Philippines is unsafe for farmers fighting for land

STATEMENT | 29 July 2018 | Reference: Roy Anunciacion – [email protected]


With 169 political killings recorded by human rights group KARAPATAN under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s fascist rule, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) confirmed 142 of them to be farmers, of which 52 are KMP members.

KMP added that more than 300 were illegally arrested and are now detained, while tens of thousands were harassed, intimidated and threatened. Hundreds of thousands were displaced because of militarization and bombings in farm lands and rural areas.

Given this gloomy reality, the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) deems the Philippines to be dangerous for land rights activists especially farmers. Farmers and rural poor people who organize themselves to pursue genuine land reform are being killed, harassed or threatened. Many are filed with trumped-up charges. All these have intensified after the imposition of Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23, 2017. Unfortunately, no perpetrator was arrested nor punished for these brutal crimes.

Alarmingly, land grabbing by landlords and transnational corporations in the rural communities is often accompanied by militarization and brutal violations of the human rights. The political killings related to land conflicts in the country continue and worsen with blatant impunity.

Seven farmers were murdered last month alone. They include Nestor Dagatan Sacote, an indigenous farmer from Baganga, Davao Oriental – 78th victim from the Davao region – and Catalino Decipeda and Florencio Cufo, who were shot dead at their farm in Batangas. Another is Julius Broce Barellano, chairperson of Hacienda Medina Farm Workers Association in Negros island, an affiliate of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). He is the fourth local farmer/farm worker leader killed since January last year. Before his untimely death, he was leading the struggle of 140 farm workers in his village against a local landlord.

Based on PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP’s) “Land and Rights Watch,” the Philippines scored 97 victims of such killings from January 2017 to June 2018. Of that number, 59 are farmers or farm workers, 22 are indigenous people and 16 are land activists. The 97 recorded victims of killings in the Philippines account for almost half of the 200 victims in 27 countries worldwide during the same period that PANAP has monitored.

Martial Law intensifies violation of human rights

The recent International Fact Finding and Solidarity Mission (IFFSM) in Mindanao confirmed the increase in frequency, scope and intensity of human rights violations (HRVs) under Martial Law. It documented 428 individuals coerced to surrender as members of the belligerent New People’s Army (NPA), which was a 350 percent increase from the various HRVs in NMR since January 2018.

In Northern Mindanao, the IFFSM documented two victims of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) and frustrated EJKs, one victim of torture, six victims of illegal arrest and detention, seven victims of trumped-up charges, 18 victims of threat, harassment and intimidation, 18 victims of forced surrender and two victims of illegal search and seizure from January to March 2018. It was found that these were committed by state forces especially against farmers and national minorities with the direct motive of silencing their struggle for land, ancestral domain and right to self-determination.

In Southern Mindanao, the IFFSM has recorded 70 incidents of EJKs as of April 2018, whose victims were leaders and members of militant peasant organizations mostly from Compostela Valley. At least 428 cases of forced or fake surrenders were documented. Out of the 4,000 residents of Barangay (village) Ngan in Compostela town, about half were listed as “NPA surrenderees” by the 66th IBPA since February 2018. Indigenous Lumad families from the eight sub-villages in Talaingod, Davao del Norte were forced to evacuate since February 2018 due to heightened military operations in their communities. Some 207 children make up 63 percent of the population in the evacuation site.

In Caraga region, the IFFSM found out that EJKs under the Duterte regime spiked with seven recorded in a year under Martial Law from two peasant killings before its declaration. Of the 50 political prisoners currently detained in the region, 38 are farmers alleged to be NPA members. They were arrested for trumped-up criminal charges like illegal possession of firearms and explosives, which were actually planted by arresting units and their associates. These violent attacks are carried out to undermine the unity and resistance of organized peasants and Lumad communities against destructive large-scale mining and plantation expansion including the so-called government “development projects” and deals with foreign and multinational firms.

The mission, which was held in April this year, was an independent investigation of HRVs in Mindanao’s peasant communities from the three regions, participated by over 50 organizations from seven countries. It was led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Barug Katungod-Mindanao and the Mindanao for Civil Liberties together with the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), PCFS and PANAP among others.

Fishers were not spared

On July 23, 2018, around 300 fishing and urban poor families encamped in the hi-way of Sitio Balakbakan, Barangay Laiya Aplaya, San Juan, Batangas in Southern Tagalog Region were demolished by security guards of the Federico Campos III, owner and developer of Laiya Development Corp. The violent demolition resulted to the death of three security guards while at least seven fisherfolk residents have been seriously injured.

Four years ago, the same families were evicted from their coastal community by Campos to convert their land into a private beach resort. In response, the displaced fishers and farmers sought temporary shelters along the hi-way and continued to assert their return to their home coast. They even held land cultivation collectively to have food for consumption, because they were restricted access of their former livelihood.

Meanwhile, there is a de facto Martial Law in Boracay, with one battalion of armed troops deployed in the popular tourist spot since it was closed April this year for its rehabilitation as ordered by President Duterte. According to the fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA, this is overkill and a clear intimidation to residents opposing the unjust closure. Report from fact-finding missions held by various groups prior to Boracay’s closure and 40 days since show that thousands of residents and small businesses will be driven out of the area to give way to giant infrastructure projects. Permits were already given to giant businesses to operate in the area.

False cases against rights defenders continue

A warrant of arrest was issued on July 27, 2018 against Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, a KMP farmer leader and former Chairperson of the APC, for a 12-year old trumped-up case that traces its origin during the administration of former president and now Pampanga 2nd District Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Mariano, who was also formerly appointed as the government’s agrarian reform secretary in July 2016 to September 2017, was implicated with previous progressive partylist representatives Liza Maza, Teddy Casiño and Satur Ocampo in an abduction and murder case filed in 2006.

According to reports, the case slept since 2008 after presiding Judge Evelyn Atienza-Turla from the Palayan City Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Nueva Ecija failed to act upon the Supreme Court ruling that she should decide whether or not the charges have probable cause to their arrest, instead of asking the remand of the charges to the City Prosecutor’s Office. She issued the arrest warrants for the four a decade later – on July 11, 2018. The case was resurrected through the police and military’s Inter-agency Committee on Legal Action (IACLA), a few days after Arroyo gained speakership in the Congress.

PCFS strongly condemns the Duterte government for reviving this case as political persecution to silence the likes of Mariano, who in particular has been consistently fighting for genuine land reform for more than three decades. We demand to stop the attacks against Mariano and other leaders and members of peasant groups and national minorities including all people’s rights defenders in the Philippines.

We will intensify our campaign to end martial law in Mindanao, stop killing farmers, halt militarization of peasant and Lumad communities and seek justice for all the victims of human rights abuses. We call for international support to condemn the continuing attacks against farmers fighting for land, social justice and peace. ###


• “The Real Face of Terror”, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), June 2018
• KMP, UMA and Pamalakaya Press Releases, June-July 2018


Photo from Philippine Collegian.

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