New book documents land grabbing cases in PH

(Image courtesy of PNFS)
(Image courtesy of PNFS)

The book “Land Grabbing Cases in the Philippines: Greed, Hunger and Resistance” puts a spotlight on the continuing landlessness and “food insecurity” of the country’s food producers – the farmers.

By FRED VILLAREAL

Land Grabbing Cases in the Philippines: Greed, Hunger and Resistance
Writer: Sharlene O. Lopez
Cover Design and publication layout: Mark Christian Segundo
Published by the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP)
137 pages

The Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP) through its Chairperson Edward Deveza himself expressed in the book’s Foreword that its aim is to document the different cases of land grabbing experienced by their members including the farming and indigenous people’s (IP) communities their organization serves, and how food security at the household and community levels are affected.

The case studies presented delve on the state of the country’s agricultural lands and other land resources and how these are being diminished by the government laws, policies and programs to the detriment of those who directly work the land.

The book also documented the various forms of human rights violations used by landlords and land grabbers to systematically displace farmers and IPs from their communities despite their resolve to resist and defend their homes and source of economic well-being.

Presented too in the case studies are the natural vulnerabilities of the land and land resources such as natural land faults, rock fractures and other destruction of the soil resulting from the overuse of chemical inputs – a practice rammed down the throats of farmers for the maximum extraction of profits.

The PNFSP initiated the publication of the book. Its central focus is how the monopoly of the land and land resources of the country by multinational and transnational corporations and local ruling class with the generous blessings from a succession of occupants of the central seat of the government that created cycle of poverty for the class that for centuries have toiled the land.

Its thesis is a reinforcement of the protracted debate and arguments long forwarded that those who work the land and render them productive should be the primary beneficiaries of its produce. This is the book’s definition of “food sovereignty” that takes off from the general definition that “Food security exists when all people, all the times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food for active and healthy life.”

The book asserts this United Nations (UN) concept particularly on chapter two to be the final measure for a genuine and comprehensive national growth. To achieve this the equation should be those who till and sow seeds should have the control on the tools of production – principal of which is land – and the choice of crops while protecting the environment for the people’s greater and long term benefits.

The book’s language as to be expected is academic, simple enough and well aided by over 50 graphs, matrices, photos, maps and illustrations.

But outside of its pages is a premise held by progressive people’s organizations and nationalist intellectuals that the country’s economy is dependent on land-based production. Agriculture sector (including hunting, forestry, and fishing) is still the primary source of livelihood of about a fourth of the total labor force who are among the poorest situated in the most economically deprived regions.

The country��s agriculture is held to a level of production with a drop of mechanization and high dependence on expensive imported and destructive chemical inputs. It is hostage to the government’s laws, policies and economic programs for the utmost gains of multinational and transnational corporations and local ruling class.

This long rough path has led to a big imbalance that continuously push the country’s tillers to poverty and the country’s resources to destruction.

Farmer Charlito “Tatang Gerry” Catalan and wife Dina, shown harvesting monggo from the piece of land they cultivate in Hacienda Luisita in this file photo from Bulatlat.com dated April 2014. Their home is among those reportedly destroyed by Cojuangco-Aquino goons in Barangay Mapalacsiao today.
Farmer Charlito “Tatang Gerry” Catalan and wife Dina, shown harvesting monggo from the piece of land they cultivate in Hacienda Luisita in this file photo from Bulatlat.com dated April 2014. Their home is among those reportedly destroyed by Cojuangco-Aquino goons in Barangay Mapalacsiao today.

Food Sovereignty – the core that the book seeks entails land programs and policies that address the factors earlier enumerated and more. In its heart is the primacy of the right of the tillers with due premium on a level of production that entreats the maximum use of all resources of the land with technology that prolongs more than destroys the yet being depleted resources of the country.

The book has four chapters. The first lays down the basis of the Philippines as a nature and resource rich country: from land, to sea resources being archipelagic, forest and mineral- rich mountains.

The land classification is still in the input of the Public Land Act of 1936 whether alienable or disposable and classified further to particular use if for agriculture, residential, commercial, industrial or other uses.

This chapter carries much of the book’s arguments on how systematic the succession of the country’s governance have made the policy environment so golden for the country’s big landlords, bureaucrat capitalists and multinational and transnational corporations; to wit:

° The country’s agriculture remains generally smallholder farming that likely contributed to the relative ease by which land use conversions (LUCs) were set in place;

° President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino in 1990 set off LUCs along the imperialist-dictated foreign investment-led and export-driven “economic growth.” From her CALABARZON (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Quezon) program in Southern Tagalog, her successors up to her son Benigno S. Aquino III heeded the cue with regional development plans, such as in Central Luzon, and other plans for “growth areas” in Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao;

° These programs plus the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) supposed to transfer land ownership to the tillers even firmed up the choke of landlords and big companies to the so basic resource. The reclassification of lands to uses other than food production, blessed by the court’s opinions dragooned its way to the heart of peasant and IP communities;

° The CARP juiced out more by the landlords budded the stock distribution option (SDO) to cut off tillers’ remaining hopes to ever own a piece of the land they cared for. Even local government units (LGUs) were allowed to allocate 5-15% of their lands not for production but zoning for ‘development’ plans;

° Other laws and programs such as Revised Forestry Code and Integrated Forest Agreement (IFMA), Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) and Biofuels Act of 2006 uprooted IPs and upland communities to give way to agricultural productions for local commercial and foreign market needs.

° The vicious Mining Act of 1995 allows mining activities that dug so deep on the country’s mineral veins that need centuries upon centuries to replace. Mountains and hills were gobbled up, vast tract of lands including productive fields flooded and streams and rivers polluted, and communities driven out.

Chapter two briefly explores the concept of Food Security that takes off from the 1996 Declaration on World Food Security in Rome and the corresponding World Summit Plan of Action. As has been cited in the introduction ‘food security must be taken from the framework of the people’s right to food, as recognized in several instruments under international law. The UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights says that all parties must recognize the right of everyone to a living for himself and his family with food, clothing and shelter with “adequate standard” and “continuous improvement of living conditions” as operative words.

BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. In San Jose Del Monte Bulacan, hectares of land will be developed by private companies for the MRT 7 project. Contrary to the exemption order released by Department of Agrarian Reform, an International Fact Finding Mission proved that the lands cultivated by farmers are agricultural and bountiful lands. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)
BULATLAT FILE PHOTO. In San Jose Del Monte Bulacan, hectares of land will be developed by private companies for the MRT 7 project. Contrary to the exemption order released by Department of Agrarian Reform, an International Fact Finding Mission proved that the lands cultivated by farmers are agricultural and bountiful lands. (Photo by A. Umil/ Bulatlat.com)

The chapter invokes UN’s Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights’ core content, to wit:

° Dietary needs to mean a combination of nutrients for physical and mental growth, development and maintenance, and physical activity in accordance with human physiological needs;

° Free from adverse substances for food safety and a range of protective steps, and public and private means to prevent contamination and/or bad environmental hygiene or inappropriate handling;

° Cultural or consumer acceptability or taking into account perceived non-nutrient-based values attached to food and food consumption;

° Availability as the practicability of feeding oneself directly from ones productivity or from a well-functioning distribution, processing or market systems;

° Accessibility means both economic and physical pattern of adequate acquisition with due attention to vulnerable groups such as the landless and impoverished segments of the population.

This chapter too underscores the communities’ right to produce their own food and become self-reliant as it recognizes as sheer folly to have their food produced by other people or other countries.

Chapter three sets the extent of foreign and local corporates’ and landlord’s impunity in the country and the government’s bounty resulting to thousands of hectares of lands including IPs ancestral domains grabbed for high-value cash crops’ yield for foreign market. Case studies laid were of regions MIMAROPA (Mindoro-Marinduque-Romblon-Palawan), Central Visayas and SOCSARGEN (South Cotabato-Sarangani-General Santos), plus the building of power infrastructure projects like dams in Western Visayas.

Farmers and IPs of MIMAROPA and Central Visayas had to swallow palm oil tree planting. South of Palawan was forced to host palm oil production cutting IPs (Palaw-ans) out of their livelihood and culture. Made to rent out their lands at a piteous sum, many eventually lost control of their farms. The main palm oil actors are the Palawan Palm and Vegetable Oil Mills Inc. (60% Singaporean, 40% Filipino-owned) and the Agumil Philippines (75% Filipino and 25% Malaysian owned).

In 2008, the Palawan Palm Oil Industry Development Council was created with the Department of Agriculture, Dept. of Agrarian Reform, Dept. of Energy and National Commission Indigenous Peoples among others as member agencies. The 2012, the Phil. Palm Oil Industry Roadmap said 5,293 hectares had been planted to palm trees in Palawan, but 16,300 hectares more had been marked for planting.

It’s more of the same for farmers in Bohol. Better life via palm oil planting was dangled by the Philippine Agricultural Land Development and Mills Inc. in early 2000. The provincial government campaigned for it. Drawn to it then the farmers now fear they will lose their lands with many of them deep in debt.

In Iloilo in Western Visayas, nine villages will be inundated by the Jalaur River Multi-purpose Project Phase II (JRMP2), and 17,000 IPs (Tumandoks) to be displaced. Funded by P11.2 Billion from the 2013 Development Acceleration Program, pushed with just a covert feasibility study by the National Irrigation Agency (NIA) with no clear Free, Prior and Informed Consent, the mega dam is to serve the growing urban in central Iloilo first and foremost. The Tumandoks had resisted the dam project.

FILE PHOTO. Peasant and fisherfolk protested on World Food Day on Oct. 16, Friday, calling for genuine agrarian reform, which, they said, will solve hunger. (Contributed photo/ Bulatlat.com)
FILE PHOTO. Peasant and fisherfolk protested on World Food Day on Oct. 16, Friday, calling for genuine agrarian reform, which, they said, will solve hunger. (Contributed photo/ Bulatlat.com)

An Environmental Investigative Mission by the progressive scientist group AGHAM in 2012 showed a big threat of disaster in the area that can be compounded by the dam project. At least five faults were observed that the NIA report failed to identify. Even the Mines and Geosciences Bureau Region 6 identified the JRMP-2 host town Calinog as one of the most land-slide prone town in the province. A combined force of military and police teem around the project to silence opposition.

The national drive for another high-value crop rubber trees had long beset the farmers of SOCKSARGEN. A common start is a deceptive land grabbing by big foreign corporations and big landlords with the government’s conspiracy to set in place a market-driven and market-dependent economy.

Former Pres. Fidel V. Ramos used the holes of CARP, now expired, to let specific crops to be planted in some areas. Some policies used were Contract growing, under which corporations provide the technology and market, while the farmers commit to grow specific products at an appropriate time and quality; Joint-venture arrangements, where the private company provides the infrastructure, technology and training while the farmers work on the land; and Lease arrangement where a private business leases a piece of land awarded to farmers on condition that the farmers remain as tillers of the land.

But as vicious as how crop production in the Third World is tied up to the open market, small famers of SOCKSARGEN, too, are on the receiving end of rubber tree mono-cropping, fluctuating prices of rubber, low wages.

More of the vicious cycle were dished out by the chapter in the case of Manobos, Higaonons, Mamanwas, Banwaons, Talaandigs and other IP tribes in Caraga Region who carry the burden of being the “Mining Capital of Asia.” As proof, Mindanao has 11 of the 20 poorest provinces of the country; the impact of Typhoon Sendong’s destruction and many other disasters, on top of the militarization that seek to set them in line.

This last chapter is the book’s crux. The subtitle alone banners the need to give a hard push on the Genuine Agrarian Reform (GAR) bill by the progressive block at the House of Representatives (HOR) with a hope to have a parallel initiative at the Senate.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) with its wealth of experience in the long years of peasant struggle in the country together with Anakpawis and other progressive partylists in the HOR have sired GAR with a clear view it cannot reach fruition without propelling Sustainable Agriculture (SA).

Agricultural lands in general, and prime agricultural lands in particular must be protected. There is urgent need to: recognize agriculture as a significant local industry, and enhance the potential of agriculture and agriculture-based industries to generate more jobs and reduce poverty; promote food self-sufficiency and maintain local food supplies; ensure orderly urban development; and enhance environmental amenities associated with open space.

The book shares many a Filipinos optimism that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s leadership can yet be a boon to the whole GAR-SA agenda. He has expressed recognition of the importance of the agricultural sector, and approved a two-year moratorium on LUCs particularly of about 4.7 million hectares agricultural lands distributed under various agrarian reform programs since 1972. It can be of more weight should Rafael Mariano, who champions the same agenda, can successfully go through the proverbial ‘needle hole’ in his confirmation by Congress as DAR Secretary.

The book is more than a good reference as it also pursues its GAR-SA advocacy. Extensively researched with a wealth of case studies, surveys, references that include books and earlier publications regarding land grabbing of agricultural lands, interviews, focus group discussions and comprehensive notes and transcripts and published and unpublished reports. It can fill in a good need of members of the academic community, the civil society, people’s organization and even well-meaning government technocrats.

The book thus serves a far reaching purpose. The authors and publisher may want to let it serve as a template of sorts that will be good to reprint and/or update after some prescribed periods.

The book “Land Grabbing Cases in the Philippines: Greed, Hunger and Resistance” is available at office of Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, Inc. (PNFSP) at 54 Maginhawa Street, Teachers Village, Quezon City 1101 Philippines

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