‘Progress’ at the expense of farmers’ interests

By January 14, 2018Stories

It would generally be good news when infrastructure projects and industrial facilities start showing up in rural areas. This would normally score development that benefits the members of the community.

However, in some circumstances, these progress come packaged as a trade-off, wherein interests of some sectors, especially those considered as the poorest and most marginalized in the community serve as some sort of sacrifice.

This is the case for some of the farmers of Kabankalan and Hinoba-an in Negros Occidental. The supposed “progress” will come at the cost of their lifetime’s worth of work and decades of struggle as agrarian reform beneficiaries.

In this story, RealTalk features the situation of these farmers and their organizations — Overflow Farmers and Farmworkers Association (OFFWA) and ILCO Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Farmers, and Fisherfolks Association (ILARFFA).

The struggle started in 1998 for the farmers of Hacienda San Lucas in Brgy, Hilamonan in Kabankalan. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) then covered 401 hectares of land for distribution for agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Kabankalan City. Photo: YouTube

According to a report by the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC), the land was originally owned by Doña Concha Pabiles-Garruchari. Later, Doña Concha’s children inherited the land and founded San Lucas Inc., which is presently in the business of cultivation of sugarcane and production of the expensive muscovado sugar.

The report also included hostility by the administration of San Lucas Inc. upon learning that 400 hectares of the land was covered by CARP:

“In 1998, NOCs were issued to 400 has of the landholding. When [Pablo Luis] Azcona found out that the land was covered by the CARP, he demanded that the farmworkers vacate the Hacienda. With the help of hired armed goons, he began driving the farmworkers away and preventing them from working on the landholding. They were made to move to a relocation site, which was allegedly sold by Azcona to the National Housing Authority. Potential ARBs presently pay their monthly rent worth P650.00 to Azcona himself.”

ANGOC report

Mr. Azcona, aside from being the administrator of San Lucas Inc., is also the Chairperson of the Southern Negros Development Corporation sugar mill and the owner of Azcona Farms, which is a Cavendish banana plantation. He is also reported to be related to Kabankalan’s Mayor, Isidro Zayco.

In 2012, after almost 15 years of delay, the CARP process for the said land started from scratch through issuance of new Notices of Coverage, according to the report:

“Through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extensions and Reforms (CARPER), a new [Notice of Covarage] was issued for 130.8269 has of land under title number T-46616. This NOC was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Oct. 4, 2012.

In 2014, additional NOCs for 39.3462 has and 231.554 has of land under title numbers T-208006 and T-208008 were issued through the CARPER. Both were published by the Philippine Star on 22 May, 2014. However, since these lots are affected by the application for land conversion, the CARP processes for the two titles have also been halted.

On September of 2016, DAR reported that the issuance of the NOC for title number T-46616 was erroneous. Pablo Luis Azcona had claimed the NOC was not served to him as the administrator of San Lucas Inc. The CARP process for this lot has also been halted, as the NOC has yet to be served properly to and received by the landowner for Land Acquisition and Distribution (LAD) to commence.

When confronted by OFFWA members about the [Department of Agrarian Reform Municipal Office]’s failure to serve the NOC, the [Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer]s were unable to produce documentation proving that Azcona had indeed received the NOC. Moreover, OFFWA’s claim folders for the CARP-covered areas in Hacienda San Lucas could no longer be found at the DARMO.”

ANGOC report

And while farmers see delay in the process of awarding lands under CARP, portions of lands that were supposedly for distribution are being used for other purposes.

The construction of the Villa Concha Subdivision under HLJ Construction and Enterprises have already started in the CARP-covered land, according to the ANGOC report. Kabankalan’s mayor also targets to increase the numbers of road and infrastructure projects in the city with the increase in its Internal Revenue Allotment for 2017.

Meanwhile, around 130 agrarian reform beneficiaries will take the brunt of progress with the move of Hinoba-an government officials to construct industrial facilities in agricultural lands.

ILARFFA’s 134 members were revalidated as agrarian reform beneficiaries for the 64.5126 hectares of land under Insular Lumber Company. Insular Lumber, according to ANGOC’s report, was an American company that started its operations in the island in 1900s, and was once one of the largest lumber-exporting companies in the world.

Rice fields in Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental. Photo: Mike Gonzalez

Insular Lumber originally operated in Sagay, and then transferred to Hinoba-an after depletion of hardwood in the former city. In late 1970s, timber resources in the south of the island were consumed as well, leading to the bankruptcy of the company in 1984.

The company then filed a Voluntary Offer to Sell their owned lands under the Philippine government’s CARP.

However, in 2017, it seemed like government officials have other plans for the land, as the report showed:

“This 2017, Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr. had urged the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) to approve the establishment of the Southern Negros Industrial Estate (SNIE) in Hinobaan, on 285 hectares of land formerly belonging to ILCO and other private lots. The mentioned land area is set to be “expropriated” in order to allow for the construction of several industrial projects. According to Sangguniang Panlalawigan Committee of Finance and Appropriations chairperson Salvador Escalante, ILCO’s lease contract has expired as they have failed to settle their taxes, hence the land is now owned by the provincial government.

To form part of the SNIE, the provincial government and Hinoba-an Municipal Mayor Ernesto Estrao have agreed to have a shipbuilding facility built in Hinoba-an in partnership with the Japanese firm Tsuneishi Heavy Industries Inc. Tsuneishi is a Japanese shipbuilding and recycling company with present operations in Cebu province. According to Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez, Tsuneishi plans to invest on a PHP 5 billion shipyard in Hinoba-an, that could generate around 6,000 jobs. Gov. Maranon Jr. expects that construction of the facility would commence next year (2018).

There are also plans of reconstructing the airstrip which was previously used by ILCO. The area of the former airstrip had been used for cultivating crops such as rice after ILCO closed its operations. To accommodate these construction projects, members of ILARFFA as well as the Green Alert Network believe that agricultural land has been illegally converted into other uses through municipal ordinances such as “Municipal Ordinance No.2017-03 amending Ordinance No.2002-004, Entitled An Ordinance Reviving The Zoning Regulations of the Municipality of Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental.

On the morning of June 15 2016, a group of men with orders from the local government of Hinoba-an bulldozed 30×50 meters of rice plantations belonging to several ARBs. This was done without the consent of the community members or the ARBs tilling the affected land. When asked by community members what the bulldozing was for, the men mentioned that an airstrip would be built on the cleared land. Further, the operators declared that the land was being expropriated under a Writ of Possession. The next day, Japanese investors with the Mayor Estrao were seen doing an ocular visit on the bulldozed area.

The proposed industrial estate including both the shipbuilding facility and the airstrip, will affect 64.5126 has. of agrarian reform program-covered lands belonging to 134 ARBs, some of whom may even be displaced.”

ANGOC report

A farming family walk across the fields at the foot of Mount Kanlaon in Negros. Photo: Jesse Gardner

Farmers and agrarian reform advocates have taken action to express dissent against these actions. OFFWA members, according to the report, are also calling upon the Kabankalan government to clarify the land use status of the areas on which construction projects are ongoing. Industrial activities ought to be put to an immediate halt if the subdivision and other projects are being constructed on agricultural land. If the lands in question has been converted for other purposes, farmers of Barangay Hilamonan ask that the affected ARBs be issued with new NOCs.

ILARFFA members, meanwhile, were reportedly calling for the scrapping of the industrial projects for the establishment of the SNIE. They call on the municipal, provincial, and national governments to respect their right to tenure over lands covered by CLOAs or by the agrarian reform program. – RealTalk, January 2018

Note: This story is created under RealTalk's agriculture and environment desk with support from the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (http://angoc.org/) and Joint Action for Land Rights (https://www.facebook.com/JointActionforLandRights/). You may check out their social media accounts at https://www.facebook.com/AsianNGOCoalition/ and https://twitter.com/ANGOCorg.

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