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At Large

Drums of war in a season of hope

We’re just eight days into the new year and the new decade and already we’re caught on the verge of Armageddon. But while “armageddon” has been described as the “final battle between good and evil,” the prospect of a global conflict this time doesn’t have the same black-and-white moral imperative as, say, World War II.

A large part of this ambivalence, at least for me, is the person who lit the fuse: US President Donald Trump. Without so much as a by-your-leave, especially of the US Congress as required by their law, The Donald ordered military drones to go after and kill top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. But unlike in other conflicts, the reactions from the rest of the world have been largely muted.

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Even given the truth of American claims that Soleimani was responsible for hundreds of deaths, as previous US presidents like Obama and Bush are said to have acknowledged, the timing and motive for the deadly attack remain dubious and devilish. Bush’s predecessors, it’s said, knew all along about Soleimani, but refused to move against him because it would further destabilize an already-fraught part of the world. But Trump, after being impeached and faced leaving the White House in disgrace, chose war as the biggest distraction of all.

Our biggest stake in this looming conflict is of course our overseas workers who most probably would have to be repatriated en masse should the threat of war escalate into actual armed conflict. Somewhat foolishly, I think, President Duterte has already publicly declared that the country will support the US in any coming fighting. This leaves us not only vulnerable to retaliatory actions, what with Islamic State-influenced groups already embedded in our territory, but also suspect among our neighbors with huge Muslim populations.

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If we’re talking of priorities, first place should go to keeping safe our OFWs in Iraq and Iran, and then elsewhere in the Middle East. But the rest of us Filipinos are also facing danger, not an ideal scenario for what should still be a season of hope.

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“Land reform” has been a buzzword for decades to stand for aspirations for social justice and for lifting the status of rural populations, especially landless farmers.

And yet, despite the passage of laws and even the existence of the Department of Agrarian Reform, the “redistribution” of farmland has stalled and rural areas remain backward and mired in poverty and ignorance. One reason has got to be the resistance, if not the actual avoidance, of landowners and other vested interests to genuine, comprehensive land reform.

One case that illustrates the continuing clash between small farmers and powerful influential interests is now pending before the provincial prosecutor of Davao del Norte. One party in this decidedly “David vs Goliath” battle is farmer Rosauro Tapal Sr. and his allies in the Sto. Tomas Individual Farming Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative Veterans, most of whom are or used to be employed as banana plantation workers. On the other side is Marsman Estate Plantation Inc. represented by George Drysdale, chairman.

In 2001, the Marsman plantation, which grows and exports bananas, was subjected to land reform, benefiting or supposedly benefiting 173 agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs). These ARBs then turned around and signed a lease agreement with Marsman, a common tactic of large landowners and farmer-beneficiaries to follow the letter of the law while ignoring the legislation’s spirit and intent.

In Tapal’s case, however, the farmer claims that the title to his land was segregated from all the others and he was not part of the lease agreement. And yet, his property was taken over and used to grow bananas, profiting the company while leaving Tapal and his family “poor and penniless.”

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In addition, in 2016, the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council, after petitions by the farmers, approved the revocation of the lease contract between the ARBs and Marsman. But so far, after the company filed a motion for reconsideration, the council has issued no decision and indeed has yet to convene to decide the case.

Did we mention that land reform is a keystone of the country’s aspirations for social justice? When will this ideal find fruition, not just for Tapal but also for the thousands of farmers still bent under the yoke of the wealthy and powerful?

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TAGS: At Large, Donald Trump, Qassem Soleimani, Rina Jimenez-David, Rodrigo Duterte, US-Iran conflict
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