Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lupang Hinarang (work-in-progress, Ditsi Carolino)

Lupang Hinarang, a two-part documentary, is a gripping and highly-educational look at the volatile issue of agrarian reform in the Philippines. Two decades of land reform program resulted in the distribution of only 20% of privately owned agricultural lands to farmers. As long as landlords and corporations take a vise hold grip on their lands, farmers will fight for their rights.

The first part deals with the decade-long struggle over a 144-hectare land at Hacienda Velez-Malaga in Negros Occidental. The family of Roberto Cuenca attempts to gain back ownership of the land. A total of 122 farmers, armed with certificates of land ownership award, are staking their claim on the land. Their attempts are always met with harassment and violence.

A terrifying moment occurred early in the documentary. Farmers take cover in their hastily-made pits as they avoid bullets fired by security guards employed by Cuenca. The murder of farmer beneficiary Pepito Santillan convinces the farmers to employ a new tactic in their battle against a formidable foe with powerful connections. Bobby, son of Roberto Cuenca, is (was?) married to Bianca, daughter of Representative Ignacio ‘Iggy’ Arroyo.

The farmers take their battle to Metro Manila. Eighteen farmers participate in a hunger strike at the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office near the Quezon Memorial Circle. I remember seeing the Task Force Mapalad signs. I pass by the farmers' picket line every day on my way to work. I saw the streamers asking for the resignation of Agrarian Reform Secretary Nasser Pangandaman. But, never did I imagine that more than a dozen peasants were undergoing hunger strike at the cramp area.

A deluge of supporters visit the picket line to bolster the spirit of the farmers. A hunger strike icon, Ka Rene Peñas of Bukidnon, praises them and calls them heroes. Some members of the House of Representatives express their support for the farmers’ cause. For 29 days, the farmers subsisted only on liters of water. Victory came with DAR’s order for their immediate installation on the hacienda.

The first segment of the documentary ran the gamut of emotions. There is terror (bullying by goons), sadness (writing of last will), joy (receiving of Holy Communion), happiness (victory dance) and relief (installation of farmers). Even though the farmers got to occupy their land, the minions of Cuenca still continue to wreak havoc. Two of the hunger strike participants were fatally gunned down while trying to cultivate their land.

The second part documents the steps taken by 55 farmers from Sumilao, Bukidnon in their two-month odyssey to Malacañang Palace. I marveled at the camerawork of Carolino. She was marching along with the Higaonon farmers but the resulting footages were not jerky and dizzying. A comic moment deals with efforts of farmers to cool off their testicles.

A front-page coverage of the 1,770 kilometer march brought the issue to national consciousness. San Miguel Corporation decided to give back the 144-hectare land to the farmers. The success of the farmers was made possible with the support of religious people, news media, lawyers, and ordinary people.

The Cinemalaya 2009 showing of the documentary was one of the best viewing experiences I had at the film festival. The amazing documentary is still a work in progress. Some recent news, good and bad, had not been included in the Cinemalaya 2009 version. The June 5, 2009 murder of Ka Rene Peñas was not mentioned in the documentary. Ka Rene was the leader of the Sumilao farmers.

The best news so far is the signing into law of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms bill. The law extends the land reform program for five more years. The next step is to ensure the law is fully implemented. I hope we will not see again the irony of farmers reminding lawmakers what the law is all about.

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