TACLOBAN CITY―A belated celebration of the World Food Day happens today for hundreds of farmers from Leyte and Eastern Samar, all organized under Katarungan (Kilusan Para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan) Eastern Visayas Chapter.
In line with this year’s theme, the farmers’ call centers on “Paggalang sa Karapatang Lupa, Pabahay at Pagkain, Hustisyang Pang Klima at Proteksyon para sa Sektor ng Agrikultura – Kailangan na!” (Respect for Land Rights, Shelter Rights, Food Sovereignty, Climate Justice and Protection for the Agricultural Sector, Needed Now!).
The Food and Agriculture Organization notes that “each year, millions of people leave their homes to escape hunger, poverty and conflict.” World Food Day is celebrated on Oct. 16 each year.
In this year’s celebration, Pope Francis himself appealed to governments to end conflicts and tackle climate change that would ensure that migration will be a “voluntary choice.”
In 2010, about 53.34 percent of 1.8-million population in Eastern Visayas was employed in the agricultural sector.
Three years later, Super Typhoon “Yolanda” made several landfalls in the region, damaging farm machineries, roads, irrigations and destroying 8.5 million coconut trees.
With palay and coconut as the region’s main crops, Yolanda further laid burden on the struggling farmers’ economic viability.
A few days after the typhoon, the Metro Manila Development Authority reported bus-loads of passengers from the region going to Manila.
The situation may have only been temporary, but this bears truth to the fact that families will leave their place once hunger, calamities and conflicts threaten their sustenance, Katarungan said.
In 2000, 31 farmers were forcibly evicted from their CARP-awarded land in Brgy. Matica-a, Ormoc by a gun-toting group loyal to the former land owner. The years that followed saw these farmers work as farm hands in other lands.
Sixteen years later, the farmers of Bugho Farmers Association earned justice and were reinstalled in June 2016, but not after dealing with conflict, intimidation and harassment, funded by an interested land speculator in the area, Katarungan said.
In 2001, 144 farmers from San Miguel and Alangalang were stripped of their Certificate of Land Ownership Awards, citing their organization as “fictitious” or “inexistent (sic) for being not duly organized under the Philippines laws.”
In the years that followed, one by one, the families alleged to have suffered harassment and intimidation from an influential person which forced them to evacuate their farm lands, the group said.
Today, these farmers are scattered across the region. Some of them have given up claim on the land, most have died, yet there are still a good number of them engaging the Department of Agrarian Reform to reclaim their land, Karapatan said.
In 2014, Virginia Abejar, a native of Barugo, Leytem left her young family to work as a domestic helper in Manila for a secured monthly wage. She says her monthly salary would provide the much-needed additional budget for their family’s sustenance.
Recently, several farmers sought help from the group as they are threatened eviction from their land, being forced out by adverse claimants of their tillage because the former’s titles have not been perfected, such as land documented by tax declaration only, or are part of the large number of undistributed CLOAs in Leyte.
“And then there are the nameless and countless farmers who may have been forced to migrate because their land, willingly or unwillingly, had been converted to non-agricultural use,” Karapatan said.
Previous newspaper reports detailed that between 1988 to 2016, a total of 97,592.5 hectares, equal to the land size of Metro Manila and Cebu combined, had been approved for conversion by DAR from agriculture to other purposes.
These figures do not yet include pending applications, lands reclassified by local government units, and illegally converted lands, Karapatan said.
Aside for housing demand, the highest conversion was for commercial use. Visayas accounts for 7.8 percent of the converted lands.
“These farmers, we surmise, did not or will never choose to leave their land,” Karapatan said.