Farmers go online to oust DAR chief


By Alcuin Papa
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:47:00 01/02/2009

Filed Under: Government, Agrarian Reform, Golf club mauling incident, Internet

MANILA, Philippines—Their hands are rough and covered with calluses from working the earth with plowshares and rudimentary farm implements. But this did not prevent some 65 farmers from going online to sign a petition for the ouster of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman and for a revamp of the department.

“Some of us had a hard time working the keyboard. Our hands are already hard and stiff from using our plowshares all our lives,” said Romeo Olaes, president of the Hacienda Yulo Farmers Alliance based in Laguna.

It is a new and unfamiliar step in the farmers’ campaign for genuine land reform, one that eschews strongly worded placards and noisy rallies. But the resolve of the farmers never faltered, Olaes said.

“The DAR has never supported the farmers in their struggle. All the time that he [Pangandaman] has been there, the department has never produced good results for the farmers,” Olaes said, adding that more farmers have indicated their desire to sign the online petition.

The Hacienda Yulo farmers are calling on the DAR to void an order exempting from land reform 3,256 hectares of the hacienda’s 7,100 hectares, said Vangie Mendoza, spokesperson for the farmers.

Exemption order

Mendoza said the exemption order was first handed down in 1993 to pave the way for the conversion of the land for industrial and commercial purposes. But no development has been undertaken while the farmers have been deprived of their livelihood, she said.

The online campaign for the ouster of Pangandaman was also partly inspired by the reported involvement of Pangandaman’s sons in a brawl with members of the De la Paz family at the Valley Golf and Country Club in Antipolo City last week.

According to the text of the petition, posted on http://www.petitiononline.com, the Antipolo incident “revealed how gross power can make of officials without the moorings of modesty and decency.”

“The incident between the Pangandamans and the De la Pazes reminds us of government officials’ abuse of power, including converting agriculture-productive lands into many golf courses nationwide. In the case of golf courses constructed within the Yulo landholdings as well as Valley Golf in Antipolo, farmers are disenfranchised of their right to own lands,” the petition read. “Since last year, we have called for the resignation of Mr. Pangandaman as DAR secretary… We urge the public to join us in this call. The farmers and the public do not deserve this kind of leader.”

In a phone interview, Pangandaman refused to comment on the petition, except to say “I am not resigning. I don’t want to comment further. It may just prolong the issue.”

Members of the Peace Foundation, who are supporting the 400 Hacienda Yulo farmers, on Thursday facilitated the farmers’ entry into the digital world. The farmers were given a crash course in the use of the computer and the Internet at their makeshift camp in front of the DAR offices in Quezon City.

The foundation’s Dong Calmada said the farmers were interested and attentive, “but the first three farmers had a tough time with the keyboard. So after that, we gave the others assistance.”

He said they brought along a laptop, a wireless Internet connection and a projector for their lecture.

“But we had some problems with the connection. So we are typing out all the information and will upload the petition later,” Calmada explained.

The activity was also kicked off by a Mass celebrated by activist priest Robert Reyes.

Homily

In his homily, the activist priest said it would be useful for the farmers to learn to use the Internet. “Wouldn’t it be nice if all farmers’ organizations like yours will have Internet connection?” he said, to the amusement of the farmers.

Reyes also said their online petition was an expression of their anger at Pangandaman and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“Do not apologize for your anger. Don’t let anyone take that anger away from you. Your anger comes from God, who together with you, is also angry,” the priest said.

The CARP law was supposed to expire last Wednesday but Congress passed a resolution extending it for another six months. But the terms of the extension do not compel landowners to give up their land. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has yet to sign the resolution.

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