11 May 2021

The Save Agrarian Reform Alliance is a consortium of various national farmer’s organizations, civil society organizations, land rights activists and agrarian reform advocates. In light of the recent demolition of homes in Barangay [Barrio] of Sumalo, Municipality of Hermosa, Bataan Province, SARA calls on state authorities to prevent further demolitions for humanitarian reasons due to the threats brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The said homes also belonged to duly recognized and identified Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) Beneficiaries under the Samahang Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Barangay Sumalo (SANAMABASU) who have struggled to reclaim land and tillage rights in a 214 hectare property alledgedly owned and now enclosed by the Riverforest Development Corporation (RDC), a real estate developer.

The struggle for land in Barangay Sumalo began as early as the 1970s when James Litton, chairman of the RDC reportedly bought the 214 hectare property for Php 11,000.00. Since then, the farmers in Sumalo have been engaged in a legal struggle in asserting their historical ownership of the land. The legal struggle was however capped by a Supreme Court decision in 2006 that favored the conversion of farmlands by the RDC, by way of technicality as the court did not consider the farmers in Sumalo as “real parties in interest”.

The rules governing land conversion however sets only a 5-year grace period for introducing developments which the River Forest Development Corporation allegedly failed to comply with.

This gave the farmers now organized as SANAMABASU an opportunity to engage anew in a series of legal actions.  In 2019, the Office of the President (OP) decided to junk the Riverforest Development Corporation’s petition to develop the land.

The 17-page decision signed by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea which emphasized  the “Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law as a bastion for social justice” prompted agrarian reform coverage in the 214 hectare property.  This process of coverage however was resisted heavily by the Riverforest Development Corporation which started “installing more armed security personnel, enclosures, and checkpoints to coerce and restrict movement” according to members of SANAMABASU. A few months after the OP Decision was released, a young farmer was gunned down by private security in one of Riverforests’ checkpoints.

Despite the OP decision however, another decision was released by a local Municipal Trial Court to eject around 18 families from the residential area of the barangay, through an RDC claim that the said families are “unlawful detainers” and that their possession of the subject properties were merely by tolerance of the RDC.  Rolando Martinez, a farmer leader of SANAMABASU expressed grave concern that this local court decision will most likely affect more than 50 families due to a domino effect designed to maim the community’s resistance to the land conversion, .Martinez’ own home and several others were already demolished last May 05, 2021, in what residents believe is jist the first salvo in a series of ejectments slated to proceed in the next few weeks/months.

Rubbing more salt to open wounds, detractors who mockingly identify themselves as “actual mainstream farmers” in the community have claimed to support RDC’s project to convert farmlands in Barangay Sumalo into industrial use, while declaring that the farmers of SANAMABASU are “illegal occupants” and worse, “professional squatters”. This narrative has already penetrated local media outlets as well in social media platforms as part of RDC’s effort to gain legitimacy and demoralize and discredit SANAMABASU’s struggle for land rights.

These incidences and trends are similarly experienced by various land-based resistance movements across the country–where peasant rights are sidetracked in the name of corporate-led development, and where communities are systematically pitted against each other to advance the interests of elites.

In light of the upcoming 33rd anniversary of the CARP this June 2021, SARA calls on the Department of Agrarian Reform to fast-track the coverage of farmlands in Barangay Sumalo and exercise their mandate for Compulsary Acquisition to the full extent of the law. The DAR needs to look intently into the rights of SANABASU farmers for home lots under CARP as well as to facilitate remedies that would deescalate tensions brought by the demolitions.

Along these lines, SARA also urges related government agencies and the judiciary to uphold the rights of SUMALO farmers enshrined under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Peasants, specifically under Article 24 where: “(1) Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to adequate housing. They have the right to sustain a secure home and community in which to live in peace and dignity, and the right to non-discrimination in this context; (2) Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to be protected against forced eviction from their home, harassment and other threats; and, (3) States shall not, arbitrarily or unlawfully, either temporarily or permanently, remove peasants or other people working in rural areas against their will from the homes or land that they occupy without providing or affording access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection. When eviction is unavoidable, the State must provide or ensure fair and just compensation for any material or other losses.”





For questions or more information:

Rolando Martinez – 09989692273 | 09063522905

Samahang Nagkakaisang Magsasaka ng Barangay Sumalo