05/28/2015, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Caritas and Filipino farmers against government repression of peaceful demonstration

Landless farmers were dispersed with water cannons, tear gas and pepper spray. Seventeen were hospitalised for treatment after suffering eye injuries. Protesters called for the implementation of the expired land redistribution law.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Caritas Philippines has slammed the violent dispersal of farmers who staged a rally yesterday in front of the House of Representatives in Quezon City. In a statement, the Catholic charity criticised security officers for using tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons.

The dispersal left 17 farmers hurt, as they called for the completion of and reforms in the implementation of the agrarian reform.

The injured farmers were immediately brought to the East Avenue Medical Center for treatment after suffering eye injuries.

In recent days, farmers from all over the country have rallied as part of a 17-day march to Manila, to protest against a pro-landowner amendment to Bill 4296, which is expected to be approved next month.

For Fr Edwin Gariguez, Caritas Philippines executive secretary, security officers should have negotiated diplomatically instead of using tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons.

“These poor farmers were unarmed. They are not animals and definitely not criminals. They were only here to demand for what is due to them under the Agrarian Reform Law,” Fr Gariguez said.

Bill 4296, which is backed by farmers, would extend the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), introduced in 1988 by former President Corazon Aquino but expired in 2014 before it could be fully implemented because of a lack of funding.

Under the programme, the government was supposed to buy all lands exceeding seven hectares by and sell it to landless farmers. Previous owners of the land were to be paid in instalments over a 15-year period.

However, when CARP expired in 2014, more than a million hectares of land had yet to be distributed, and Bill 4296 is designed to complete the programme.

When some landowners tried to get an amendment to the bill to exempt from redistribution lands not yet covered by CARP, farmers protested.

Caritas Philippines has actively supported agrarian reform and land rights, good governance, sustainable agriculture, and women and children’s rights.

“We join the farmers in pressing the Aquino administration, especially the lawmakers to implement asset reform by overhauling the implementation of the CARP and completing the distribution to peasants of all agricultural landholdings nationwide subject to the program,” Gariguez said.

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