Tacloban City -- Inspired by their success last year, the Sumilao farmers are marching again to Malacañang Palace in Manila and this time, they are fighting for other landless farmers.
“There are still a lot of landless farmers and the government should distribute those 1.3 million hectares of land to these farmers,“ said Yoyong Merida, one of the Sumilao farmers, upon the group’s arrival in Tacloban City on Monday.
Merida and at least 50 other farmers have started a new trek to the Palace as they joined the campaign to extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Their campaign, which they call CARPER or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reform, involves pushing for House Bill 4077, which seeks to extend CARP until 2013.
The bill also proposes that the Department of Agrarian Reform be given five years to complete land acquisition and distribution.
Congress had deferred deliberations on the bill last year, pending further amendments and reluctance among the House membership to express “overwhelming support” for the measure despite its being certified as urgent by President Arroyo.
Salient provisions of the bill include collateral free credits and support services to farmer beneficiaries, the prohibition of land conversion, and recognition of women as beneficiaries of CARP.
Sixty-year-old Gilda San-ahan, the eldest member of the group, believes that the CARPER will benefit women. “Women also do farming, much as men do. CARP will surely help us,“ she said.
The farmers have received support from several Church members, including the Sto. Niño Parish, which helped the farmers as they stopped in Tacloban City.
“The Church is supporting them in terms of food, temporary shelter and of course we provide spiritual help,” said Fr. Amadeo Alvero, the church’s media liaison officer.
The Department of Agrarian Reform, meanwhile, supported the farmers’ campaign for CARP’s extension.
Reynaldo Villas, DAR assistant regional director for operations, dispelled doubts that the march was instigated by the department.
“Some people might suspect that DAR is behind this, but no, we are not. We are grateful that farmers themselves have now gone out to lobby for CARP extension,” Villas said. -- Melanie L Bingco, ABS-CBN Tacloban