History of Bayambang lands being grabbed by Cojuangcos
- Filipino farmers have been cultivating the lands of Bayambang, Pangasinan since the Spanish colonization. The lands are combination of hills and plains, cultivated with rice, fruits, rootcrops, vegetables, tobacco and other crops. It is also near to Tarlac province, roughly 1-hour away from Tarlac City.
- In October 13, 1903, the US colonial government declared the 289-hectares as Camp Gregg Military Reservation, covering 12 barangays. American forces have occupied lands and established their camps and posts to different parts of Bayambang, but the farmers remained on their lands and continued to develop them. Even during the Japanese occupation when American forces left the area, Filipino farmers remained on their lands. On the return of US forces, the colonial government returned the lands on March 27, 1949 to the Philippine government, particularly to the Bureau of Lands.
- Elders in the area said that the lands were once titled to a certain Nieves Ronda which they said was cancelled when Spanish colonization ended. Subsequently the titles were named to Jose Arnaiz, who they said was an illustrado who had connections with the Katipunan movement. The elderly farmers said that these claims were all immoral and unjust as they have no physical connection to the lands and was only a result of their influence to the ruling local governments. Thus, though many have claimed ownership of the lands, farmers remained and continued cultivation, defending their rights on the lands.
- During the later part of American occupation, a small part of Camp Gregg, particularly Bgy. Bical Norte was cultivated with sugarcane. The sugarcane’s arriendero or contractor was Isabelo Hilario who has connections with the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) then owned by Spanish landlords. Farmers said that Hilario was no rich landlord but simply an agent of CAT to administer the harvesting and transportation of sugarcane to Tarlac. Hilario also scammed the farmers who acquired the sugarcane harvest without payment, thus, the farmers burned the remaining sugarcane at the area.
- Then in the 1960s, already owned by the Cojuangcos, the CAT started grabbing the lands of Bayambang. They deployed armed goons to harass the farmers to coerce them to leave or sell them for a measly price. Though they were successful in ejecting some of the farmers, many have fought against their oppression and exploitation. The CAT was then left to charge those who occupy the lands with rentals, some were compelled but many refused to pay as they believed the lands were government lands as being a former Camp Gregg military reservation.
- CAT base their ownership to their claim that Hilario owned them and paid them with the lands. Their claim said that Hilario transfered ownership of the 386.8-hectares on April 30, 1947. Hence, the farmers whose ancestors developed the lands from being a forest into productive agricultural lands belied CAT’s claim as they personally know Hilario as a fraud. The farmers also said that it was only on March 27, 1949 that the US government transfered authority on the lands to the Philippine government’s Bureau of Lands, thus, Hilario could not claim ownership in 1947.
- On September 6, 1975, martial law period, the Dept. of Agrarian Reform approved CAT’s application for conversion of the lands on the condition that they would developed them in 10 years or until 1985. But CAT never implemented any development on the area. With Marcos’ dictatorship approving the Cojuangco’s plan for conversion of the lands, the farmers believed that the Cojuangcos and Marcos were indeed allies and not political enemies. They said that Marcos was only irate with Ninoy Aquino as he was a political opposition. During the 1970s, CAT continued on charging land rentals and attempted on those who defied but farmers and residents sustained their protests.
- In 1997, CAT pushed with the demolition of few houses and continued surveying the lands amidst objection of the residents and farmers. In the recent years, CAT through its dummy corporation Palm Realty Corp. constructed a 4-hectare private memorial park. Until present, agents of CAT continue to survey the lands but were blocked by barangay officials as they firmly believed CAT does not own the lands. At present, farmers and residents believe that the Cojuangcos are planning into further grabbing the lands of Bayambang, as they are faced with heightened farmers’ opposition within Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. They also claim that the Cojuangcos are planning to rake billions of pesos of income from the conversion of the lands in anticipation of the construction of superhighways such as the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEx) funded by Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr.
- CAT is presently claiming 386.8-hectares of lands, covering 12 barangays. Bgy. Bical Sur, Bical Norte, Bani, Sancagulis, Cadre Site, Magsaysay, Buayaen, Dusoc, Del Pilar, Telbang, Poblacion, Zone 7. The lands are home and farms to about 20,000 people, 65% are farmers or who rely their livelihood to agriculture. Farmers are now preparing themselves to protect their rights on the lands, particularly to press the government to recognize their right and protect them from land grabbing and dislocation.