13 years later, Alegre couple still representative of oppression and repression vs farmers

“More than a decade later, farmers are still being targeted for defending the land they till. The trumped-up charges and wrongful conviction of the Alegre couple remain a representation of the oppression and repression that farmers are continuously being subjected to.  No justice has been attained, and the same economic and political conditions that have allowed such injustice continue to prevail in our society today, victimizing thousands throughout the years,” said Karapatan deputy secretary general Roneo Clamor.
 
In 2005, farmer-couple Jesus and Moreta Alegre, residents of Sagay City, Negros Occidental, were subjected to false charges of murder following their refusal to sell the land they tilled to a landlord who wanted to covet a 15-hectare land area for leasing to a Japanese national; the said land is slated to be turned into a resort. Because of their refusal, the couple, along with their son, Selman, were accused of murder and were later wrongly convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in 2007.

They were detained at the Sagay Provincial Jail before being transferred to different detention facilities in Metro Manila in 2009 – Moreta is currently detained at the Correctional Institute for Women (CIW) while Jesus and Selman are at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). Jesus is now 72 years old while Moreta is 71. Moreta has hypertensive cardiovascular disease, while Jesus suffers from hypertension and arthritis. 

“The Duterte regime has not made any effort to correct these injustices, but have instead installed ways to ensure the proliferation of rights violations against peasant communities,” said Clamor, citing the cases of farmer-couples who were illegally arrested under the Duterte regime. In Compostela Valley, couples Kidjol Antay Sr. and wife Noeme Antay, and Otik and Maricho Catalino were illegally arrested in May 2017; farmer-couples Ryan and Gretchen Espera, and Amelia and Alfredo Omandam, and Carlito and Elizabeth Labajo were illegally arrested in July 2017. These couples are members of local peasant organizations who are staunch advocates of genuine land reform and have expressed strong opposition against land grabbing.

Clamor added that “this government is adding more and more to the number of political prisoners all over the country – all charged with trumped-up charges, all cases unresolved and without justice. Amid the intensifying repression is the worsening landlessness due to widespread land grabbing by landlords, agribusiness plantations and mining companies. No concrete effort was done to distribute arable lands to farmers, owing to the fact that Congress itself is littered with political dynasties who own vast areas of land.”

Karapatan added that the plight of peasant political prisoners and the landlessness that have crippled the agricultural sector for so long are among the problems that are set to be discussed under the peace talks, specifically under the Comprehensive Agreement on the Social and Economic Reforms (CASER). The release of political prisoners, particularly on the basis of humanitarian considerations which would include the Alegre couple, is also a priority agenda.

“We thus call for the continuation of the peace talks between the Government of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Such a platform will provide us with a concrete plan as to how genuine land reform can be implemented. Though not enough compensation for the years of injustice, the immediate release of the Alegre couple and all political prisoners, an end to the practice of filing-trumped up charges and all forms of violations against farmers and peasant communities, and working towards distributing land to its tillers will constitute a level of reprieve for all farmers victimized by regimes throughout the years,” ended Clamor.