Updated: December 16, 2012 10:39 PM GMT
Landless farmers from Negros, Batangas and Bukidnon provinces began an indefinite hunger strike today at the headquarters of the Agrarian Reform Department to demand immediate land distribution.
Some 40 farmers who stormed the Agrarian Reform Secretary’s office on Friday and are still holed up there, as well as others encamped outside the building, are taking part in the fast.
Alberto Jayme, who heads the contingent from Negros, said the hunger strikers are also seeking the removal of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes.
“We are seeking an audience with the president to relate to him how de los Reyes has been working at cross-purposes with him, offering excuses for his dismal record on the land acquisition and distribution component of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program,” Jayme said.
The farmers belonging to the group Task Force Mapalad arrived in Manila on Thursday to protest what they say is government "inaction on promises" made by President Aquino to hasten land distribution.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, head of the social action secretariat of the bishops' conference, celebrated Mass with the farmers yesterday to "prepare them spiritually for the fast."
The land reform program requires the distribution of farmland of more than five hectares to landless farmers before June 30, 2014.
Some 900,000 hectares are still to be distributed under the program, which was enacted into law in 2009. As of last year, the Agrarian Reform Department had distributed a total of 264,880 hectares.
The farmers say the government has only distributed about 45,400 hectares of land nationwide from a total of 180,000 hectares promised for this year and a 74,653-hectare backlog promised from previous years.
De los Reyes admitted the government is taking more time than previous administrations in processing land transfers.
“It’s true that we are slow. But we are working to improve the system and that requires time. We can’t reform the old system by being haphazard about it,” he said.
“I understand where the farmers are coming from, but we’re doing our best. We just need time."
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