Over 90 farmers and land reform advocates arrested in Tarlac over cultivation of disputed land

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Over 90 farmers, volunteers and land reform advocates were detained for over 18 hours at the Concepcion Police Station in Tarlac after police arrested them yesterday on a piece of disputed farmland in Hacienda Tinang.

The group was conducting bungkalan, or a land cultivation activity, when police arrived and arrested them. Some of those arrested were farmers who were beneficiaries of an agrarian reform program in the area.

One group, Sama-Samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA, Artists’ Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform), said that 50 of their artists were detained and condemned the arrests in a Facebook post.

“On the eve of the 34th anniversary of the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), almost 50 artists were illegally arrested by Tarlac police for lending support to CARP beneficiaries tilling the farmland granted to them way back [in] 1998,” they wrote.

Alternative media outlet AlterMidya posted videos of police violently dispersing the mass gathering. According to them, the group that was rounded up were arrested without a warrant and will be charged with malicious mischief and obstruction of justice.

One of the detainees, Angelo Suarez, posted on Facebook that police forces had aggressively barged in and branded those who were present as communists.

“Asked what we were being accosted for, one policeman dismissively said, ‘NPA kayo (you’re NPA),’” he wrote. NPA is short for New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“We were not read our Miranda rights; no charges have been made,” he added.

Those detained are set to undergo inquest proceedings on Friday.

Among those arrested was the son of celebrity wedding videographer Jason Magbanua, who asked police to show kindness towards the detainees, as some of them are just students.

“To the police officers in Concepcion, Tarlac, please take care of your detainees. Some of them are still students. They visited Tarlac with no other goal than to cultivate land and help farmers. One of them is my son. No charges can be made against them,” the famed filmmaker wrote on Facebook.

Progressive group Anakpawis said that the farmers were named legitimate recipients of the 200-hectare land the group had attempted to cultivate yesterday, adding that the Department of Agrarian Reform had tried to install the farmers as the beneficiaries of the land but this decision was not enforced by other government agencies.

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