The Philippine National Police arrested 97 agrarian reform beneficiaries and their advocates in a hacienda in Tarlac province, northern Philippines, on 9 June 2022. Among those arrested are six farmer beneficiaries, four minors, two senior citizens, 45 farmer advocates, 30 students, 11 social researchers and three drivers. The police accused them of membership in the New People’s Army and charged them with obstruction of justice, some with malicious mischief.
Earlier, police officials ordered the farmers to stop their ‘bungkalan’ – collective farming – in Hacienda Tinang and attempted to arrest Felino Cunanan, Jr, Chairperson of the local agrarian reform advocacy group MAKISAMA-Tinang. The police then later violently disrupted the assembly and program of the farmers and their advocates. They also dismantled the huts where about 90 assembly participants sought refuge from the violence.
The farmers have been calling on the Department of Agrarian Reform to install the 236 agrarian reform beneficiaries who are all holders of Certificate of Land Ownership Awards. Local DAR officials had earlier confirmed that the farmers are legitimate beneficiaries under the 1988 Comprehensive Land Reform Program. However, the same officials did not stop the repressive police actions against the beneficiaries.
Human rights groups, both domestic and abroad, condemned the violent dispersal and arrests. Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan denounced the arrests and the undue force used against the protesters. “We call on those poised to file complaints to drop these complaints, and for the [police] to immediately release all detained... We likewise ask the Commission on Human Rights to ensure that the rights of those detained, their families, paralegals, and lawyers are respected.”
National peasant alliance Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas declared, “Planting food and supporting farmers are no mischief, and the right to assembly is guaranteed by the highest law in the land.” Leon Dulce of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, added, “We condemn these dirty tactics that seem bent on sabotaging the distribution of the 200-hectare sugarcane estate to rightful beneficiaries.”
Farmworkers union Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, Amihan peasant women’s alliance, and urban poor organization Kadamay likewise denounced the police violence and illegal arrests. Peasant advocacy group NNARA-Youth condemned what they said was the “biggest mass arrest” of farmers and peasant advocates under the Duterte regime.
Abroad, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines called on the international community to demand the immediate release of those arrested. They also called on the Department of Agrarian Reform to defend the agrarian reform beneficiaries who, since 1995, are being robbed of their right to till their land. “Agrarian reform beneficiaries and advocates, and their activities to advance agrarian reform, should not be criminalized. The use of bungkalan to help sustain daily food subsistence in order to survive is not a crime,” said Peter Murphy, ICHRP Chairperson.
The Philippines marked 9 June 2022 as the 34th anniversary of the implementation of the Agrarian Reform Law.
A unit of the New People’s Army successfully stopped an illegal logging operation in the southern Philippine province of Sultan Kudarat on 1 June, when it stopped two operators working with the illegal logging operations of D.M. Consunji Incorporated. The NPA Red fighters explained to the operators the need to defend the indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands and to care for the environment.
The operators committed to stop their illegal operations and cooperation with the DMCI.
On 31 May, a separate unit of the NPA-Sultan Kudarat ambushed elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines 37th Infantry Battalion along the highway in Kalamansig town. Five soldiers were killed while seven others were wounded. The AFP soldiers in the province serve as guards to the destructive logging operations of the DMCI.
Earlier, on 14 May, the NPA ambushed elements of the AFP 57th Infantry Battalion aboard a military truck in Lebak town. Three soldiers were killed in action while four others were wounded.
The indigenous Lumad Dulangan-Manobo and Moro residents celebrated the successful stopping of the environmentally destructive logging operations and the victorious offensives against the AFP armed elements. They have long decried the threats, harassment and forced surrender campaigns committed by various AFP units against their communities.