“We were happy then. We had food on the table. We were earning modestly and can send our children to school. We lived without fear and anxiety.”
By JEN GUSTE
MARAGONDON, Cavite – At least 353 fisherfolk and peasant families in barangay Patungan here called on President Rodrigo Duterte to stop business tycoon Henry Sy from depriving them of their livelihood.
Patungan residents would be evicted today, July 12, on the basis of a Writ of Demolition ordered by the Naic Regional Trial Court (RTC) under presiding Judge Lerio C. Castigador.
The 602-hectare fishing and farming community being claimed by the Maria Theresa Virata Realty Corporation (MTV Realty Corporation) was sold to Henry Sy, a business-tycoon who is about to convert Patungan’s productive fishing and agricultural grounds into an eco-tourism hub.
The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas) said this will result to the demolition and displacement of fisherfolk and peasant families who depend mainly on rich fishing and agricultural grounds for daily survival.
Susan Agner, secretary general of Save Patungan Now movement said their struggle goes back to the late 1990s together with the farmers and fishermen in the adjacent Hacienda Looc, Nasugbu, Batangas.
Patungan is one of the many coves found along the shores of Maragondon, Cavite and Nasugbu, Batangas. It is also strategically located. On the southeast portion of the community lies the famous Pico de Loro National Park frequented by tourists. Along the National Tourism Road are the various resorts owned by the Panlilios (Puerto Azul), the Viratas with Malaysian-Kuok Properties, Philippines (Caylabne). Adjacent to Patungan is the Hamilo Coast Pico de Loro Beach Resort developed by Henry Sy’s MSDC under its Harbor Town Project which up to now has not been completed because of the continuing struggle of the farmers and fishermen. Patungan faces the famous Corregidor and Carabao Islands of Bataan.
About 90 percent of the residents in Patungan are full-time fishermen. The rest are either farmers or farmers and fishermen.
Susan’s husband, Basilio Agner said that fish such as bangus and tilapia are aplenty during the rainy season and the seas are rough and the waves are high. Commercial fishers who usually harvest the seas bounty during the fishing season are scarce at these times. Other than fishing, the community relies on local tourists that frequent the place during summer and on weekends, especially with the opening of Kaybiang Tunnel in 2013.
“We were happy then. We had food on the table. We were earning modestly and can send our children to school. We lived without fear and anxiety,” Basilio said.
Demolitions started in 2012, according to the Save Patungan Movement Now Movement.
Susan said the M.T.V. security guards were stationed by the Viratas in 2013. They also put up a checkpoint manned by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on December 29, 2013. The residents are not allowed to bring in construction materials to improve their dwellings or build boats. The farmers are also afraid to go up their kaingin farms along the boundary of Maragondon and Nasugbu. They fear the security guards of Henry Sy will harass or shoot them.
From about 600 households in barangay Sta. Mercedes, there are just about 300 households or about 900 to 1,000 families.
Residents were paid P5,000 each to move out and transfer to a relocation site provided by M.T.V. called Bagong Patungan. “The relocation however was far from the peoples’ source of livelihood and they are not able to pay religiously the P500 monthly amortization,” Basilio said.
Criminalizing agrarian struggles
The most vocal local leaders were arrested.
William Castillano, 61, and Lorenzo Obrado, 60, were arrested by the combined forces of the police, air force and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) on February 21, 2014. Both were charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Castillano is one of the farmer beneficiaries granted collective CLOA (Certificate of Land Ownership Award) in Hacienda Looc under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) during the time of President Corazon Aquino. This was however allegedly land grabbed by Henry Sy’s Manila Southcoast Development Corporation (MSDC) in 1994 the government’s privatization arm Asset Privatization Trust (APT) sold the remaining 3,248.34 hectares of Hacienda Looc to MSDC and the Fil-Estate Corporation of the Sobrepeñas family. The deed of sale issued however indicated the entire 8,650.78 hectare Hacienda Looc covering the 4,563.26 hectares was already awarded and apportioned to farmer beneficiaries.
Susan related that the Viratas through the tax declaration held by Virata patriarch Leonides Virata, only had original claim over 13.5 hectares but that it did not include the community’s dwelling areas fronting the now famous Patungan Cove. It was reduced to 12 hectares when the elderly Virata donated 1.5 hectares to the community for the construction of schools.
The M.T.V. Corporation charged other local residents with multiple criminal charges, including malicious mischief with serious physical injury in March 2016, unlawful detainer in September 2014, and trespassing with malicious mischief in 2013.
The cases are under litigation. “We contribute for the hearings, for our lawyer. It is hard. We cannot go about our usual way of life especially among us leaders as we are extra careful of our movements,” Susan said.
The community organized themselves and established the Save Patungan Now Movement along with the supporters in 2013 to collectively assert their rights to keep their dwelling places, and maintain their community and sources of livelihood.
The community set up several campsites in strategic locations within the village to guard the village from harassments from the security guards, the PNP and the military. According to Susan, community members voluntarily man each campsite every day by rotation especially during the night. Every time there is perceived danger, they ring the bells (they call batingting) to alert the other members of the community.
“Once we hear the bells ringing, we all gather together to derail any impending harassment to our community,” Susan said.
The Save Patungan Now Movement also held six dialogues with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) since 2013. Susan said DENR Director Danilo Verzosa conducted an inspection in February 2015 and Versoza clarified barangay Sta. Mercedes is within the marine reservation area and cannot be issued a title.
A notice to vacate and a writ of execution was issued in February 2016, and in May 31, 2016, the sheriff accompanied by the PNP issued a notice of demolition. The residents are given until July 7 to voluntarily vacate the contested property.
Hope under Duterte?
The community hopes that with President’s Duterte’s avowed promise of listening to the poor and with peasant leader Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano now heading the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), their struggle for land rights and their livelihood will be realized along with other farmers and fishing communities whose lands are under dispute for decades now.
“We are happy that President Duterte offered strategic government positions to progressive leaders of the peoples’ movement for a chance to work towards the meaningful change we want. We however remain vigilant and steadfast in our united struggle to assert our rights to land and decent living,” said the Agner couple.