Chasing Justice

The old printer chuntered and disgorged tons of leaflets. The used boxes painted with calls cried out the people’s lost voices. The silent fields were waiting for the beautiful noise, different from the sound that once broke it. And then you saw their smile. And slowly, it disappeared on the exact same day that it came to sight.

It was the 16th of October this year. It was supposedly the day of the execution of the ages-old decision of Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudicator Board (DARAB) on the fourteen hectares of land in San Agustin, Palo, Leyte. But it didn’t materialize and days later, another motion to quash was filed by the ‘defendants’ of the land. The defendants who defended their side beyond the law.

This brings us to what happened twelve years ago. The situation is quite the same. No, there were no gunshots heard, no fabricated charges filed against the blameless, no pregnant woman died, no “kill them all” and farmers begging off stories, no blood diffused in the fields. But their right to their land was once again denied.

Who would ever forget the November 21, 2005 massacre penetrated by elements of the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion? It killed eight lives, the military blinded the public by saying it was an encounter between them and the rebel armed group. The bloody incident’s story may have vanished from the mainstream or the real story might not have reached it. But it is ours (farmers) to tell.

On May 1998, Renato Dizon and other plaintiffs filed a case against Pedro Margallo who grabbed their land. A decision in favor of the San Agustin farmers came out two years later. On year 2005, the land beneficiaries, peasant groups, and Bayan Muna initiated a “tiklos” and stayed in a “kamalig” at the center of the field which, ironically, was also used against them by the military. Staying in the lone “kamalig” meant rebellion to the government’s armed group. It was deemed false.

Years after, peasant groups in the region under Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) didn’t stop negotiating and skirmishing for the land through legal means. All of the decisions issued by DAR and even the Court of Appeals, in separate years and in more than ten times of motion filing and rebuttals, were in favor of the San Agustin farmers.

But where is justice? Will it remain a hanging question and so will be left unanswered?

A shrapnel will be defeated by the united masses crusading for their rights. Justice lies where our crusade begins.

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