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Fear returns to land reform hot spot

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IT’S BEEN a year since farmers from Quezon province camped out at the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City to demand land reform in the province’s Bondoc Peninsula area. The promise of land reform continues to be unfulfilled for many of the farmers. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

IT’S BEEN a year since farmers from Quezon province camped out at the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City to demand land reform in the province’s Bondoc Peninsula area. The promise of land reform continues to be unfulfilled for many of the farmers. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

LUCENA CITY—Cases of violence and threats targeting land reform beneficiaries have returned to Hacienda Matias in Quezon province’s Bondoc Peninsula district, sowing fear among tillers there, a farmers’ group said.

The latest case of bloodshed took place on Aug. 16, when Raul Esco, 42, a member of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bondoc Peninsula (KMBP), was shot and killed by unidentified men while he was on his way home.

His body, which bore three bullet wounds, was found by his wife in the morning of Aug. 17 some 15 meters from their shack, the KMBP-Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) said in a report sent to the Inquirer on Tuesday.

Hacienda Matias spans 1,736 hectares in the villages of Don Juan Vercelos and Butanguiad in San Francisco town at the southern tip of Quezon.

On July 20, residents of Barangay Butanguiad woke up to death threats, written in five large sheets of Manila paper and found in different areas of the village.

Farmers said the posting of the threats, done in the middle of the night, was followed by bursts of gunfire.

The posters, purportedly issued by New People’s Army (NPA) rebels, warned seven farmers, whose names the group listed, and several others to return the farmlands they allegedly grabbed.

“If not, you will be punished by the New People’s Army with death,” part of the message read.

But a spokesperson for the NPA unit operating in Quezon denied that the guerrillas issued the threats.

“Even the story and circumstances behind this incident are far removed from the practices of the revolutionary movement,” said Ka Cleo del Mundo, spokesperson of the NPA’s Apolonio Mendoza Command, in a statement.

“We will not post anything to announce any case, especially if it involved threats,” Del Mundo said.

She said “counter-revolutionary groups” are behind what she called as “black propaganda” against the NPA.

On Tuesday, Arsenio Catamco, one of the farmers named in the posters, said the NPA, if it was not behind the threats, should go after those responsible.

Last year, 283 farmers received their Certificates of Land Ownership Award for about half of the estate, covering three of seven land titles. They, however, failed to occupy the land due to harassment by hacienda workers and legal maneuvers of landowners.

KMBP has long been campaigning for the coverage of large tracts of land in Bondoc Peninsula under the government’s agrarian reform program.

The district is known as one of the agrarian hot spots in the Southern Tagalog region, where several families control big landholdings in the towns of San Francisco, San Andres, San Narciso, Mulanay and Buenavista towns.

At least seven farmer-leaders, including Esco, had been killed in this part of Quezon since 1998. The NPA owned up to at least two cases while the rest were allegedly carried out by armed men employed by landowners.

“Most of us are now living in fear with this new wave of killing and harassment. We’re all afraid to go out at night,” said Maribel Luzara, KMBP president, noting that at least two farmers and their families have left the hacienda.

Luzara said a group of farmers would meet with Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza to seek help and protection.

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