For agrarian beneficiaries, secure land tenure is climate justice

First of two parts

Protecting agrarian beneficiaries through secure land tenure is climate justice, as it recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on these vulnerable groups while also seeking solutions that address its root causes.


TINANG, Tarlac — Agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) were urged to join a cooperative that would control over half of 200 hectares of their farmland for the next two decades. They learned later that they could opt out of it and actually gain control over a share of the land they were made to believe was already owned by the cooperative. It took some time until they decided that enough was enough.

This story of long-delayed justice for ARBs in Hacienda Tinang in this sugarcane producing town of Concepcion, Tarlac made national news in June 2022, when the group Malayang Kilusang Samahan ng Magsasaka ng Tinang (MAKISAMA-Tinang) and their supporters asserted their right to land via bungkalan (collective cultivation) but were violently dispersed and detained instead.

University professor Jose Monfred Sy described bungkalan in his 2022 study as “direct farming on unjustly distributed lands.”

The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the government agency in charge of processing land tenure disputes, quickly acknowledged that the group’s claim was true.

However, it took DAR nearly three decades to resolve the case involving the Tinang SN Multi-Purpose Cooperative controlled by a local political dynasty, the Villanueva family, by insisting it is also a holder of a certificate of land ownership award (CLOA), the land title given to ARBs. The cooperative, however, is not DAR-recognized.

“We can’t wait much longer because there is already an order for its distribution,” Abby Bucad, daughter of one of the ARBs, told Bulatlat in a September interview.

According to Bucad, the 62 hectares of disputed agricultural property owned by the Dominican Order have been ordered to be distributed to the 90 ARBs who refused to join the cooperative and formed the MAKISAMA-Tinang Farmers, while the remaining ARBs are subject to revalidation.

She added that the next step should be the turnover of land through the awarding of individual CLOAs.

Weeks turned into years

In May 2023, Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III reportedly announced that this one “vintage case” among thousands of others had been resolved, and that “in a matter of two weeks” the distribution of titles would be released, including for the 90 ARBs.

Despite the DAR’s February 2019 execution order, weeks have turned into months and then years with no land titles granted.

Such a weak land tenure system, amid the country’s 40 years of major land reforms, remains one of the key constraints to inclusive agricultural development in the country, according to a 2023 report by the International Land Coalition (ILC) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

MAKISAMA-Tinang claims that if they had been farming their land for all those years, their families would have had a better income, which would have allowed them to do things like build a disaster-proof house, send their children to school, and assist sick and disabled family members with their medical needs.

Showing up at their community hut is a form of resistance for these mothers. (Photo by Mavic Conde)

Farmers remain one of the country’s four poorest sectors in 2021, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Furthermore, according to PSA data, farm workers in Central Luzon received a real wage rate (adjusted for inflation) of P297 for male workers and P293 for female workers in 2019.

In the midst of these glaring inequalities, the world is on the verge of a climate crisis that is shattering historical impact records one after the other. Because of this, it only takes an extreme weather event to make the struggles of farmers worse.

Protecting ARBs through secure land tenure is thus a form of climate justice, as it recognizes the disproportionate effects of climate change on these vulnerable groups while also seeking solutions that address its root causes.

Bungkalan’s role in securing land tenure

After waiting in vain, the group decided in 2021 to reclaim 1.5 hectares of their land from the cooperative and cultivate it with rice and vegetables.

This practice is known as bungkalan to those engaged in the land reform struggle, like the agricultural laborers in Mindanao plantations and the azucareras in Central Luzon and Western Visayas.

Bucad said that the group is resisting collectively in order to obtain land access, particularly when “strong forces” are impeding their installation as ARBs.

Under the guise of an existing cooperative, coupled by DAR’s complicity for prolonged inaction, this force has taken many forms, including intimidation through the police force, as was the case in 2022, pitting them against other cooperative members, and keeping them in the dark about their options and ARB status since 1995, the year the collective CLOA was registered for distribution.

Through bungkalan, farmers have been cultivating at least 1.5 hectares of their land share. (Photo by Mavic Conde)

Bungkalan emerged from the country’s exploitative land ownership system, which has a long history of disparities in land access dating back to its colonial eras. For a sector that employs a significant number of working Filipinos, this has resulted in deep poverty, social marginalization, and conflict, with the percentage falling from 46 percent in the early-1990s to 24 percent in 2021. 

“One year before the tenth year of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), only 2 percent of the total private lands targeted for compulsory acquisition has been successfully expropriated,” Sarah Wright and Ma. Diosa Labiste wrote in 2018 in their book Stories of Struggle: Experiences of Land Reform in Negros Island, Philippines.

CARP is the flagship program of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law, which was signed in 1988 by then President Cory Aquino purportedly to redistribute vast agricultural lands controlled by a few wealthy families, including her own. It did not, however, live up to its promises, as it turned out to be a flawed program that landowners took advantage of.

Its subsequent iterations, including the CARP Extension with Reforms (CARPER) under the Ramos administration, rely on market-driven land reform, retaining the voluntary land transfer option over compulsory acquisition, with the former setting negotiation within the context of a power imbalance that makes genuine land reform difficult to implement, according to Wright and Labiste.

Since its implementation in 1988, DAR was reported to pronounce in 2020 that 90 percent of its target 4.9 million hectares for distribution has been given to ARBs, which in 2016 account for 2.8 million farmer-beneficiaries.

However, the two authors noted that without an official mechanism in place, such information is difficult to validate, and the figure is a downgrade from the original target of 10.3 million hectares, with private estates, including large haciendas, remaining undistributed and the most contentious of cases.

Link to climate change, justice

These policies and outcomes are linked to climate change because both share drivers that sacrifice small-scale farmers and landless agricultural workers in the name of global development, in this case export-oriented, large-scale agriculture projects and non-agriculture development that benefits the local landed elite.

At the same time, these violate the spirit of land reform since it takes away the control of land from ARBs, if not introduce excessive delays in the awarding of CLOAs as with the case of the MAKISAMA-Tinang members.

There can be no climate justice unless there is agricultural justice. In the context of climate change, justice aims to prevent further harm from being done by rapidly reducing man-made carbon emissions that wealthy nations are most responsible for, supporting adaptation measures, and providing redress for the cost of inaction.

Since 2003, civil society and political leaders from developing countries have helped to mainstream it and have been fighting for it at international climate negotiations, including the ongoing 28th Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) which is happening until December 12 in Dubai.

Years of diplomatic wrangling resulted in the establishment of global targets aimed at keeping global temperatures within the internationally agreed-upon 1.5 degree Celsius range; however, this is rapidly slipping out of reach this decade due to wealthy countries’ evasion of legal obligations, not only under the UNFCCC but also under existing ones such as international human rights law.

Meanwhile, the group reached the point of building a kubol, or a hut in the disputed land where they’d gather every day to reclaim via bungkalan what should have been theirs.

“We’re simply taking back what is ours and going after what we’ve lost in all those years,” Mirasol dela Cruz, wife of another ARB, said. (RVO) (

Read: Part 2 |  How land tenure can mitigate climate vulnerabilities of agrarian beneficiaries

The story is supported by Google News Initiative News Equity Fund.

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