Int’l mission urges gov’t to stop land-use conversion in Hacienda Looc

“We used to call Hacienda Looc a paradise, with its fertile soil and rich marine resources. The outsiders came and saw its beauty and our problems began.” – Isabelo Cailaya, fisherfolk leader.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Delegates of an international solidarity mission called on the government to stop the biggest real estate developers from wreaking havoc on the lives of farmers and fisherfolk of Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, Batangas.

In an eight-page executive summary submitted to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), members of the mission asserted that “land use conversions and large scale tourism projects resulted to landlessness and food insecurity.”

The mission, composed of delegates from the United Church of Canada, Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (Agra – Indonesia), research students from Japan and Belgium, the Malaysia-based Pesticide Action Network Asia Pacific, Asian Peasant Coalition, Kasama-TK, Samahang Magsasaka sa Batangas, Farmers Development Center (Fardec), Ibon International, Promotion for Church People’s Response and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, was held February 11 to 15.

In its report, the mission stated that “the biggest real estate developers in the country, in collusion with various government agencies, have made their landgrabbing activities appear legal and legitimate.”

“Government policies, including bogus agrarian reform programs like the Presidential Decree 27 and the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), have denied Hacienda Looc farmers of their rights to the land,” Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general, said. In fact, according to Marbella, “real estate developers, using the CARP itself, managed to exempt Hacienda Looc from agrarian reform.”

According to Ugnayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Pangwawasak ng Kalupaan sa Hacienda Looc (Umalpas-Ka), during the early part of the martial law regime, some 1,282.98 hectares of Hacienda Looc were placed under Presidential Decree No. 27. Emancipation patents (EP) were awarded to 831 farmer-beneficiaries.

In June1990, following former President Corazon C. Aquino’s issuance of Executive Order No. 227, which places the non-performing assets of government under agrarian reform, Hacienda Looc was placed under the CARP and certificates of land ownership award (CLOA) were also given to the farmers.

In spite of CARP coverage, a feasibility study on the suitability of the land to agriculture was conducted and concluded that Hacienda Looc would be of better use if converted into an agro-tourism complex. The Assets Privatization Trust (APT), a government agency, called for a public bidding in December 1983. At the time, real estate developers and land speculators together with land brokers sprouted and tried to convince the farmers to sell their farm lands, including those with CLOA and EP.

“Although the sale and/or transfer of those lands covered by agrarian reform is strictly prohibited by law, legal maneuvers were done by land brokers and real estate developers to legitimately take back the rights of the farmers to till their land,” the mission stated.

The APT later on declared that Bellevue Properties Inc (BPI) won the bidding. BPI then created the Manila South Coast Development Corporation (MSDC). In 1994, BPI transferred its right to buy Hacienda Looc to MSDC. Subsequently, a Deed of Sale was signed between APT and MSDC that placed the whole 8,650 hectares of Hacienda Looc under the management of the latter.

Umalpas-Ka said both the BPI and MSDC are owned by business tycoon Henry Sy of SM Lands Inc.

The MSDC filed a petition before the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (Darab) requesting for the cancellation of 25 CLOAs that covered 3,284 hectares of land. The company also filed a petition for conversion order. Darab made a partial judgment canceling ten CLOAs covering 1,219 hectares affecting 413 beneficiaries.

Eventually, the DAR Region IV approved the awarding of another 50 hectares of land to Fil- Estate and MSDC as a reply to the exemption and conversion order of the total 1,269 hectares of land.

SM Land Inc. has “developed” the coastal area of Barangay Papaya into Hamilo Coast, a leisure destination which features recreational activities.

Later, former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued Presidential Proclamation 1520 declaring the entire municipality of Nasugbu as tourist zone. Arroyo also issued Executive Order 647 stating that the municipality of Nasugbu is part of the Tourism Development Plan and Tourism Priority Area.

One of the government’s tourism projects in the area is the the Nasugbu-Ternate Eco-Tourist Road, which will affect Hacienda Looc.

Marbella revealed that in a dialogue with DAR officials, Undersecretary Anthony Parungao said that based on records, only 94 hectares of land have so far been approved for land-use conversion. “And SM is developing more than 5,000 hectares of land.”

Bountiful paradise lost

In a public forum, Feb. 17, Ipang, a member of Indonesian peasant group Agra, said land-use conversion has affected the livelihood of farmers and fisherfolk.

Before the MSDC came to the Hacienda Looc, its plains, valleys and mountainous areas are devoted to agriculture. It plains covering more than 1,700 hectares is planted with rice, corn, vegetables and sugarcane. A sizeable portion of the mountainous areas are planted with productive fruit trees such as mangoes, bananas, jackfruits and star apples, wild rice and root crops. The rice land can produce 70-100 cavans of palay (unhusked rice) per cropping and mostly the farmers can produce rice in two to three cropping seasons.

“Testimonies in Barangay Bulihan stated that the people used to have enough food for their family. When they plant, they will have something to harvest but it’s difficult these days. One woman said they used to make charcoal through kaingin (slash and burn) but now her husband has gone to Manila to work because they are not allowed to do kaingin anymore which was their source of living,” Ipang said.

Ipang said agricultural workers in Barangay Bulihan have lost their means of income because their farm land has become smaller.

Furthermore, fishermen in the coastal areas, specifically at Barangay Papaya, have been prevented from fishing by Hamilo Coast guards.

The Hacienda Looc is bounded by extensive shorelines that link the four villages to the rich fishing grounds in China Sea.

“Today, fishermen could no longer reach the seashore. We would be greeted by shotguns if we do. They have placed a boundary. While commercial fishing vessels would be able to catch tons of fish, small fishermen would be lucky enough to have 100 kilos. There were times when we could not catch fish even for our own consumption,” Isabelo Cailaya, leader of Pamalakaya-Southern Tagalog and president of Habagat, a fisherfolk alliance covering the coastal areas of Batangas province, said in Filipino during the public forum

“We used to call Hacienda Looc a paradise, with its fertile soil and rich marine resources. The outsiders came and saw its beauty and our problems began,” Cailaya said, referring to real estate developers.

Environmental degradation

Kelly Cowell from Canada said large tracts of land, mostly farmland and forests, are being cleared to make way for the construction of golf courses, often resulting to soil erosion, downstream flooding and landslides.

“To keep the lawn green and velvety, two tons of pesticides and insecticides are sprayed yearly, which eventually get washed down into the water table, irrigation systems, rivers and sea. These pollute the waterways, and 90 percent of the chemicals sprayed on the course also affect the air, posing health problems to golfers themselves, caddies and local residents,” Cowell who has a background in environmental engineering said.

The report stated that since Fil-Estate’s earthmoving activities on the 216-hectare portion of the hacienda started in December 1995, the residents have experienced soil erosion and siltation. This has caused damage to their crops planted in the lowlands. Added to this was the cutting of old and hard trees that affected the stability of land and forest.

Cowell added that the residents of Barangay Papaya living 500 hundred meters away from the entrance of Pico de Loro, a beach resort, recounted incidents of floods since the construction of the Ternate- Nasugbu Tourist Road that reached their homes and farmlands.

“Hacienda Looc is developed in unsustainable and destructive ways,” Cowell said. “The results of these are irreversible.”

Asked if rehabilitation is possible, Cowell said, “Rehabilitation is possible but I don’t think it is happening yet. I don’t think that SM sees that as a priority.”

The report noted that the Fil-Estate started developing Phase 1 in October 1995 without the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). The Fil-Estate was forced to get an ECC only in April 1996 following complaints aired by the people. In October 1998, Fil-Estate was fined for five violations of its ECC for its failure to replant trees and build protective measures against heavy erosion.

Marbella said that in a dialogue with DENR, the government agency vowed to conduct investigations on environmental compliance of developers.

Human rights violations

Sheryl Johnson, a member of United Church of Christ of Canada, said,”the formerly peaceful community of Hacienda Looc was disturbed by the constant intimidation of the security companies and heavily armed men employed by Fil-Estate and MSDC with the support of the Philippine National Police and Philippine Air Force.”

From February 1996 up to March 2000, Johnson said seven members of Umalpas-Ka who were all vocal against the projects, have been killed.

The victims were Benjamin Boqui, Feliciano Jones, Maximo Carpintero, Francisco Marasigan, Perfecto Manalo, Roger Alla and Terry Sevilla.

“These incidents were not investigated and no one has been brought to justice,” Johnson said.

Since the deployment of the military and hired goons in the area, farmers have reported several instances of their houses being stoned, their doors rapped at night by masked and heavily armed men, illegal searches, and indiscriminate firing by drunken guards, military personnel and hired goons of the MSDC and Fil-Estate, the report stated.

Cailaya reported that he has been harassed several times for leading the struggle of the fisherfolk in Hacienda Looc. Leaflets accusing him of being a New People’s Army guerrilla leader were seen posted in village halls.

“The presence of police and military is not about protecting the people, not about ensuring the safety of residents. It’s all about ensuring the interests of companies are followed,” Johnson said.

Marbella said they will furnish copies of their report to concerned government agencies.

In his closing speech, Pedro Gonzales, secretary general of Pamalakaya-ST, said, “Our enemies are not not only the SM and other developers but the DAR, DENR, this very government, too.”

“We, farmers, who have nothing to lose but our lives, will continue to fight,” he said.()

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