Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shaven Heads, Shaven Dreams

On February 22, 2007, Thursday, members and officers of Task Force Mapalad invited me to celebrate mass at their campsite outside the Department of Agrarian Reform at Quezon Eliptical Circle. The day before, on ash Wednesday both female and male farmers had their heads shaven as they began their hunger strike in protest to the problematic and increasingly violent state of agrarian reform in Negros Occidental.

I have known most of the farmers. Even without their heads shaved, they already looked famished and exhausted in the long and seemingly endless struggle for the implementation of land reform. They have already received Certificates of Land Ownership or Cloas and have prepared to occupy the said land awarded by government. Instead, the landlords have started employing blue guards and goons to prevent the farmers from the exercise of their right by the immediate occupation of their land. The blue guards have been more than aggressive and defensive. They have pulled the trigger a good number of times killing unarmed and defenseless farmers. On top of this, a number of landlords have resorted to using the local courts by filing criminal cases like trespassing, robbery etc against the farmers. The landlords instead of heeding the law have become emboldened through the leadership of the First Gentleman’s younger brother Iggy Arroyo who has organized some land lords as a bloc to fight the farmers and block the implementation of agrarian reform.

The social volcano scenario of the elite versus the masses continually replays itself. The more superior position of the land lords who have money, men and arms are no match to unarmed farmers whose only weapon is knowledge and recourse to the law. While agrarian reform violence continues which only leads to the hardening of positions, farmers are just getting hungrier and losing precious time and opportunity to work on the land and be productive. Meanwhile, the funds available for the implementation of agrarian reform are quickly drying up.

Like shaven heads, does the reality of agrarian reform promise no more than shaven and broken dreams?

About a week later, I was again invited to bless the farmers some of whom had to be brought to the hospital due to exhaustion and weakness brought on by their hunger strike. As I bless the farmers, they closed their eyes and bowed their heads. They were a picture of hunger, weakness and dwindling hope. Their land which they cannot till does not feed them nor others. The government does not give them much assistance nor encouragement. The rich and powerful of their province even seem to have solidified into an impenetrable wall. They need more than ordinary food or nourishment. In their hunger they hope to find a different food. Thus, I prayed for strength and inner food to nourish their minds, hearts and spirits.

I assured them that they are not alone. Members of Kubol Pagasa will fast with them every Wednesday (Fast Wednesdays). Unless, people, specially those concerned fast and experience the hunger, insecurity, uncertainty and fear of oppressed and ignored farmers, their indifference and insensitivity will only worsen.

The pictures of the shaven heads of female farmers did land on the newspapers. They are getting some media mileage now. But what is next? Will hope grow as hair on shaven heads would in a while? Would peace and justice soon reign in the land of the social volcano? Or would we just join the many who watch in amusement while heads and dreams are shaved?

Fr.Roberto P. Reyes
March 15, 2007


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