By MARYA SALAMAT
Mining companies comprise some of the country’s biggest landgrabbers.
MANILA – Did they go to the wrong office or is it just the wrong secretary?
After NGO workers launched a book documenting big cases of land grabbing in the Philippines yesterday, May 17, they drove to the office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to give the Environment Secretary a copy. But the scheduling of the visit to hand over the book was done when Regina Lopez was still the Environment Secretary and she has been replaced since May 8 by Roy Cimatu. The result was that only four NGO workers from the delegation were allowed to enter the DENR office and after making them wait, only a staff of an undersecretary received the book. Environment Sec. Roy Cimatu was reportedly in Iloilo.
Although the book details stories behind land grabbing, which is under the purview of the Department of Agrarian Reform, the researchers said that many controversial cases of “legalized” land grabbing arose from mining operations and forestry management. These are concerns of the DENR.
The book “Land Grabbing Cases in the Philippines: Greed, Hunger, and Resistance,” published by the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes (PNFSP), discusses local case studies comprehensively, said Sharlene Lopez, the network’s executive director. It is one less work for government agencies seeking to bring change on the ground; the book has detailed and analyzed the problems and proffered some solutions.
Lopez wrote the contents, which she sourced from their research in June and August 2015 with members of their network. The network members include the Integrated Development Program for Indigenous People – Southern Tagalog (IDPIP-ST), Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (Fardec), Dagsaw Panay Guimaras IP Network (Dagsaw PGIPNET), and Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation (MISFI). It also used materials from contributions of the Women’s Resource Center in Visayas (WRCV), Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) and Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services (CLANS).
Hunger a direct result of landgrabbing
Supporters of farmers read excerpts from the book during the book launch.
The director of CLANS, Mr. Leandro S. Escalada, brought fresh news from the ground, which drove even him to tears. In the highly militarized areas of Sultan Kudarat, he said, many members of the community are now “in the first stage of evacuation.” That is, they have left their houses but were not yet out of the village because the military was blocking their way.
In the village of Hinalaan in Kalamansik, Sultan Kudarat, most of the residents are fleeing in fear of further harassment and threats from government soldiers. Recently, members of the Philippine Marines detained and tortured eight residents, said Escalada. These, after the Marines destroyed a house to clear a landing pad for their helicopter.
What drove Escalada to tears, as he asked for help from among the audience, was the news that the evacuees were trapped and hungry: barred by the military from leaving the area, with rescuers not allowed to reach them. They have nothing to eat now. Mostly Dulangan Manobo, their communities are covered by an IFMA (Integrated Forest Management Agreement) claim, the “legalized land grabbing” scheme by the Consunji’s DMCI.
This agreement should have expired last August. Some 500,000 households have petitioned the government against entering another agreement, but the DENR under the former Aquino administration gave the DMCI an extension before it turned over the reins of government in June 2016.
No thanks to this agreement, Escalada said, soldiers won’t let the community plant “durable” crops such as coffee as they have been doing in the past. The military has on several occasions uprooted the farmers’ newly planted saplings; the DMCI’s “company goons” have raided the farmers’ bolos and farm tools to prevent them from planting anything in their land.
With the said IFMA, the DMCI has also planted on T’Boli lands without the tribe’s permission, said Escalada.
This “legalized land grabbing” forces people to go into hiding or take up arms,” Escalada said. This became an option to some of them especially in the face of continuing operation of DMCI in their area despite their protest rallies, pickets, and barricade.
From Cotabato, the country’s supposed primary source of rubber, Danny Gumango of MISFI recalled that peasant leader Joel Gulmatico of Arakan Peasant Progressive Organization or APPO, under the umbrella organization of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, had just helped them construct the region’s report on land grabbing when he was gunned down in Arakan Valley in early August of 2015.
“Life was better before rubber,” the locals frequently reported to them. Having shifted to mono-cropping they are now “food-insecure,” Gumango quoted the locals. They have become dependent on selling rubber derivatives just to have something to eat.
In the book Landgrabbing Cases in the Philippines, similar cases were presented about hunger resulting from the expansion of plantations for sugarcane, cassava, bananas and pineapples.
‘Landgrabbing brings war, property damages, rights violations’
Mining companies comprise some of the biggest land grabbers according to the newly released book by PNFSP. It showed an open-pit mine for its cover.
From their research into the state of the country’s agricultural lands, they found these lands being diminished by government laws and policies. Every push for mining, dam-building, support of export-oriented plantations comes with militarization and a reduction in prime lands being planted with the country’s food sources.
But even the lands not directly seized also lose its value. Their research saw that not only do the mining companies seize lands for mining, its operations also affect the remaining farmlands in a bad way. Mine tailings dumped into rivers flow to the sea and irrigation channels, damaging the farms and the people’s sources of water.
At the book launch, advocates uniformly attested to the destructive flooding in their areas because rivers have been silted by mining operations.
In Caraga, the researchers also showed that people are getting killed in military operations deployed to defend mining investments, and in flash floods attributable to these investments. There are over 1,639 damage claims against mining companies in Caraga from 1998 to 2004, but, during the book launch, advocates said the DENR’s response had been merely to cite some of the mining companies.
How to solve these persistently occurring cases of environmental destruction, hunger, rights violations?
The book detailed various forms of people’s struggles. It says the most viable solution in response to land grabbing, landlessness and landlordism, expensive farm input, corporate control of agriculture, and even agribusiness control of genetic material through intellectual property rights, is no other than genuine agrarian reform and sustainable agriculture.