Farmer of Arroyo hacienda dies landless

“SOON you’ll be called Don Rogelio, the haciendero.”

This was the joke by his fellow farmers that made 61-year-old Rogelio Salva smile. After nearly 10 years of fighting for his right to own the land he tilled for 35 years, Salva and his group were finally issued last month with a title to a vast sugar estate in Negros Occidental province’s Brgy. Guintubhan, Isabela town.

Sana ma-install na kami. Sana balang araw, magising ako na pabalik na ko ng Negros at makakapagtanim na uli na amin na ang lupa,(I hope that we will be finally installed on the land. I hope that one day I’ll wake up going back to Negros where I can till the land that is already ours), ” Salva said in an interview last Monday, November 15.

But Salva wasn’t able to wait for that day. In the early morning of Thursday, November 18, the aging farmer, no longer woke up while at a camp-out with his fellow Negros farmers outside the Department of the Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office in Quezon City. He died of cardiac arrest.

Though already issued by the DAR with a title to the land called certificates of landownership award (CLOA), Salva and 67 other farmers of the 157-hectare Hacienda Bacan remain landless.

The camp of the former owner of the estate, Jose Miguel Arroyo, the husband of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, refuses to give up control of the land, which under the law should be distributed to its tillers under the 22-year-old  Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

It was then President Arroyo herself who promised in 2001 that she would distribute all her family’s landholdings to their tillers under the CARP. But it was only after Mrs. Arroyo’s term that the DAR was able to register the CLOA under Salva’s group.

During Mrs. Arroyo’s term, the Registry of Deeds refused to cancel the landowner’s title, a requirement to have the ownership of the estate transferred to Salva and his group through the CLOA.

After the DAR was able to finally transfer the ownership of the hacienda to Salva’s group, last October 26, members of the Arroyo family expressed opposition to the move of the department.

“The DAR has again made a mockery of the law. It has again bullied a landowner. They have no respect for the law,” Negros Occ. Rep. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, brother of Jose Miguel and former farm manager of Bacan, was quoted by the media as saying recently.

Days before Salva died, his resolve to own and work on the hacienda remained steadfast. “Hindi ako susuko. Mahirap ang buhay pero mas lalong mahirap kung susuko pa (I will not surrender. Life is hard but it will be harder if I will give up fighting),” he said last Monday.

Indeed, Salva knew what hardship was all about. He endured lots of it when he was still alive. He had no means to send his seven children to college. There was a time when he and his family gnawed on sugarcane and cooked farm rats for lunch and dinner.

In 2008, Salva was imprisoned in a Quezon City jail for joining a protest-rally for CARP. He was fired from his job at the hacienda following the protest and was slapped by the farm manager of Bacan with theft charges before the National Labor and Relations Commission in 2009.

On Wednesday, the night before Salva died, Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo held a Mass at the DAR chapel in Quezon City and threw his support behind the struggle of Negros farmers for their rights to the land they till.

The bishop pointed out that one of the big problems of the CARP’s implementation is on ensuring that the farmers can peacefully and productively work on the land awarded to them under the program.

“The failure of the DAR to install these farmers shows the lack of political will on the part of the Aquino administration to make the law effective for the poor farmers. This just sends the message that the law is not for all but only for the powerful,” he said. Soledad Montes

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