metro Manila, passing through various towns and parishes where they were fed and given shelter for the night. They arrived in Manila on June 8 and were met by Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo at Caritas Manila, the charity and outreach organization of the Catholic Church.
The farmers marched toward Malacanang hoping for a dialogue with Aquino but he was out of the country at that time.
The farmers remain in Manila to await dialogue with various officials. They want the DAR to rush land acquisition and distribution (LAD), a component of CARP. The program had been extended in 2009, called the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER), and given a 2014 deadline.
Farmers fear DAR will not meet its target, although Palace officials had assured them the program would be completed before Aquino steps down in 2016.