“If they evict people just for their own interest, then, that is not development. That is tyranny against the people.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
SAN JOSE DEL MONTE CITY, Bulacan – Just outside the city, thousands of hectares of agricultural land have provided home and livelihood to farmer-settlers for decades. But these farmers are on the brink of losing the land to give way to projects by big businesses.
One of these projects is the Metro Rail Transit Line 7 (MRT-7) of the Araneta Properties Inc., a Public-Private Partnership project worth $1.44 billion.
The MRT-7 project is the latest in the continuing saga of landgrabbing in San Jose del Monte, where ownership of the land kept changing hands, and the only constant are the farmers who have tilled the farms and made it productive. At present, the farmers are being evicted from their lands by the Aranetas.
The MRT-7 is a 22.8-kilometer elevated rail system with 14 stations stretching from Quezon City, Caloocan, and San Jose Del Monte City in Bulacan province.
Once this project pushes through, 300 farming families or 1,000 people and 10,000 urban poor will be displaced. It will also wipe out almost 600 hectares of agricultural lands, particularly in Tungkong Mangga village. The neighbouring villages of San Roque and San Isidro will also be affected by other planned development projects in the city.
San Jose Del Monte City is the largest town in Bulacan in land area and population. It is known as the “Balcony of the Metropolis.” Bordered by Caloocan City, Quezon City and Antipolo city, Rizal, it is now being developed by the local government as a “New Super City.”
An international fact-finding mission conducted by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Bulacan-San Jose Del Monte (AMB-SJDM), looked into incidents of harassment on farmer-settlers by the private armies of “landgrabbing” companies to force them out of the land.
Among the mission delegates were representatives from Anakpawis Partylist, Bayan Muna Partylist, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), as well as delegates from Japan, Malaysia and Pakistan. The IFFM was held on April 14 to 15.
The mission divided into two teams: one went to Tungkong Mangga and San Roque village, and another to San Isidro village. The farmers shared stories of how their lives drastically changed, as ownership of the land changed hands.
Rony, a member of the Tungkong Mangga Upland Farmers Association Inc. (TMUFAI), said that Jewish priest Francisco Araneta and Doña Teresita Araneta were the first to claim ownership of the land, but it was later transferred to the Isabela Cultural Corporation.
After World War II, farmers from Visayas, and the regions of Bicol, Ilocos and Southern Luzon became the first settlers, and cultivated the land with crops such as bananas, vegetables, corn, and root crops.
Avelino Palo, 57, president of the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Bricks (SMB) is a migrant from Leyte province who settled in 1982 in Purok 4-Bricks. The subvillage was so named because of the Manila Brickworks Inc., a bricks factory operated by the Puyat Enterprises in the area since the 70s. It was owned by the family of the late Senator Gil Puyat.
Palo said they have lived peacefully even after the Manila Brickworks Inc. shut down in 1984. They planted crops that made life less difficult because the family did not lack food to feed their nine children.
“Farming is what keeps us alive up to now,” he said in an interview with Bulatlat.com. Palo and other families who worked with the Puyat Enterprises still live in the houses provided by the company. In the same vast land where their houses were built, Palo and the entire neighbourhood planted vegetables, rice and fruit-bearing trees.
Aside from the bricks factory, Puyat Enterprises also operated a poultry farm, textile factory, plastic factory, feed mill and other businesses. Palo was then employed by the Puyat family as a security guard.
Palo said the Puyat Enterprises owned more than 2,500 hectares of land which cover San Isidro village. When the Puyat Enterprises closed its businesses, Palo and the other employees turned to farming.
In the mid-1990s, Palo said they were informed that the land was bought by the firm of lawmaker and known real estate businessman, Manny Villar. At least 1,400 hectares out of the 2,500 hectares of land, including the ancestral lands of Dumagats, were being claimed by Villar.
Ereberto Peña, 54, vice chairman of Tungkong Mangga Upland Farmers Association Inc. (TMUFAI) and a resident of Tungkong Mangga since 1960s said Villar started his claim on the land in 1995. They found out that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has issued a conversion order reclassifying the agricultural lands as residential and non-agricultural in September 1992.
The farmers constantly opposed the conversion order and filed a petition for its cancellation in May 1997. Peña recalled that they even blocked the bulldozer that tried to demolish their houses that year.
Like Palo, Peña said all was well with their lives before the land grabbers came.
“Life was not so difficult then. We till. We harvest. We sell our produce to the city,” Peña told Bulatlat.com in an interview. He was able to support the studies of his five children, all by farming. But since Villar started to claim the land, their main source of livelihood was put in peril.
Unknown to the farmers, the ownership of the land was once again transferred to another company — the Araneta Properties Inc., a real estate company engaged in property development.
Gregorio “Greggy” Araneta III became the company’s Chief Executive Officer in 1995 and since then, the Araneta Properties has actively engaged in what is called as land banking and land speculation, or buying of public and agricultural lands to be sold later to interested buyers and real estate companies.
In 1999, the Aranetas started deploying security guards in Tungkong Mangga, San Roque and San Isidro.
The Aranetas violated the free ingress and egress of the farmers in the community and closed-off the paths connecting the villages. There were also check points that prohibited people from entering.
Farmer Faustino Magnipes, one of the late settlers, said that when they arrived in the San Isidro, the construction materials for their houses were banned by the Araneta security guards. They had to use a carabao-pulled cart to bring in the construction materials at midnight.
In 1999, four farmers were massacred by the alleged private army of the Aranetas.
In 2000, the farmers were shocked when they learned about the 25-year development plan of San Jose Del Monte City that the Aranetas showed them. They said the development plan included the MRT-7 project.
In January 2014, security guards came to Purok 4-Bricks and padlocked houses.
Elia Tumampil, 30, said about 20 to 50 security guards came. Some were in civilian clothes and some even wore ski masks. They carried firearms.
“They padlocked the houses so that we could not go back in. They only stopped when they saw that my children were inside the house,” Tumampil said in an interview.
Palo said they complained to the police, to the city mayor and the Commission on Human Rights, but no one dared to act on their complaints against the Aranetas.
Prior to that, in 2013 the security guards of Aranetas also padlocked the gate of their village. But the enraged villagers forced the gate open.
There was also an incident when security guards fired guns to make it appear that they were fighting off New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the area.
The residents reported the incident to the police, and even went to ABS-CBN to expose what the Aranetas were doing in their village. Palo said his schedule for an interview in a program was cancelled when he said that he was complaining about the Aranetas. “I was told to go to Camp Crame instead. I went to another radio station for an interview.”
The farmers stood their ground. Recently, Palo and 51 other families in Purok 4-Bricks were charged with unlawful detainer and ejectment cases filed by the Aranetas.
“Why would we leave our land? This where I had raised my family and grandchildren,” Palo said.
Palo is determined to fight the Aranetas in court through the help of Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (Sentra), a legal assistance group for peasants’ rights.
The farmers said the Aranetas also made them live miserably, constructing blockades to roads that lead to the city. Peña said that they had to spend more for transportation, which eats into the meagre income coming from their produce. Their travel time to the city, which used to be only a matter of minutes, extended to hours. “We found an alternative route, but it’s six kilometers long, or two hours travel only by carabao.”
In December last year, Greggy Araneta personally went to Peña’s house in Tungkong Mangga. But Peña did not face him that day for fear of being killed. According to Peña’s nephew, Araneta said he came to talk to Peña personally.
He said Araneta’s visit – arriving on a luxury car and surrounded by security guards, was described by his neighbours as a scene straight from a telenovela. The next day, an Araneta lawyer came to his house, together with security guards, to tell him to stop resisting the development plan.
“The lawyer told me to convince the members of our organization to just leave the land, and that we should just discuss ‘our price.’ Of course, I told him I cannot do that. We have a pending petition (against the conversion order), and we should just wait for the decision,” Peña said.
Since then, the Peña family has been under surveillance by the guards of the Aranetas.
Failed agrarian reform program
Portions of the almost 3,000 hectares of land are covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (Carp).
Mario Aque, 47, a farmer and resident of Karuhame subvillage, said that in 1990, some farmers were awarded Certificates of Land Ownership Award (CLOAs). In San Isidro, there were 59 farmer beneficiaries of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. But not all beneficiaries were issued with certificates. Unfortunately, Aque said he was not one of them.
The CLOAs were later cancelled in 1996 after the DAR Adjudication Board issued a resolution saying that the land is owned by the Central Bank of the Philippines (CBP).
Joseph Canlas, vice chairman of Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) and part of the mission, saidmit turned out that the land, which was previously owned by the Puyat family – a crony of President Ferdinand Marcos – was sequestered by the Philippine Commission on Good Government (PCGG) in 1986 and were placed under the receivership of CBP. That was why the DAR still recognized the CBP’s ownership of the land.
The farmers continued the struggle before the courts, and in 1996, the Malolos Regional Trial Court issued a decision favoring the farmers. Aque said the farmers even have tax declarations as proof that they have paid land taxes in the past years, unlike the CBP.
“Surveyors (of the CBP) have been coming here to measure the land. We demand that they show us their tax declaration but they cannot show us anything, only a land title,” Aque said.
Canlas said a tax declaration can be used as proof that they occupied and have been tilling the land for many years even if they have no land titles.
Aque said the decision of the Malolos Trial Court was appealed by the CBP and the case is now pending at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
Two village chiefs were also killed because they have been exhausting all legal means so the farmer beneficiaries will have their CLOAs.
In 2001, DAR Undersecretary Hernani Braganza ordered the coverage of the lands in Tungkong Mangga for agrarian reform. However in 2007, then DAR Secretary Nasser Pangandaman ordered the exemption of the disputed lands. The farmers filed a motion for reconsideration in 2008 and the case still remains unsolved.
Aque said that in October 2014, months after CARP expired on June 30, 2014, the DAR, using the expired law issued an order exempting San Isidro from land reform coverage.
Deprived of social services
Farmers said the Aranetas are blocking initiatives to further develop their lands, houses and school, to push them out of the land. In areas like Karuhame, in San Isidro village, there is no electricity and water supply because the entry of the electric company is being blocked by the Aranetas. Their only sources of water are the wells.
Even the expansion of the elementary school in the sub-village of Ricafort in Tungkong Mangga cannot push through because they prohibited any construction.
Since the Aranetas deployed security guards and set up several check-points, the entry of construction materials as well as visitors were prohibited.
Soldiers under the 48th Infantry Battalion were also deployed in the area. The farmers said their mere presence terrorizes them and their families.
Local government even use basic social services to dupe farmers to give up their land. On March 6, the local government offered water supply connection to farmers, in exchange of their denial of any claim to the land they occupy.
A copy of the certification was showed by the residents to the mission delegates, and it read: “This certificate is being granted upon the request of the applicant who attest to have no ownership of any lot, which is required for any water supply connection with the San Jose del Monte City Water District, and therefore the applicant accepts that: 1) the connection is temporary; 2) the water connection will be disrupted anytime once a complaint is filed to the water district or to the ‘proper court’ and; 3) the applicant is responsible to pay in ‘cash’ the cost of water installation and other expenses.”
Sherlyn Rivera, a resident of the Purok 2 said many farmers signed the certification. But most of those who signed did not read what the certification states. She said many of the farmers did not finish their studies.
Vow to fight
Many of the farmers are determined to continue fighting for their land despite the harassment and repression by the Araneta guards.
Palo said no matter what it takes, as long as there is an organization like the KMP with the legal assistance of Sentra, they will never give up their lands.
While some of the mothers are anxious of the danger they face, they, too, recognize that the land they are fighting for is what keeps them alive to this day.
“Jennifer,” a mother of two said although life nowadays is difficult, no matter how much the Aranetas offer them, they will not leave the land. She said their crops are enough for her whole family to survive.
Palo’s wife, Perla, 53, said even if the Aranetas offered them money and relocation site, they know that once they leave the land, life would be more difficult.
“Where will we plant our crops in the relocation site?” she said.
“For us farmers, the MRT-7 Project is not for our good and development,” said Magnipes.
Palo said development is good if it includes the people’s welfare. “They (Aranetas) brag about development, but the development they want is not for the good of the people. It is only them who get rich.”