MARIT STINUS-CABUGON

LAST May, President Rodrigo Duterte declared Boracay island — a tourist zone since 1978 by presidential proclamation — an agrarian reform area. A few days ago, the President personally distributed certificates of land ownership (CLOA) to members of the local indigenous community. Forty-five families became owners of a total 3.2064 hectares (has) of the famous Boracay island.

This must have been the country’s fastest agrarian reform process — it took only about six months from the time Boracay was placed under agrarian reform to the distribution of CLOAs!

Of course, Aklan in general and Boracay in particular are not agrarian reform hotspots unlike Negros, where the hacienda economy continues to provide a fertile ground for social unrest and violence. As mentioned in earlier columns, Negros Occidental accounts for about a fifth of the land area yet to be distributed to land reform beneficiaries nationwide. Some 100,000 has of agricultural land, mostly planted to sugar cane, are still to be redistributed to landless farmers in Negros Occidental.

If Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno had his way, these lands would never be distributed. He blames the agriculture sector’s low productivity and negligible growth on the agrarian reform program. “We have turned big land estates into small farms,” Diokno said. “You don’t have the benefit of economies of scale…[which] is very important in agriculture. You need large farms so you can mechanize, use modern seeds, so to me that is the biggest drawback in agriculture.” (Business Mirror, Oct. 3, 2018)

Yet, despite the large plantations, Negros’ “sugarlandia” is unable to meet demand and at a competitive price. This affects the productivity of businesses that depend on sugar. Coca-Cola was forced to switch from imported high fructose corn syrup to locally produced sugar as a result of last year’s campaign against the company and boycott of its products led personally by Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon, Jr. However, the sugar planters couldn’t supply the volume needed by Coca-Cola and the latter had to cut production of its Coca-Cola Classic.

In short, the "economies of scale" of Negros’ sugarlandia, government support and protection, the low wages and poor working conditions notwithstanding, a modern, competitive sugar industry has failed to materialize.

Instead, we continue to see agrarian-related violence. Yes, we can blame the communist New People’s Army for ambushes and liquidations. We can blame legal front organizations for manipulating poor people. But most of all we should blame the government for doing too little too late to address the real problem. If illegal discharge of sewage could trigger an unprecedented fast CLOA distribution in Boracay, the killing of nine farmers and the poor performance of Negros’ sugarlandia in general ought to trigger the expeditious, long overdue implementation of agrarian reform in Negros Occidental.

I am not advocating for an agrarian revolution. The so-called just compensation serves a higher purpose than mere compensation for expropriation of assets. We cannot correct an injustice by causing another. Promoting one person’s rights shouldn’t come at the expense of someone else’s. The violence and injustice must stop somewhere if we want to end insurgency for good.

Sadly, the opposite seems to be happening.

In the aftermath of the October 20 Sagay massacre of nine hacienda workers, lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was assisting the families of the victims, was gunned down in Kabankalan City on November 6. Ramos was also a lawyer for the suspected NPA members known as the Mabinay 6 who were arrested on March 3 in Mabinay, Negros Occidental.

Also on November 6, 29-year-old habal-habal driver Marcos Libre and 51-year-old farmer Mario Umandac, were, according to the police, “shot for no apparent reason” in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental (Visayan Daily Star). Two days earlier, Corporal Rex Derramas of the Philippine Army’s 12th Infantry Battalion, had been shot dead. On October 5, 24-year-old Lando Soreño of the CAFGU detachment of which Derramas was a deputy commander, suffered the same fate. The NPA’s Leonardo Panaligan Command (Central Negros) has claimed responsibility for the murder of the two soldiers. Both assassinations were carried out in Brgy. Mani-ak. The two civilian victims were from Mani-ak and had been shot while on their way home.

Still on November 6, farmers Apollonio Diosana, 44, and Temestokles Seit, Jr., 28, were shot dead in Brgy. Nagbinlod, Sta. Catalina, in the southern part of Negros Oriental, by what the Rachelle Mae Palang Command (NPA Southeast Negros) claims to be a paramilitary group. In apparent retaliation, the NPA killed a CAFGU member in Sitio Quadra, Brgy. Mantiquil, Siaton.

Mani-ak, Nagbinlod and Quadra are among the villages in Negros Oriental that have been plagued by insurgency-related violence for decades. In the past few years, violence started declining slowly but surely. The NPA lost ground.

For every killing, we take many steps backwards. For every killing, wounds are inflicted. These wounds will take a long time to heal, if they heal at all.