ARROYO HECKLED
Farmers nabbed for jeering
GMA MassKara speech

BACOLOD City – “Oust GMA! She’s fake!” Five farmer-activists hollered these defiant words, stunning President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who was delivering a speech during yesterday’s opening of the 2008 MassKara Festival at the public plaza here.

Plain-clothed Presidential Security Guards and policemen immediately swarmed the placard-bearing hecklers who managed to position themselves near the stage.

A visibly astounded Arroyo stopped speaking for about three minutes, but she continued after the farmers and their placards have been removed from the plaza by the policemen and her guards.

The hecklers were farmer-members of Task Force Mapalad (TFM), a peasant organization espousing agrarian reform. They were brought to the Bacolod City Police Station 1.

Before the heckling, members of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-Negros) and the human rights alliance Karapatan marched along Araneta Street. They tried to breach the police security around the plaza, but were overpowered by anti-riot policemen.

Felipe Gelle, chairperson of Bayan-Negros, condemned the arrest of the TFM members. He urged the police to release the protesters immediately and without charges.

In a press statement, Task Force Mapalad claimed that six were arrested, not five as the Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO) reported.

It said the hecklers belonged to a group of 20 protesters who were demanding the distribution of the Arroyo-owned 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan in Brgy. Guintubhan, Isabela, Negros Occidental.

The task force also claimed that the farmers were “manhandled” by policemen while being brought to Police Station 1.

The protesters will be charged for inciting sedition, resisting arrest, illegal assembly and alarm and scandal.

The city police identified the five arrested as Ederlito Algona, 40; Bonifacio Algona, 20; Noel Estaris, 21; Gerardo Batalla, 56; and Herminigildo Padilla, 41.

Task Force Mapalad named another one — Romeo Pidoy. It denounced the arrests, saying that the farmers have a very legitimate demand.

“All they wanted was to remind President Arroyo of her promise, declared publicly last May, that Hacienda Bacan would be distributed to the farmer-beneficiaries,” said TFM President Jose Rodito Angeles.

Pastor Emmanuel Alano, convener and spokesman of the multi-sector group Negros CARP Reform Movement (NCRM), said the arrest of the farmers reflected the intolerance of the Arroyo administration to legitimate protests and grievances of the people.

Angeles said the farmers wanted to call the attention of Arroyo to the continuing delay in the distribution of Hacienda Bacan, owned by the family of her husband, Mike Arroyo, despite the fact that it had already undergone property valuation by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

Last July, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) ordered the LBP to issue a certificate of cash deposit in favor of Rivulet Agro-Industrial Corp., which holds the title to the hacienda, but the bank did not comply.

DAR said it needed the certificate of deposit to generate and issue certificates of landownership award (CLOAs) to the farmer-beneficiaries.

The task force had earlier accused Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, the concurrent LBP chairman, of intervening to prevent the issuance of the certificate of deposit.

The other day, TFM had urged the DAR to proceed with the issuance of CLOAs to some 60 farmer-beneficiaries of Hacienda Bacan.

Angeles said DAR is morally and legally bound to issue the CLOAs because considerable time had already lapsed since it ordered the bank to issue a certificate of cash deposit.

“There is no legal basis for continuing to hold back the issuance of the CLOAs, and even the DAR legal department says, there is no legal impediment to distributing the land to the farmer-beneficiaries,” said Angeles./PN – Bacolod

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