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Rough Cuts | Now on the horizon but nebulous

We owe it to our hosts in our Talicud Island sojourn last May 18 – 19, 2019 that we have to write something about their experiences as well as their aspirations for themselves and their families, as well as for the island they have lived since they saw the light of day.

We met our hosts, couple Enecito and Belinda Sumalinog and Ene’s sibling during a clan reunion in Sta. Maria, Davao Occidental last April 13, 2019. But before that, the couple took the trouble of finding our farm residence in a remote barangay in Tugbok District, Davao City some 31 kilometers away from downtown.

Since we have the same family name we compared notes and documents that we believe could help us establish our family lineage. This way we thought, we could properly establish the matrix of our family tree. And if successful, we will know how near or far are we as relatives.

Indeed, during the clan reunion, the first ever that we were able to attend, one commonality surfaced. That is, that our great, great grandparents came from the same barangay and town in Cebu.

They seem to leap-frog from our municipality to Bohol or Zamboanga, or even in Misamis Provinces, and finally landed in Talicud Island during the early 1900s. Some other kin followed shortly before the Second World War started.

And we can only deduce that the reason why they opted to stay on the island instead of the mainland Davao because our forefathers were hardened fishermen. And like our hometown, Cordova, Talicud has all the attributes that possibly made them immediately feel at home.

While Ene’s and sibling’s forebears, and their parents, were good fishermen, they may have probably contented themselves with farming as an aside livelihood and never endeavored to acquire the land they were cultivating. It was too late when they realized they became tenants to the land they have labored to develop when the huge tract ended up titled in somebody’s name.

So, when their forebears died, their parents’ parents, and eventually Ene’s sibling inherited the tenant status.

Their opportunity to work for their release from the bondage of tenancy came after the government implemented the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), first during the Marcos martial law regime, and second during the Corazon Aquino Presidency.

But the struggle for emancipation was not easy. It was characterized with harassment and intimidation, deprivation even of the tenants’ belongings like their farm animals. According to the now beneficiaries of the government program whom we had talked to, when they started standing up against the landlords, they were considered intruders. They were literally driven out of their occupation by armed men who were seen apparently supported by the local police.

So, the tenants told us they have to organize and stand their ground. They even have to even do actions that could, in turn, intimidate the armed men. So there were times they were ambushed forcing them to resist even without firearms but guts only.

In all those “encounters” though the tenants ended up wounded. They were those who shed blood and their families let off tears for those who lost some loved ones or were wounded.

But according to Enecito’s brother Arnulfo their family were among those who worked hard – perhaps the hardest — to initiate the legal processes for the award of some 400 hectares of coconut land, they braved all the risks, expenses, insults and frustrations worming their way through what seemingly are alien territories in certain government offices. They have to plead their case with the district, the provincial, regional up to the Central Office of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) hoping to find favorable rulings.

We also learned from other CARP beneficiaries that after years of risky work, cases heaped on them, and intimidations, DAR eventually issued the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) to some 139 beneficiaries.

The government paid the landowner the value of the land prescribed by DAR. However, the payment was not under the so-called Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) since the landlords did not agree to the amount. Instead, the transaction was under the Compulsory Acquisition Process. Hence, the payment is held in escrow with the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP).

While waiting for the issuance of individual titles to the awardees, the beneficiaries are now individually cultivating their lot. They are the ones harvesting the coconut fruits and converting the nuts into copra.

Other beneficiaries lucky enough to have a beach front in their awarded lot, as in the case of the couple Enecito and Belinda, are painstakingly developing the beaches into resorts. The beneficiaries, though, have a common beach resort being developed and operated by their cooperative.

But again, their individual and collective development efforts have to confront the lack of infrastructure that can make them easily accessible to, and patronized by future clients. Roads leading to the barangays from the public wharf are rugged. They are Circa 1970s in the town of our forebears – carved out from limestone fields. There is no stable potable water supply. And the available means of public transportation are the single motor bikes called in local dialect as “habal-habals.”

Indeed, the long-dreamed-of development of the people of Talicud and the island as well, especially by the close to two hundred CARP beneficiaries, is still a long way to go. It’s a dream, yes. But it remains nebulous.

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