They say farmers are the backbone of the nation. Any economy will be crippled when its backbone is broken. It is then important that our farmers are treated well and given all the support by the government to feed the nation.
But in Palayan City, Nueva Ecija, the so-called rice granary of the Philippines, 200 farmers are losing their farmland.
Mang Pablo Bautista, 79, has been tilling the land as long as he can remember. He also remembers his parents and relatives tilling several hectares of land. They have been paying taxes on the property, too. In fact, Mang Pablo can present receipts showing his father had been paying taxes since 1937 for the land they have been tilling.
In 1955, President Ramon Magsaysay proclaimed a big track of land as a military reservation. Intended for military training and live fire exercises, the reservation covers 73,000 hectares of land in the provinces of Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Aurora.
Mang Pablo’s farmland, about three hectares, was covered by the proclamation. Mang Pablo’s land was reduced to one hectare in the early 60s. The same thing happened with his fellow farmers in Palayan City.
In 2006, President Aquino issued Presidential Proclamation 1033, amending Proclamation No. 237 and excluding from the operation certain portions of the land in the Municipalities of Gen. Tinio, Sta. Rosa, Laur and Gabaldon and the City of Palayan, Nueva Ecija and the Municipality of Dingalan, Province of Aurora, and declaring the same as site for the off-base housing of the Philippine Army. Under the proclamation, the project is to be disposed and administered by the National Housing Authority to qualified beneficiaries.
With such proclamation, 500 houses were built in Palayan City. But here is the thing; the houses were built without prior survey to make sure the project covers only the area stated in the proclamation. PP1033 clearly sets the metes and bounds of the portion for the off-base housing.
To cut a long story short, the NHA was able to build 500 houses in Barangays Caballero and Ganaderia. Until now, however, of the 500 houses, only six are occupied while the rest have been destroyed by typhoons. What a waste!
Farmers are claiming the military used stealth, strategy, force, threat and intimidation to occupy the farmlands covered by the phase 1 of the housing project.
Recently, soldiers came again to the remaining 200 hectares being tilled by Mang Pablo and his friends. Mang Pablo revealed that when the soldiers came, they were told they (the military) needed to put flags so their visitor, who will be coming via military chopper, can land safely.
But such was not the case. The military immediately built an arc and a detachment. They also bulldozed the rice terraces (pilapil) in preparation for the second phase of the housing project of the AFP. This was done without prior notice or any consultation with the local government and the farmers.
The farmland to be converted into a housing project is well-irrigated and therefore suitable for farming. Simply put, the government will not have to spend anything from the P9.9 billion budget for irrigation to sustain productivity of the area.
In 2013, the agriculture sector constituted about 11.2 percent of the country’s GDP. In the 2013 Philippine Agriculture Figures published by the Philippine Statistics Authority, agricultural employment accounts to 31 percent or 11.84 million people of the total employment statistics.
It is safe to say then that besides putting food on our table, agriculture has a significant contribution to the Philippine economy.
Now, we understand the impact of the housing project on the agriculture sector, especially on the rice sufficiency program of the government.
Don’t get me wrong; I support the government’s efforts to provide housing assistance to our soldiers. With their sacrifices for the country, they deserve all possible benefits our government can give, more than just housing projects.
But not to the point of sacrificing our farmers. Come to think of it; this is really not an issue if only the AFP would honor the limitation set by the earlier proclamation
The original proclamation which is PP237 provides that the withdrawal from sale or settlement and reserve for military purposes is subject to private rights. Meaning to say, if prior to the proclamation, there have been existing rights, then such rights are not covered by the proclamation.
If you have been to Nueva Ecija, you would have seen big tracks of idle and unproductive land. So, why can’t the government use those instead of sacrificing our productive farmlands?
And so I call on President Aquino, please do something about this. If AFP will not honor the limitation set by PP 237, it is within your power to revoke military reservation coverage of those farmlands. Better yet, have the land surveyed first to identify the exact meters and bounds of the portion for the off-base housing. Or if not, give those idle lands to the AFP for their housing project. You can even give a bigger area so more soldiers can benefit from the housing project.
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By the way, last time, I wrote about farmer beneficiaries of the comprehensive agrarian reform program of the government losing their land to the original owners. This is due to “miraculous” zoning ordinances reclassifying those subject lands to be excluded from the operation of CARP. Surprisingly, these ordinances only came out after more than two decades since notices of coverage were issued and after Certificates of Land Ownership were distributed to thousands of beneficiaries, covering thousands of hectares of agricultural land.
Now that the Senate Committee on Agriculture is investigating the issue of the alleged fake rice in the market, maybe the good committee chairperson Sen. Cynthia Villar can also look into this. This issue involves the backbone of the country; just imagine the future impact of losing thousands of hectares of agricultural land.
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