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Senatorial candidate Walden joins the farmers from Quezon who ended the 120-kilometer march for land reform and farmers’ rights at the Department of Agrarian Reform in Manila. According to Bello, Pres. Beningo Aquino III “failed miserably in land redistribution, and a Mar Roxas administration would mean more of the same total lack of concern for farmers’ rights.” Photo courtesy of Walden Bello

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines– “Ibalik ang buhay na may dignidad sa aming mga magsasaka at mangingisda, ilang taon matapos kaming salantahin ni Yolanda, ito ang dapat pag-usapan ngayon,” demands Lolita Candaza, one of the hundreds of farmers and fishers who are staging a caravan on Thursday.

The farmers are riding their own motorcycles, and tricycles, towing a small bangka filled with CLOAs (Certificate of Land Ownership Award), coconuts, and grown crops symbolizing their continuing struggle for land rights, right to adequate shelter, right to food, and the full recovery of the coco levy.

The farmers, organized under Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (KATARUNGAN) Eastern Visayas Network which has an estimated membership of 5,000 in the Provinces of Leyte and Eastern Samar, will start their caravan from Ormoc all the way to Tacloban and back to the Southern parts of Leyte.

Ito ay isang pagtutuloy ng pagbawi ng buhay na may dignidad sa nasimulan nang martsa ng ating mga kapatid na parag-uma mula Sariaya hanggang Maynila,” says the group’s spokesperson Dhon Daganasol.

They hope to create enough noise around their issues, “Sadyang pinababayaan kasi kami,” added Daganasol.

The group assails the poor and anomalous implementation of the CARPER in Leyte which resulted in thousands of Undistributed CLOAs, deprivation of tenants’ rights, land grabbing and human rights violations in many parts of the Province including in the Leyte Sab-A Basin Development Authority (LSBDA) covered lands and in the CLOA covered area in Ormoc.

“Ramdam namin ang pinagdadaanan ng mga parag-uma sa Kidapawan, naranasan namin ang minsang pag-atake ng puwersa ng gobyerno para kami ay sapilitang paalisin sa aming hagna,” says Rosenda Apay, CLOA Holder in Ormoc, whose organization still experiences harassment in the hands of a small group of farmers led by a barangay Tanod and some officials of Barangay Matica-a, Ormoc, a dispute that is 16 years running.

Hanggang ngayon, humihingi pa rin kami ng proteksyon laban sa pananakot sa amin, katulad na lamang ng mga bantang puputulan kami ng leeg kapag hindi kami umalis sa lupang ibinigay sa amin sa batas ng repormang agraryo,” she adds.

“A life of dignity for all,” Candaza echoes the call of Prof. Walden Bello, whose Senatorial bid the group is supporting.

Bello released a statement in solidarity with the marchers from Quezon, and in it he told the travails of the Leyte farmers citing about 14,000 CLOAs which remain undistributed to 12,000 farmers to this day that caused the delay and deprivation of assistance during Yolanda.

Jean Rollo, a coconut farmer, says Bello’s statement on the need to demand from the Presidential candidates their stand on the coco levy.

Sa dinaanan namin sa Yolanda, makakatulong sana ang coco levy sa aming maglulubi. Pero hanggang ngayon, wala pa ring linaw kung papaano mapapasaamin ang nabawing halaga. Isa ito sa aming tanong sa mga kandidato ngayon, yung bang Php76 billion ay para sa amin o ito ay idadadgdag ninyo sa kontrol ni Danding Cojuangco? Binigay sa kanya 20%, di ba dapat sa aming maglulubi din iyon?” Rollo says.

Oscar Rodriguez, fisher folk leader from Eastern Samar, says that a dignified life addresses the right to adequate housing as well. Rodriguez pointed out that the slow process in the delivery of permanent housing units for 4,798 families in the high risk zones of Eastern Samar is indicative of the level of neglect their ranks are experiencing.

He laments the lack of genuine consultation and inclusion of the stakeholders in the entire process.

Dalawang taon na mula nang nag-Yolanda nilipat lipat kami mula tent city papunta sa bunkhouse, matapos inilipat din kami sa temporary shelter. Usapin sa permanent shelter, wala, kaya aming tinatrabaho na magkaroon ng konsultasyon sa aming mga apektado dahil dito nakasalalay ang hanapbuhay, bahay at buhay namin,” Rodriguez says.

“Coming from a tragedy like Yolanda, Survivors’ agenda and demands should be included in the discourse of the 2016 Presidential Election,” he says.

Daganasol says that staying quiet is no longer an option for their sector.

Buo at tiyak na akses at kontrol sa aming lupang sinasaka, pabahay na permanente at may siguradong hanapbuhay, sapat na pagkain, at pagbalik ng kontrol sa mga maglulubi ng coco levy fund, ilan lang ito upang masabing kami ay nabubuhay ng may dignidad. Sa darating na eleksyon, paparusahan namin, sa pamamagitan ng hindi pagboto sa mga nagpabaya at ang mga walang agenda upang ang aming buhay ay maiangat.

Kami ang pangunahing aktor na nagseseguro ng sapat na pagkain, pero kami ang unang nagugutom. Panahon na para bawiin namin ang dignidad na paulit ulit na tinatapakan.