Will amid woes: Dismantling large landholdings, staving off hunger

November 16, 2017

by IBON Foundation

Despite decades of land reform programs, millions of peasants remain landless. Land monopoly persists and continues to expand under various agribusiness venture agreements (AVAs) and other market-oriented land reform schemes such as the stock distribution option (SDO). Farmers and farmworkers who stand their ground demanding land distribution are meanwhile met with violence or intimidation by landowners and corporations.

According to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), 93% of the remaining balance for land redistribution are private agricultural landholdings. There are more than 97,000 hectares of agricultural land converted to other uses while more than 120,000 hectares have been approved for conversion between 1998 until January 2016. The number is bound to increase as the Duterte administration’s economic managers barred the proposal for a moratorium on land use conversions. Land that can be planted to food is continuosly narrowed.

Former DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” V. Mariano had proposed the moratorium to increase the country’s food production. Mariano also intended to make a comprehensive inventory of the current state of landlessness. This was to confirm if agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) are indeed in control of the land acquisition and distribution (LAD) accomplishment as reported by the DAR and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

Also according to the DAR, there are more than 1.2 million hectares of distributed lands that are under various AVAs. These are on top of the 57,000 hectares officially listed with the DAR. In many of these AVAs, ARBs still do not have control over their awarded lands. They either work as farmworkers or perform odd jobs as corporations lease their lands for production of export crops such as bananas and pineapples.

Hacienda Luisita

The continuing struggle of ARBs to assert their claim over the sprawling 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac attests to the failure of decades of a faulty land reform program under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its extension, CARPER. The Aquino-Cojuangco clan continues to employ all means including harassment and intimidation of the ARBs to maintain control over the hacienda.

Earlier this year, Nanay Violy Basilio’s makeshift hut in her rice farm at Hacienda Luisita’s Barangay Mapalacsiao was bulldozed by private guards. She has been tilling here since her son, Jhavie Basilio, was among the seven who were killed by Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) troops in what is now known as Hacienda Luisita Massacre 13 years ago. They were protesting against the Cojuangco-owned Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) company’s union busting and deceptive stock-sharing scheme that entailed a measly Php9.50 per day in hacienda wages. They were demanding genuine land distribution.

Nanay Violy was one of the 111 farmers who refused to accept their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) and sign related documents accorded by the tambiolo system, which she said was anomalous. Described by farmers to be the DAR and the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ mockery of land distribution, the tambiolo raffles supposed farmworker beneficiaries’ names, arbitrarily assigns them lots, and requires them to sign an Application to Purchase and Farmer’s Undertaking. It is in purported compliance with the five-year-old Supreme Court order to distribute the land to Hacienda Luisita farmers. But it also stipulates the latter’s obligation to amortize the land. Low- or no-income farmers deem this unreasonable. The hacienda lands should have been given back to the farmers 50 years ago per government’s condition to the Cojuangcos who secured a loan to buy the property from the Spaniards in the 1950s.

Tatay Onie Santos and his wife Nanay Dolor also refused to accept their CLOAs and sign the undertaking documents. According to Tatay Onie, the tambiolo awarded parcels of land to around 1,000 non-beneficiaries such as Cojuangco’s driver and gardener, while farmers who are vocal against the Cojuangcos’ schemes are being thrown to critical areas. He was, for instance, transferred to Barangay La Paz after his mango and santol trees in Barangay Texas were cut down by hacienda guards. Meanwhile, part of Nanay Dolor’s assigned .66-hectare land was a garbage lot in Barangay Silangan, which is around 3 kilometers away from the rest of the parcel awarded to her.


Through cooperative land occupation or bungkalan, peasants in various provinces across the country assert their right to make land productive. With bungkalan, peasant communities are able to directly address food insecurity and hunger. Agrarian reform and rural development are also forged right from the heart of the struggle for land and social justice.

Nay Violy, Tay Onie and Nay Dolor have been joining peasants from the other Hacienda Luisita barangays in consecutive bungkalans for years now. They said that even after the massacre, the Cojuangcos have repeatedly attempted to dampen the farmers’ unity through harassment, burning or bulldozing bungkalan tillings. Peasant leaders and activists have been murdered. Yet, this only fired up the resolve of farmers’ groups to stand their ground and to continue strengthening their ranks in reclaiming their land.

Last year, bungkalans took  place in more than 300 hectares of Hacienda Luisita not included under land reform. These are now planted to rice and various vegetables which the farmers both consume and sell. This year, about 250 individuals benefited from bungkalans. On the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court (SC) decision this April to distribute the hacienda lands to the farmers, sectors joined forces in symbolically damaging the wall around a 500-hectare parcel which the Cojuangcos sold to the Yuchengcos’ Rizal and China Banking Corporation (RCBC).

In June this year, on the anniversary of the failed Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), Luisita farmers and other sectors from Central Luzon and Manila worked together in parcels planted to rice and corn. They were  unfazed by high-powered firearms-bearing Philippine National Police (PNP) troops guarding hacienda portions that the Cojuangcos still claimed. On the same day, simultaneous bungkalans were conducted in various provinces nationwide, challenging the prevailing land monopoly of a few clans.

In Batangas, over 100 farm workers and advocates successfully occupied 51 hectares of idle Hacienda Roxas lands. These have been distributed more than two decades ago but farmers’ attempts to cultivate it were prevented by Roxas and Co., Inc. (RCI), which wants to convert the land to other uses. After persistent assertion by the Damayan ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Roxas-National Federation of Sugar Workers (DAMBA-NFSW) and with help from the local government over the past months, the bungkalan participants were finally able to plant rice, corn and different kinds of vegetables in said land. These hectares used to be planted to sugarcane along with more than 2,500 distributed hacienda hectares.

In the same province, portions of the of the 8,650 hectares Hacienda Looc, in Nasugbu, Batangas, claimed by the Henry Sy-owned Manila Southcoast Development Corporation (MSDC), was collectively cultivated by farmers in January of this year. They are now harvesting bananas, papaya, corn and other vegetables such as okra and eggplant. In Dasmariñas, Cavite, about 100 farmers from the community and neighboring farms occupied 155 hectares of idle agricultural lands. Realty corporation Sta. Lucia Inc. plans to develop these lands into a subdivision. Security troops and military personnel constantly conduct door-to-door searches, threaten and harass farmers and file trumped-up charges. Still, farmers’ groups persist in collective land cultivation.

In May, over 150 banana farm workers belonging to the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Incorporated (MARBAI) in Davao del Norte and accompanied by thousands of supporters from Mindanao and other regions have finally been able to start occupying 145 hectares formerly of Lapanday Foods Inc. (LFI). The lands have been awarded to them under the CARP. Contesting DAR’s order for the farmers’ installation, the Lorenzo clan-owned LFI has repeatedly—sometimes violently—foiled farm workers’ attempts to occupy their land and has even filed a case against DAR for facilitating the farmers’ installation.

Among numerous land cultivation activities in the Negros island, there have been more than 200  bungkalans which began since 2009 spanning 3,000 hectares and benefiting 2,000 farmworkers in Negros Occidental. Farmworkers or dumaans here are known to receive only a meager Php170 in daily wages. Sakadas, or farm laborers not from the area, receive much lower wages  (Php110 for males and Php100 for females). Still, others receive Php80.00. Most land cultivation endeavors that plant rice, sugar and vegetables including squash and mongo, succeed with members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) from various communities banding together to help each bungkalan area. Peasants here make sure that the lands where they implement bungkalan already have official notices of coverage. Yet, especially in landholdings claimed by big political clans such as the Cojuangcos, many peasants are still charged with fabricated cases such as forcible entry, malicious mischief, grave coercion and theft or robbery in band. Various security forces including blue guards, police and firemen and even army battalions continue to perpetrate rights violations from harassment to extrajudicial killings.

In far north Philippines, almost 200 families composed of Kalinga, Isneg and Agta indigenous peoples also launched bungkalan over 561 hectares in Lallo, Cagayan Valley. It was a civil reservation for cultural minorities allocated during the Marcos regime, which they planted to fruit trees such as mango, coconut, banana and jackfruit. While collective CLOAs already cover said lands, various businesses such as in real estate, transport vehicles, agro-industrial, mining, among others, attempted to encroach the area. The people repeatedly and collectively confronted the DAR until it acceded to their demands. In 2015, Isabela farmers also successfully reclaimed lands in Delfin Albano, which Japanese and Chinese companies planted with sugarcane and cassava plantations for bioethanol production. Farmers belonging to the Sta. Cruz Farmers Association-Danggayan Dagiti Manalon (DAGAMI)-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) launched a sustained bungkalan in said lands spanning about eight hectares by planting monggo and other vegetables. With the participation of farmers from neighboring municipalities, the former landlord’s maneuvers to suppress the collective action were frustrated.

Building blocks

Through the bungkalans, farmers across the nation have been making dents in ensuring their own food security and in breaking land monopoly and defying big businesses’ landgrabbing through sheer collective action. This has been made possible by the solidarity of other sectors of society, including the support of sympathetic business, religious, professional, government, non-government and other offices and groups. According to Tay Onie, being able to harvest one’s own rice or vegetables for their families to get by on a daily basis gives substantial relief to farmers compared to having to work in farms for very scant wages and under exploitative terms. Nay Violy also said that she would not for anything exchange the gains of bungkalan in terms of self-determining what food to produce and how.

Collective land cultivation staged by stronger and an increasing number of peasants’ organizations nationwide are also building blocks to agrarian reform and rural development. These involve increasing farm production and lowering its costs, improving farmers’ wages, modernizing the process through mechanization and ample agricultural implements and ultimately appropriating all arable lands to the nation’s tillers.