One of the leaders of Pesante, an organization of around 10,000 farmers seeking the distribution of land in Yulo King Ranch (YKR) in Coron, Palawan, through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), cries foul over the death of farmer-member Arnel Figueroa (43 years old) who was fatally shot in the said municipality on Tuesday, September 20. Pesante Secretary General Maria Maaya Thind (36 years old), who was in the crime scene and was able to film the incident when Figueroa was shot in the stomach by YRK security guard Dan Nelson Mayo (44 years old), said they are determined to file the appropriate charges.
“Nananawagan kami kay President Digong na kami ay tulungan para mabigyan ng katarungan si Kasamang Arnel,” Thind said, who then cited how seemingly planned the incident was. “Nung sila po’y nakarating sa pinangyarihan ng pagpatay kay Ka Arnel, ang formation po nila, naka-zero po kami sa blue guard, tapos naka-victory kami sa Marines, kaya ‘yung pagkilos nila ay pinagplanuhan ng maayos,” Thind lamented.
Mayo and two other accomplices, namely Ronald Paguntalan (47 years old), security guard from Sitio Tulboca, Barangay Decalachao, and Salvador Manlabao Jr. (50 years old), BAI Security Coordinator, are now in the custody of Palawan PNP.
“Naisampa na po ang kaso sa Provincial Prosecutor,” said Police Inspector Ric Ramos of Palawan PPO. “Itong tatlo po ay nakapiit na. Sila po ay nag-waive ng rights o ‘yun pong tinatawag na Article 125.”
Meanwhile, the Western Command, through spokesperson Captain Cherryl Tindog, clarified that members of the Marines were in the scene because the BAI has requested for their presence. “Our Marines were requested by the Bureau of Animal Industry to provide security during an anti-encroachment operation in Sitio Yulo King Ranch, Brgy Decalachao, Coron, together with their personnel, some barangay officials and a Blue Guard named Dan Nelson Mayo,” Captain Tindog explained. Tindog said the group asked security assistance from the Marines because there were no available PNP personnel at that time.
Figueroa was among the thousands of households facing eviction from the Yulo King Ranch as the government considered them illegal occupants in the state-owned area. He was among those who were able to meet with former President Benigno Aquino III in 2014 when the group lobbied for the President’s help in resolving the dispute over ownership of the land.
The YKR is a land formerly tilled by peasants before being declared as a pasture land by the Marcos administration during Martial Law, displacing farmers from the land. In 1986, the ranch was among the properties sequestered by the Presidential Commission on Good Government and was transferred to the management of the Bureau of Animal Industry. In March 2010, the Supreme Court ordered the lifting of the sequestration of the YKR due to mismanagement and on May 2010, former President Gloria Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 2057 which authorized the Philippine Forest Corporation to manage the idle lands covered by the pasture reserve. In 2011, then Palawan Governor Abraham Mitra asked President Aquino to recall Proclamation No. 2057 on grounds that it was declared without proper consultation among Palaweños. In 2013, Aquino, through Proclamation 663, transferred the administration of YKR, now referred to as Busuanga Pasture Reserve, to the Forest Management Bureau of the DENR.
The dispute in Yulo King Ranch is a multi-faceted and multi-period issue on land grabbing and exploitation of peasants, which was the subject of a fact-finding mission conducted in 2014 by members of various civil society groups.