Velez: Slaves no more in Lapanday

LAST Thursday, Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries broke down the chains of the well-guarded gates of Lapanday Foods and marched their way inside and claimed back their land.

It was an event that couldn't have happened. Now, when the struggle of farmers to claim back their lands is one of bloodshed and tears; Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita and many other struggles, including theirs in Lapanday. Marbai would remember last December when they staged their occupy movement and seven of their members were shot and wounded by company guards.

But last Thursday, no shots were fired. No army of 800 guards could stop the 158 Marbai members and 5,000 people who joined their journey. No tears were shed except tears and shouts of joy. Marbai was the one armed this time: armed with an installation order coming from DAR, armed with the words of a president who wanted to fight oligarchs like the Lorenzos who control Lapanday, and armed with their own courage to fight.

What happened in Lapanday can be the ripple effect on the century-long fight against land monopoly. It may have started with what happened in Luisita, and continued with Marbai. It now comes at a tipping point during Labor Day when President Duterte said he wants to end the landed oligarchs' hold on farmlands and make it more productive for farmers. It comes at a time when farmworkers have felt enough of the exploitative schemes of owners and want to be free.

But to make this ripple turn into a tidal of change, these things must happen first:

Duterte has to push for Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano's confirmation as DAR secretary in Congress. Mariano has done the impossible twice in two months: taking back Hacienda Luisita and now Marbai. He and DSWD's Judy Taguiwalo are the faces of change in Duterte's cabinet. Mariano faces a tough road, with Gina Lopez losing her confirmation, and Taguiwalo threading the eye of the needle. But Duterte needs Mariano's connectedness to the farmers' struggle to win this fight.

A better agrarian reform law must be enacted. Carp, the so-called achievement of Cory Aquino's presidency, has in 30 years failed to reach half of its target land reacquisition with a law that has loopholes. A genuine agrarian reform bill filed by the Makabayan bloc is meant to make agrarian reform more encompassing to empower the farmers. But his faces a tough legislative battle in a Congress dominated by landowners. But if Duterte envisions breaking down oligarchy and making lands more productive, Duterte needs to push Congress to help attain such vision.

The lesson from Marbai showed collective action can make things happen. Marbai persevered collectively in every step of their campaign in a decade, from filing their petition to DAR, to staging their occupy campaign late last year up to their camp-in protest in Mendiola a few weeks back. Other agrarian reform beneficiaries and farmers are now taking note.

The ultimate lesson here is that change comes through struggle. As in the words of Fredrick Douglass, the African-American fighter against slavery, who said "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never does and never will."

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