Karapatan: No let-up in attacks vs farmers amid pandemic, crisis

Rights group Karapatan expressed alarm on the continuing attacks against peasants in Hacienda Yulo in Laguna and in Isabela in Cagayan Valley, following recent reports of threats, harassment and arrests in the said communities.

“Poor peasants are increasingly more vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic and the crisis of high prices of food and other basic commodities. Like the majority of the populace, what they need most now is assistance, support and ultimately, the right to land and life. However, there has been no let-up from life-threatening attacks they experience, whether from state forces or armed security and goons of local landlords,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

Reports and accounts from the Defend Yulo Farmers’ page on Facebook said that since the start of the year, security guards and armed goons have become more aggressive in attacks against peasants at Hacienda Yulo in Sitio Buntog and Sitio Bangyas in Canlubang, Calamba City, Laguna.

Daily accounts show that Yulo farmers are constantly harassed by security guards belonging to Seraph Security Agency, with reports that they are threatened at gunpoint. On January 23, the house of farmers Freddie Cacao and Mario Mangubat were burned, following the demolition of other farmers’ houses. Fences were also built in the area, blocking passages in and out of the community.

The page explained that Hacienda Yulo is an agricultural land set for “development” into a residential subdivision by Ayala Land and San Cristobal Realty Development Corporation, a company owned by the Yulos. Farmers, mostly coconut and copra farmers, oppose the conversion of land from agricultural to other uses and maintained that they should be allowed to till the land, on which their families have worked on and developed for almost a century.

On Tuesday, security guards reportedly beat up at least six Yulo farmers. They were also threatened to be killed if they continue to resist land conversion schemes. Farmers who were physically assaulted by security guards were Pedro Mangubat, Hermie de Leon, Chris Laurel, William Caranay, Florencio Masongsong and “JM,” a minor.

“We condemn the use of force and violence against the Yulo farmers, and we support the call for intervention and support of the local government in putting a stop to these attacks,” said Palabay.

Meanwhile, Karapatan also condemned the arrest of three peasants in Cauayan, Isabela on the evening of January 23, in another alleged case of “tanim-baril” and “tanim-granada.”

According to Karapatan Cagayan Valley, about 50 members of the PNP Regional Mobile Group arrived in Brgy. Villaflor, Cauayan, Isabela, forced out members of the household of the three farmers from their residences, and then simultaneously searched the houses. With only the police inside the houses, their search allegedly led to the discovery of guns and grenades. The operation was not coordinated with the local police nor barangay officials.

Arrested were farmers Jerry Ramos, Herminio Ramos and Virgillio dela Cruz, all currently detained in a police station in Cauayan City.
In December 2020, woman peasant organizer Amanda Echanis, daughter of slain peace consultant Randall Echanis, was arrested in similar manner in Cagayan.

“This overused tactic of simultaneous searches and planting of evidence is reminiscent of the SEMPO (Synchronized Enhanced Military and Police Operation) which the combined elements of the police and military used in searching and arresting persons in the island of Negros in 2019. It’s 2021 and they continue these dirty tactics and attacks, exploiting the dire conditions of farmers amid the pandemic. Let us also not forget that farmers in Cagayan Valley just faced the onslaught of typhoons and floods recently and yet, state forces are on a spree of arrests,” explained Palabay.

In Negros, Negros-based youth organization Kabataan para sa Karapatan (KPK) also reported that a female farmer named Anselma Grande was abducted by soldiers belonging to the 62nd Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army on January 17 in Sitio Batong-Buang, Brgy. Trinidad, Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental. The organization said that the abduction was seen as a a form of “retaliation” to the recent ambush operations of the New People’s Army in the area. The whereabouts of Grande remain to be verified.

“The Duterte administration is aggravating the situation of peasants, when these attacks on their lives and security continue unabated. We call for an end to these attacks and to all forms of political repression in the Philippines,” ended Palabay.