The Other Occupation: Land-grabbing under the Haciendero President (part 1)

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Sunday, 23 October 2011 - Last Updated on October 23, 2011

(Part 1 of 2)

A different occupation is going on in the country’s rural communities. Big hacienderos in partnership with multinational firms and the haciendero regime continue to displace the 99 percent from their lands – leaving the farmers no option but to occupy the streets.

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Militant peasants, fisherfolk and supporters have initiated “Occupy Mendiola” to show support for the growing people’s protests against corporate greed worldwide and to denounce the intensified land-grabbing in many parts of the country.

Led by the [[Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas]], the hundreds of farmers traveled all the way to Manila from Cagayan Valley region, Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon to hold a three-day camp-out in Mendiola. The protests are part of the commeration of the October Peasant Month.

 

Occupation vs. occupation

“The three-day Occupy Mendiola peasant camp-out hereby declares President [[Benigno Simeon Aquino III]] as the principal adversary of the Filipino peasantry. This 50-year old President is worthless, anti-farmer, pro-landlord and a triple platinum puppet of the United States of America”, KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos said in a press statement.

Mass protests and long marches are also being held in other regions under the similar call against widespread land-grabbing via land use conversion, huge land lease agreements and bogus agrarian reform.

In Northern Mindanao, around 10,000 farmers staged long marches dubbed as “Lakbayan” from different provinces to converge in city of Cagayan de Oro to register the failure of the [[Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program]] (CARP) in distributing lands to the tillers. The farmers claimed land-grabbing is getting worse as corporations encroach on farmlands via land conversion and land lease agreements, among other schemes.

But just how worse really is the situation of Filipino farmers under President [[Benigno Aquino III]], who have been labeled by militant farmers’ groups as “peasant enemy no.1”?

 

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One-percent grabs more lands

In Tarlac, President Aquino’s family has occupied the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita for decades despite successive agrarian reform programs. The “occupation” has also been blessed lately by a number of Supreme Court rulings, which upheld the stock distribution option over land distribution to the agrarian reform beneficiaries.

To make things more bitter for farmers, the Cojuangco-Aquino clan has shared the occupation of the sprawling estate with malls, banks and industrial facilities, further displacing the farmers and workers living there.

Last month, Luisita workers under the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Hacienda Luisita (AMBALA) filed a petition before the high court opposing the sale of the 500-hectare portion of Luisita to [[Rizal Commercial Banking Corp.]] (RCBC).

“Clearly, there is no other purpose for the transfer of ownership of the 500 hectares but to evade the coverage of the said portion of their landholdings from the CARP,” AMBALA said in its petition.

Under the CARP and the latest Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms (CARPER), conversion of agricultural lands to commercial, industrial and other purposes is allowed.

The same problem hounds Hacienda Looc farmers in Nasugbu, Batangas who face eviction from their lands because of the estate’s conversion into a residential and leisure property. The project is under SM Land, the architect of the Mall of Asia bayside project which is owned by the country’s top billionnaire Henry Sy.

Around 10,000 peasant families will be displaced from the 8,650-hectare estate as the Hamilo Coast project, which also entails tampering with coves, sets in. “Our land is not for sale. It is not a commodity that real estate developers can peddle to their rich clients,” a local spokesperson said in a Bulatlat.com report.

North of Manila, thousands of urban poor and farmers’ communities aslo fear being displaced as the MRT-7 project by Danding Cojuangco-owned San Miguel Corporation (SMC) will start rolling by yearend. The 22-kilometer project will run from the North Avenue station of MRT line 3 to 14 more train stations up to San Jose del Monte in Bulacan.

Farmers living in the rural communities of Bulacan said they will lose not just their lands but also their livelihood if the MRT-7 project pushes through, adding that farming is their only source of income.

 

Land-grabbing under Cha-cha, PPPs

But the land-grabbing trend will not seem to stop there as the President’s allies in Congress seeks to further open the country’s land and resources to foreign investors under Senator Juan Ponce Enrile’s proposed Charter change (Cha-cha).

Late last month, leaders of the House of Representatives and the Senate agreed to push for amendments on the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, a move which is seen to remove the restriction of foreign ownership of lands and the 40-percent limit on foreign ownership of public utilities.

“The proposal is anti-Filipino at its very core. If approved, it can lead to large-scale land grabbing by big foreign businesses,” Makabayan coalition vice president Liza Maza said.

Meanwhile the KMP said Cha-cha will only accelerate the dispossession of lands via big-ticket “development projects” such as putting up additional economic zones and infrastructure projects for foreign investors.

To be continued.

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