Stories from Hacienda Yulo

Based on actual interviews during the Fact Finding Mission (FFM) on June 1-2, 2010 conducted to support Hacienda Yulo farmers in their defense of life, land, coco forest and watershed-cave. The FFM which gathered 113 contingents was organized by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (PATRIA), Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK) and Samahan ng Mamamayang Nagkakaisa sa Buntog (SAMANA-Buntog). Mga larawan ni Randy Evangelista (Facebook Album).

In March 22, as farmers were having their humble lunch of their own produce of vegetables and fruits, the noise of power-saw terrified the whole village of Buntog. Indeed, it was happening: the massacre of trees, their beloved coconut trees that fed their families for 60 years and even a century. They have somehow sustained their needs by selling copra and other coco products in San Pablo and nearby towns. In that day of March, 17 coconut trees died, a sad and costly lost for farmers.

Like it was not enough to terrify poor people in a day, as early as eight o’clock the following morning, the now familiar sound of power-saw hit it again. A total of 53 trees were killed, all of them marked with X in white paint. Apparently, villagers observed a thousand trees have been marked X, their days are numbered if villagers would not defy it.

The perpetrators? At the site was a jeepney of an estimate 20 helpers and five power saw operators along with full battle-geared members of the RMG or Regional Mobile Group of the Philippine National Police based in Camp Eldrige, a detachment in Los Baños, Laguna. The RMG members were PO1 Yabut, Jesus Katig, PO1 Ibrahim, PO1 Maranag and PO1 Claveria. Lando Ramilo then claimed as the one in-charge of the cutting under the supervision of Allan Fajardo for Architect Dan Calvo of the San Cristobal Realty Development Corporation (SCRDC). SCRDC is a subsidiary of BYME Investment and Development Corporation, a Yulo owned corporation, along with the Laguna Estates Development Corporation (LEDC). Jose Ramon Yulo acts as its president.

Villagers insisted the cutting of coconut trees was illegal. SCRDC has no approval to cut trees from the farmer’s association SAMANA-Buntog (Samahan ng Mamamayang Nagkakaisa sa Buntog) nor it has permission from the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). In fact, in 1997 the PCA had ordered the Temporary Restraining Order of cutting coconut trees in the community.

Buntog is a village of approximately 400 households in Canlubang, Calamba City located in the far-end of what is now known as Hacienda Yulo. Farmers here are totally dependent on its parcels of land for cropping and livestock. The road to the guarded territory includes a cemented but pretty toxicating sight of factories and of on-going construction of high-end subdivisions usually composed of uniformed houses that from afar, resemble blocks of grave in a long stretch of cemetery. Then, expect the next road leading to the farmer’s community to be rough, dusty or muddy. As you enter, you would read the signage, “Watershed and Forest Reserve”. In the end border of the village named Matang-tubig is a cave farmers consider as treasure as it dwells with water that they believe is substantial for irrigation even for the whole of Canlubang.

Five days earlier, farmers have heard already of a threat of clearing operation through text messaging, undoubtedly from the corporate family that have clutched their peasant life since 1948 when Jose Miguel Yulo had his first apparition then in the land that Buntog ancestors developed for years of bountiful harvests.

Indeed, it happened. It was a massacre of sorts in a country that ranked first in coconut production according to the 2009 data of UN Food and Agricultural Organization. The coconut is known to the locals as Tree of Life because of its many uses: food and refreshment (salad, cake, milk and juice which is considered the safest of all liquids), oil for cooking and shampoo from the dried kernel copra, charcoal from shells, roofing and furniture from its leaves and trunk; ropes, mats and mattresses from husk; dyes and traditional medicines from its roots.

For farmers, land is where you cultivate what you eat. You take away the right of farmers to life once you convert an agricultural land or cut down or burn its produce that farmers toiled under terrible heat and waited to for months and years to yield.

As per farmer’s investigation, they were able to get confirmation that the incident was an implementation of surveying, road tracing and clearing operation to give way to the extension of the Canlubang Golf Course and Country Club where Jose Luis Gerardo Yulo is executive director; and for the building of more subdivisions and casino. Another popular talk inside the Hacienda is of the serious vested interest of SM mogul Henry Sy and the Ayalas for business in the land. The two ranked the first and third in the 2009 Forbes list of richest people in the Philippines. Why would they ever care if farmers would be displaced and go hungry?

In defense of their coco forest, watershed and livelihood, farmers mounted their camp which they call “Bantayan” in the village’s entrance and end boarder. Mothers, Fathers and children took rounds in staying awake by the camp to guard any further intrusion by the Yulos and their agents. And as it was summer, students from different universities stayed with them for immersion and support.

But as if to scare again the village, at nine in the morning of May 21, eight vans and motors roared up the Bantayan. There were estimated 70 combined elements of RMG, security guards from the Emme Security Systems Management of General Aglipay, Label Security and Visman. Their frontman and commander: Architect Dan Calvo himself, who claims to be a Yulo speaker and/or representative. Farmers were hoping for negotiation but with the other party’s show of M-16s, Calvo’s party has of course no intention.

The moment his feet touched ground, Dan Calvo belted at farmers: Wala kayong karapatan! Hindi kayo taga-rito! Pagdamputin ang mga yan! (You have no rights! You are not from here! Arrest them!)

In the minds of villagers were simple rhetorics: Why doesn’t he try telling that to himself he who was not born in Buntog? Who is alien to the land where you are born? He has no right to shout at us just because he is schooled in UST or Ateneo! Why doesn’t he try to tell that to the rage of ashes of our ancestors? He should know which comes first, 1910 or 1948? How can an originally 100 ha of land become suddenly 7,100 ha if not for oligarchic landgrabbing?

Farmers and students were wounded from the commotion Calvo created and 11 were illegally arrested and detained including a 71-year old grandmother and 4 minors. “Tumahimik ka, kundi tatamaan ka!” (Shut up or I’ll hit you!), PNP Mendoza told them as they arrived at the Calamba City Jail when they asked what their offense was. Later, they would know of their case: Direct Assault. How easily could authorities reverse the turn of events! And while arrogantly telling farmers police don’t detain minors and only send them “under custody” of the Department of Social Welfare and Development without the parents’ nor of any relatives’ consent nor defining clearly the reason for costudy, another police would be heard harassing the minors: “Bukas, padadalhan kayo ng 300 pulis, kaya humanda kayo!” (Tomorrow, 300 police will be sent in your village so be warned!).

Meanwhile, Lolo Quirino Mangubat, 70 years old, suffered a nerve crack and paralysis as Calvo mockingly pointed his fingers to him saying, “Walang utang-na-loob!” (You have no shame to the boss that feeds you!) being a trusted gardener of the Yulos. But who benefitted more from his labor through the decades? He believes he owns no debt to the Yulos for taking his service. His family had already spent P28,000 in hospital bills by which amount the community helped to gather. He barely could speak and move since May 21.

Dan Calvo and his armed men should listen clearly to the consistent story of Buntog ancestors, who, like the rest of settlers in Hacienda Yulo, started to settle in the area from Talisay, Batangas in 1910 as Taal Volcano erupted. The area was a virgin forest then. Possessing virgin hearts themselves, one with no inch of greed, rather only “the spirit of damayan”, such value of helping each other and enjoying life half-half, they all agreed in the grounded principle that the land you can till is yours. And so farmers sow and reap rice grains, corn, cassava, coconut and coffee. By the fourth generation of Buntog tillers, the land is enriched with various fruits and crops. Among others, they have grown mango, rambutan, lanzones, peanut, papaya, santol, jackfruit, banana, tamarind, guyabano (custard apple), lukban (pomelo), atis, chilli pepper and ginger. Cows, goats and chicken also flock their pastures. These have sustained their survival.

But like any agricultural land in the Philippines, once already productive, it becomes suddenly a property of some landlord. The Yulo dynasty in Laguna only started in 1948, when the American Minley who reportedly got the rights of the 100 ha of land from the Spanish heir Madrigal Family “left it to the care” of Jose Miguel Yulo, who served as Chief Justice during the Japanese occupation in 1942-45. His children would later manage the Hacienda, including Jesus Miguel Yulo who became mayor of Calamba in 1988-1994. How they control and convert the use of land over the years is a “gradual death” for farmers.

For example, when Minley ordered the cutting down of coconuts and coffee shrubs and stopping the rice production to favor sugarcane in 1928, farmers were being demolished with the promise of relocation and compensation. Farmers were swayed by the promise only to become slave laborers in the sugarfield and mill, the Canlubang Sugar Estate. From sugarcane workers, farmers became ranch helpers, then coco harvesters then coco-coffee harvesters-cum-manual cleaners and millers, earning only either “gifts” of taxed seedlings or usually a delayed salary of P2.50 to P167 per day from 1968 until 1997.

Despite being displaced, despite being unrecognized as owners, farmers remained to live in the land their palms have mastered. Despite being forbidden, they continued to cultivate fruits and crops especially in the mountainous parts. Farmers realized the importance of being organized to be able to fight for their rights. In their experience, some attempts failed but in firmness, they were able to harvest little and big victories.

In 1959, farmers had applied the petition for land title but to no avail. In 1961, the Yulo family mobilized and pesented them to then President Diosdado Macapagal as a people satisfied “to live in a golden cage” and that they do not call for Hacienda Yulo to be subjected to land reform program where parcels of land will be distributed to farmers. All the while, farmers thought the rally they went to was all about finally having back their own land but there, they were made to carry placards that shout: Kami ay nakatira sa hawlang ginto! Di namin kailangan ng lupa!

Though other families were again swayed to the “thoughtfulness” of the Yulo family to consider them their equal, farmers have had generally learned from their experience, that there are many landgrabbing schemes used by landlords to remain their control and even widen more their scope: tenancy, high taxation, low prizing of produce, high prizing of seedlings and fertilizers, treatment of farmers as cheap farm laborers (cum plantation slaves), pocket demolition through “Certificate of Awards” of housing by which circumstance and details of the award are vague; and land-use conversion that serves their own interest from rice to sugarcane to ranch to coffee-coco, and now to flying balls, gambling and zombie houses.

Besides taking a government position and abusing it, the Yulo family are confident they get the support of government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture (DAR), Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. And even the country’s own law on agrarian reform, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) has been proven pro-landlordism and is inutile in addressing the issue of landlessness of farmers and full development of the agrarian sector. DAR through its regional office had declared that the vast land of Hacienda Yulo is a watershed and forest reserve and therefore cannot be converted. But it was suddenly repealed to justify the conversion conversion as DAR later declared the land as untenanted and non-agricultural despite the evident quantitative production of farmers.

A tracing of the Yulo Family reveals a connection in the Spanish Araneta Clan where popular names belong like Arroyo, Roxas and Lacson while names Marcos and Lopez are connected through marital affinity. They may have different territories but use the same schemes of exploitation to attain the over-spilling wealth they enjoy.

Indeed, the national problem on land and backward economy dates back from the feudal Spanish colonization era. A question from the THINKATON Card Game goes: What is the oldest firm in the Philippines? One of us answered, BSP Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Another answered, BIR Buruea of Internal Revenue. Last guess was, Landbank of the Philippines.  Eventually, the right answer which can be found at the back of the card is the Ayala Firm, which spontaneously led us to nod, yeah right! And to which did not surprise Tata Pido, a peasant-fisherfolk leader, also known as “the man who ate bullets” having survived nine bullets in a murder attempt of the Arroyo administration’s Oplan Bantay Laya in 2004. It makes sense as the Ayalas, like the Yulos are a decaying remnants of the era.

For farmers long suffering, they said they have fears too as they stand to defend their rights but in order really to survive, they always realize that the best thing to do is weaken that fear by linking arms with fellow enslaved, strengthening themselves in the process from their own village to the rest of provinces.

Thus, from generation to generation, they did not stop demanding for the land that is theirs. In 1980, farmers in Hacienda Yulo again filed their petition and in 1991, they founded their organization, SAMANA-Buntog in affirmation of their unity in studying their problems and taking actions to address them as one community. In 1992, they filed their petition to then President Fidel Ramos for revocation of the DAR Exemption Order.

At present, farmers are filing their counter-charges to human rights violators while talks are pending with the local municipality for hearing and most importantly, the Bantayan remains in the village of Buntog as farmers persistently organize their ranks. Lolo Quirino is an example of such persistence.

When asked, “Lolo, tuloy ang laban?” (Grandfather, should we continue to fight?). Though he could hardly move it, his arms gestured to a raised fist.

Additional Sources:

Fact Sheets and Narrative Files from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

“Ang Pakikibaka ng Masang Magsasaka sa Asyenda Yulo”. A Background Paper prepared by Axel Pinpin, Seceretary General of KASAMA-TK.


About Joanna Lerio

cultural journalist, multidisciplinary artist, educator, traveller, dreamer, yogini, vegetarian, advocate
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