by Aytch Dela Cruz
Another farmer-activist has been shot dead in the contested 4,124-hectare reservation area of the University of the Southern Mindanao (USM) in Arakan, North Cotabato, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) said yesterday.
In a press statement, the DAR identified the victim as Willerme Algorde, auditor of local farmers’ group Mailuminado Farmers’ Association, Inc. (MAFAI). He was reportedly the third farmer to be killed in 2017.
Reports reaching the DAR central office in Quezon City said Algorde was sitting in front of a store owned by his son in Barangay Elustre, Roxas town when unidentified men in a tricycle fired gunshots at him at around 6:00 p.m. last Sunday.
Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano has condemned the killing and has instructed regional officials in South Central Mindanao to immediately come up with measures that would finally resolve the ongoing land row in the area.
Mariano earlier assured the farmers of the Arakan municipality that the unused portion of agricultural lands previously covered by the USM reservation will be awarded to its actual tillers and occupants.
On December 8 last year, MAFAI members from five villages in Arakan held a protest and camped outside the Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST) to seek the immediate distribution of their farmland.
The land in question was part of the 5,091-hectare lot declared as a reservation area for the Mindanao Institute of Technology and the USM through Presidential Declaration 428 during the administration of President Carlos P. Garcia.
Last February 9, the DAR along with officials from other concerned agencies and local government units held a dialogue with executives from the CFCST and USM to develop ways on how the disputed land could finally be distributed to the farmers.
The meeting reportedly resulted in an agreement to parcel the unused land of the university to its farmer-occupants as long as the indigenous people are considered. The implementation of which, however, remains to be seen.