Land grabbing in Philippines

Report on the Solidarity Mission to Stop Land Grabbing

(Philippines, April 2013) Land grabbing is a political-economic issue that happens internationally and nationally, and has historically not only threatened food sovereignty but also people’s everyday life. Land grabbing as well as natural resources grabbing has been happening over a century, since Philipines’ colonization by the Spanish in 1500s. Since then lands were taken away from the local farmers and given to the catholic authorities, private companies and “big” rich families with ties to the Spanish colonial officials. Thus, the local farmers were deprived of their key livelihood source. Consequently, this made the issue of the redistribution of land and the broader Agrarian Reform urgent and a vital issue of concern to the Filipino farmers and PARAGOS. The establishment of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the Agrarian Reform Special Account Fund in 1971 and the promulgation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) in 1988 were attempts to address the land issue. Under Marcos regime, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) was ratified as the land redistribution program. Under the CARL, both public lands and private agricultural lands were targeted for redistribution to the farmers. However, large tracts of land have not yet been allocated two decades after the implementation of the program. Moreover, some lands instead of being redistributed to the farmers have been privatized and titled, thus exempting them from the program. The Yulo Sugar Estate in Calamba is one such case among many others. The poor redistribution of land in the Philippines is thus a result of the nature of its colonial history and the inefficient implementation of Agrarian Reform (by DAR) in the last three decades.

The peasants from SPI (Indonesia), AOP (Thailand), TFU (Taiwan), PARAGOS (Philippine) and representatives from La Via Campesina visited the farmers camped in front of DAR and joined the solidarity mission of PARAGOS. The farmers had camped for over a year since 2012. They struggled for the full implementation of the Agrarian Reform. Their action is actually a wakeup call to other Filipino farmers who expect the Agrarian Reform to be fully implemented before CARP ends in 2014. When the program ends the farmers will be evicted from their farmland together with their families to make way for people with political power. Large estates will also get the land from the government with ease.

At the camp which started on the 8th of October in 2012, we met many angry but determined farmers who desperately ask for the land redistribution and Agrarian Reform to be fully implemented. They have continuously been engaged in negotiations with the DAR officials for this to happen.

At the camp the PARAGOS organized a forum in which visiting delegates were invited to participate. The experiences of land grabbing in Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan and Philippine were shared and some similarilities identified particularly the pervasive nature of investor-friendly land policies in South-East Asia as well as in Taiwan. In Philippines, the most critical aspect of Agrarian Reform is the land redistribution issue.

During the forum, an ally of PARAGOS shared the information that the policy structure of Agrarian Reform in Japan, Taiwan and Philippine are very similar as it originated from the same policy advisor, the United States of America. Philippine, however, is the only country that has failed to implement the Agrarian Reform because the strong resistance from the landowners and some government officials from the landed gentry (families). This could be read as the semi-feudal characteristics of political domain in Philippines which is in fact a great obstacle to fully implementation of the acquisition and redistribution of land to the rural proletariat to allow rural areas appropriate development on the basis of farmers’ livelihoods. Although the agrarian reform policy structure seems to be pro-farmers’ right to land, the intervention of landowners with political power and the investors has influenced the process and distorted its principles. The camp, in a way, demonstrates the determination of Filipino farmers to ask for concrete implementation of the agrarian reform. The land conversion has widely happened outside of Manila and it is only through people’s action that can counterbalance such government actions and ensure equitable land ownership of agricultural land

Selected land grab cases in the Philipines: Calamba (Laguna Province), and Hermosa (Bataan Province)

The native people arrived between 1912 and 1916, and settled at Calamba village in Laguna. They tilled the land and mostly made a living from farming. The Yulo family arrived later in 1948. This family claimed ownership of about 22,249 hectares of land which they reportedly bought from Vicent Madirgal, a wealthy family. They displaced and evicted the native Filipinos from the land. The Yulo family, however, could not present official documentation to prove their ownership, but instead relied on their close relations with government officials to reconstituted the land title to self-justify their occupancy of the land. Native farmers were left landless and confronted with difficult living conditions, including being constantly threatened whenever they tried to organize and protect their properties.

Another forum was organized by the local farmers and PARAGOS in Calamba, Laguna. The farmers had an opportunity to share their experiences of land grabbing, its history and their resistance. One farmer, stood up and said that, “We want to fight but we are not armed. Nobody can stop them from harassing [us] and demolishing our houses. We can only use the farming tools to go against them.” The situation in Calamba is quite tense. According to villagers and PARAGOS, of the 10,000 hectares of agricultural land that is under the land redistributing project of the Agrarian Reform program, only 250 hectares of it has been given to the local farmers. This meant that each farmer could only get 1.4 hectares on average, a land size far below the minimum of 3.4 hectares required to support a family. As ka Jaime from PARAGOS reminded us and stressing the importance of the need for each household to hold at least 3.4 hectares: “If you have less than 1 hectare, you’re equal to landless”.

Besides the land that has been redistributed to Calamba farmers, which the Yulo family is contesting, the family owns other agricultural land on which they established a sugar estate in Calamba in the 1950s. They produce and export sugarcane to the United States of America, earning them a big fortune and political status. They converted the title of the land that should be redistributed to the farmers using their political power and influence. Besides that the Yulo family also controls the judiciary and the law enforcement systems in the Philipines. This has allowed the Yulo family to constantly harass the local farmers and at times to kill, as they did to the leader of the local farmer’s organization, KASAMACA, in April 23, 2013. The land struggles are life and death issues in Calamba as they threaten local farmers’ everyday life. The Yulo family and a property developer have also started forcing about 600 families in Calamba to vacate their properties to make way for a shopping mall construction project.

Hermosa village, Bataan Province

We were impressed by Fe Andulan the first time we saw her at the camp in front of DAR where she was giving a speech. She illustrated the crisis of land grab in her village. She, almost in tears, talked about the fence erected around their farmland, which is guarded by patrolling security guards, and how the people in Sumalo live under the constant threat. Ka Fe Andulan is a woman farmer who organized SANAMABASU, an alliance of farmers’ organizations which fight against land grabbing by corporations.

Fe Andulan got married in 1980s and she moved to Sumalo with her husband. She led a typical village woman’s life in which farm work predominates until few years ago when the Litton family erected a fence to forbid the villagers from entering and accessing their agricultural lands. Fe Andulan gave us a guided us around Sumalo, and narrated the history about her village. Sumalo is one of the many Barangay (which means ‘village’ in English) in Province Bataan and is located in a peninsula around Manila Bay, west of Metro Manila. It is home to 400 households, with a population of about 1,000 people. Most of the villagers came from Cavite Province and started their cultivation in Sumalo in the 1940s and have been growing rice, corn, mangos, oranges and vegetables for a living for over half of a century.

The land was grabbed by businessmen working together with the local government officials in Calamba. The ownership of 222 hectares of land located in Sumalo was sold to Litton family’s business in 1979 for US$2,200 by the Department of Environment and Nature Resources (DENR). The government official acquired the ownership of the land in Sumalo through a court order, in which the land title was reconstituted based on unknown cadastral records which lacked pertinent information and signatures.

Litton estate initiated a process of “land claim” in Sumalo three years ago. Security guards employed by the Littons family were stationed in the village, and the agricultural land fenced off and farmers were barred from accessing their crops and fields. Some families had their houses burned down or demolished by the security guards. Fe Andulan led to and showed us the perimeter fence where we could see clearly the fields within the thick growth of grass. She pointed at the vast wilderness, and eagerly saying: ”There! That’s my farmland!”

In the past three years, the local farmers in Sumalo were forcibly evicted from their farmland. Consequently, their rights to grow crops and gather fruits were deprived, and this led to the loss of their livelihood source. Moreover, the villagers have been harassed and threatened continuously by Littons’ security guards. Recently, a father and son trying to harvest three pieces of coconut within the fence were caught and dragged by the guards, and imprisoned by the police. Thus, some youth are now armed with machetes to protect and prevent themselves from being caught by the security guards.

In October 8th of 2012, local villagers from Sumalo along with farmers from Province Rizal started their protest camp in front of DAR to force the Secretary of DAR who has been pending their petition for more than one year, to resolve the issue. They demand the immediate implementation of CARL (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, also known as Republic Act No. 6657) and the allocation of the land. Only by implementing a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) by the Department of Agrarian Reform, that the farmers can guarantee their food sovereignty. “We can abolish the title of the landowner through the implementation of CARP”, said ke Fe Andulan, ”and the solidarity among us is the only way that leads us to our farmland.”

Evaluation and Action Plan

Over the years, PARAGOS has involved itself in the struggles for the effective implementation of agrarian reform in the Philippines. The rights of farmers to access and till the land depend on the redistribution of agricultural land covered under CARP and DAR holds the keys to ensure the program is properly enforced and implemented. In the case of Kasamaca and Sumalo, the right of the farmers to cultivate their land is the only way they can ensure survival of their families. This can only be achieved if local farmers have access to and control over their land. It is clear that the agrarian reform initiated by the state, as in Taiwan and China, its success and outcomes depend mostly on political will of the government. CARP ends in August 2014 and if the current land issues are not resolved the crisis of conversion of the land titles and speculation by business working with some government officials will render many farmers landless and destitute.

The delegations from AOP, SPI and TFU then shared their feelings and responses on the three-day visit as an evaluation of the solidarity mission. Delegates also committed to staying longer in each affected village so that they understand more the plight of the locals. We at the end of visit acknowledged the importance of such solidarity visits and how such exchanges play a critical role in strategizing to fight against the corporations which treat people with such violence. Such acts of land dispossession through land grabbing and the associated violence should be legally denounced and prevented. Delegates agreed to an action plan in which “Solidarity Visit” were identified as central to the fights human dignity and should be continued as a series so that the solidarity amongst us could be cemented, accumulated and maximized in the international level in the long run.