The farmers’ groups were joined by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Pamalakaya, Kamp Karapatan human rights group and media groups from Central Luzon and Metro Manila at their fact-finding mission in Igorot communities in Pantabangan on May 2-3. The groups discovered that the Igorot farming communities were displaced from their farms and pushed towards nearby Sitio Lower Tuli, Brgy. Villarica of the said town.
“The Igorot farmers were packed together at a smaller land by EDC and CalEn, when they converted Sitio Maluyon from being productive farms into commercial plantation, at present, as discontent is brewing brought about by restricted land and resources, the government deployed the 81st Infantry “Spartan” Battalion at the site, with a 30-strong platoon led by Capt. Elmar Salvador acting as ‘friendly’ soldiers holding civil-military operations and constructing their detachment they dubbed as ‘multi-purpose hall,’” said Joseph Canlas, Chairperson of AMGL.
The soldiers were beefed up by 2 truckloads of soldiers on full-battle gear that roamed around the Igorot community in Sitio Tuli. The 81st Infantry “Spartan” Battalion (IBPA) belongs to the 702nd Infantry Brigade under the command of the 7th Infantry “Kaugnay” Division of the Philippine Army based in Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Laur, Nueva Ecija.
The groups added that the soldiers were in civilian clothers and they were the very unit who arrested Ernesto Bubod last March 22. Bubod is an Igorot leader who resisted the dislocation and is now being held in San Jose District Jail.
Based on the groups discussion with the Igorot farmers, about 30 Igorot farming families were displaced in 2009 and 26 were forced to set-up houses at the nearby Sitio Tuli while 4 families migrated to other towns. Sitio Tuli is home to 26 Igorot families, thus, the relocation of Maluyon farmers resulted into reduction of lands a family could cultivate.
In addition, 48 Maluyon farmers were recruited by EDC and NIA to their cooperative named Maluyon Indigenous Christian Farmers Association (MICFA).
NIA-Upper Pampanga River Integrated Irrigation System (NIA-UPRIIS) led the MICFA into signing a memorandum of agreement of cultivating the plantation. The MOA stated that NIA under the Acting Dept. Manager Engr. Reynaldo Puno is considered the owner and MICFA as caretaker. The MOA stated that the MICFA should shoulder all the cost of maintaining the plantation and Igorot farmers are banned into setting-up huts or any structures. It also uttered a 70-30 sharing on the income of the plantation in favor of the Igorot farmers. It said that NIA would market the products from the plantation and remit 70% of the gross sales to MICFA. The groups learned that Igorot farmers were transformed into being poor farmworkers earning only P150 for a day’s work on the plantation.
“It is very clear that EDC who controls the Pantabangan Multi-Purpose Dam and Hydro-electric Power Plant is in collusion with NIA who is acting as a landlord to the Igorot farmers. The provisions of the agreement is no different to the conditions of a feudal relationship between landlords and tenants and farmworkers. This is worsening the condition of the already impoverished Igorot farmers,” Canlas said.
“This is the very concretization of public-private partnership program president Aquino is promoting, big profits for big local and foreign corporations and the government, poverty and misery to the Filipino farmers. This is unacceptable and should be reformed,” he added.
The groups said that fact-finding mission is successful in gathering the data, particular the actual occupation of the military implementing Aquino’s Oplan Bayanihan and dislocation of Igorot farmers led by NIA, EDC and CalEn.
In response, AMGL and AMGL-NE is encouraging other Igorot communities in Pantabangan to oppose the program. Initially, Igorot farmers from Sitio Tuli have conveyed their support to the return of Maluyon farmers to their farms to prevent the narrowing down of lands they could cultivate. Other Igorot communities from Nueva Ecija towns are also organizing their ranks to address the issues that cut off their rights to livelihood and access to land.
“We are to hold a series of dialogues with local government units, district representatives, church, other agencies and institutions to address the issue of Igorot farmers in Nueva Ecija. This is not the change we want from president Aquino who swindled Filipino voters last year by promising fundamental reforms in the country. We call on other groups to support the Igorot farmers’ struggle against land grabbing and displacement, ” Canlas said. #