How land tenure can mitigate climate vulnerabilities of agrarian beneficiaries

Second of two parts

What secure land tenure means and looks like for organized agrarian reform beneficiaries under the climate crisis.


CONCEPCION, Tarlac — Alberto Cawigan is now 65, nearly double his age when he was supposed to receive his land share. 

 He lamented how by now he could have saved money by cultivating the land as a farmer-beneficiary. 

 According to him, a landless rice farmer’s earnings are at most breakeven because a portion of the yield must be given to the land owner, and inputs are expensive which are often bought on credit with interest that is paid back during harvest. 

Farmgate prices further tear their already empty pockets. The group of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) he’s part of, the MAKISAMA-Tinang, sold its yield for P17 per kilo, but they expected at least P18. 

 According to them, a P1 difference is a big deal, and it would be hugely beneficial if the buying price did not fall below P20 per kilo. 

 The group claims that they could get a gross sale of P80,000 to P100,000 (US$1,444 to US$1,805) per cropping season from 8.7 square meters of rice land if they can sell their produce at a reasonable price. 

 Left in the dark regarding their ARB status and options, the group claims that they were instead urged to be part of the cooperative for a one-time P600 (US$10.83)  membership fee. In exchange, they got yearly dividends that have gotten leaner in recent years from P9,000 (US$162), P13,000 (US$235), and P20,000 (US$361) in mid-2000s to P256 (US$4.62) with an advance of P1,000 (US$18) to be deducted during the next harvest season. 

 But since Cawigan wasn’t included in the cooperative, among other 30 ARBs out of the 90 verified ARBs, he was deprived of those benefits too.

 For all the opportunities lost, Cawigan and the entire group are resolved to seek justice.

 “This is for my two children who would not need to do construction work because they have land to till,” he said. 

 Head on

 While struggling to be installed on their land as ARBs, they are confronted with farming challenges such as climate change, which they’ve experienced in their previous bungkalan activities. 

In early September, the rice crop that the group grew collectively on one part of their reclaimed land was submerged in water due to days of nonstop rain .

“The climate nowadays is tricky,” said Cawigan. This made them spend money on pumping water during their June cultivation due to a lack of rain. Then, heavy rains came during harvest time.

Alberto Cawigan is past retirement age, but he’s not giving up until they’re installed on the land they till. (Photo by Mavic Conde)

He’s concerned that when they start planting in August, their rice crops will suffer from drought. Their usual practice is to plant in July to avoid the heavy rainfall caused by the rainy season that begins around May. 

Two days later, with good weather and an available harvester, the group was able to harvest with a gross yield of P17,000 (US$307) — a huge loss for them given that they borrowed P30,000 (US$5412) for this cropping season’s expenses. Their first try was also a major loss due to a typhoon. 

The latter drove them to seek the help of Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura, Farmer-Scientist Partnership (MASIPAG), a farmer and progressive scientist-led organization that helps subsistence and smallholder farmers in the Philippines become self-sufficient by decentralizing farming practices.

The group started trial farming, in which they tested rice varieties in terms of resiliency to wind, flooding, and drought. MASIPAG provided them with free seeds and training on organic agriculture so they don’t get tied to costly farming inputs while also reducing carbon footprints. 

MASIPAG has a repository of more than 2,000 farmer-bred, locally-adapted varieties as of 2016, as a result of years of trial farming which involves breeding by its trained farmer-members all over the country.

While they wait for their land shares, they are growing vegetables wherever they can. (Photo by Mavic Conde)

The group chose 50 varieties to test for their trial farm over two cropping seasons. Their top ten picks from rainy season varieties could be harvested after three months. 

“The rest were so susceptible to strong wind and rain that there were varieties that rot while in the flowering stage,” said Elizabeth Felix, wife of an ARB and in charge of the group’s trial farm. 

The lack of irrigation posed a challenge for the dry season’s trial farming. The vegetables they planted also did not survive the heavy rains for long. The group harvested only once.

Felix said she would consult with MASIPAG about how to adapt and whether or not the planting schedule needed to be adjusted. 

According to the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the Philippines was hit by approximately eight or nine of the average regional twenty tropical cyclones, making it the most affected country in the world by this most destructive type of storm. The peak of the typhoon season is July through October, when nearly 70 percent of all typhoons develop, the weather bureau said.

The irony of these calamities’  accelerating frequencies and intensities is that the richest nations, which are responsible for the major carbon emissions, continue to do business as usual, rendering the internationally agreed-upon 1.5C carbon budget for global temperatures unrealistic. China is now one of the world’s top polluters, alongside the US and Europe. 

According to scientists at the European Commission-managed Copernicus Climate Change Service, 2023 is already on track to be the hottest year on record with 1.4C, with temperatures from January through October exceeding the average global mean. This temperature anomaly, in addition to the natural El Niño event, intensified heat waves that caused record-breaking human suffering in the Middle East, China, and the US, among other places. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) stated  that although it wasn’t abnormally warm everywhere, this signals the “continues [redacted] long-term trend of warming driven by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions” that people experience locally.

Filipinos don’t need to imagine it to understand its cumulative effect. The country has already seen the deadliest and costliest damages to date that bring the agriculture sector to its knees — from Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 to Super Typhoon Odette in 2021. 

 From a mitigation standpoint, their impacts should have been anticipated given that 85 percent of the country’s production sources are vulnerable to disaster, according to a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UN-FAO) study of 565 disasters that have struck the country since 1990. 

Yet the government appears to be caught off guard each time, as if these are natural occurrences and thus nothing can be done. From 2010 to 2019, the agriculture sector is reported to bear the brunt of the cost of typhoon damage, accounting for P290 billion pesos (US$5.2 billion), or 63 percent of the total. 

Such losses mean no relief from hardships for the country’s poorest of the poor, let alone grieve for the dead. 

Mitigating vulnerabilities

The groups involved in the land struggle that practice a bottom-up, farmer-led approach are doing otherwise. But in order for them to continue with their trial farming, they need secure land tenure.

Bucad claims that only when they have their individual CLOAs can they start testing on their own the top ten varieties they had identified from trial farming. This contributes to crop diversity, which is especially important in the fight against climate change. 

The practice of saving seeds by women in many different cultures, however, remains at the sideline of government policies which follow the corporatization of food systems, according to Eloisa delos Reyes of feminist network Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

“As seedkeepers, they know which needs to be planted in cropping seasons, which is resilient against pests, and which needs to be cultivated in certain areas — women play a crucial role in the entire resource management,” she said, adding that “taking their land means taking away their role and control over their food production.”

The latter is a big blow on a farming family’s household budget because it forces them to buy commercial seeds that are not only reliant on expensive synthetic fertilizers but also cannot be saved because they are hybrid and patented, so they must be purchased each planting season.

Delos Reyes said that their struggle for climate justice is summed up by the fact that they were not the ones who caused massive deforestation, nor did they benefit from logging profits or resorts built on converted productive agricultural lands, but they are the ones who suffer the most from its consequences.

This power asymmetry is also highlighted in a 2023 report by the International Land Coalition where “target communities, including those that contribute in the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals” are invisible in the country’s development indicators. 

Such hidden benefits must be accounted for, including in the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), according to association of philanthropic foundations Global Alliance for the Future of Food, which highlighted MASIPAG as one of its case studies from around the world for transforming the food systems. The latter, according to its 2022 study, also “presents an opportunity to achieve several benefits related to health, employment, food security, and ecological resilience that go beyond reducing GHG emissions.”

Ahead of the UN COP 28, it released its 2023 report which calls for more funding on food systems, which are currently receiving only “three percent of public climate finance, despite accounting for one-third of all global emissions.” 

Climate campaigners demand that climate finance should both fund the global transition from fossil fuels and serve as payment for the historical and ongoing contributions of rich, polluting countries to the climate crisis.

 Correcting power imbalance

 Secure land tenure will also jumpstart the momentum for addressing their long-standing struggles.

 Erlinda Aboy, wife to a deceased ARB, said having land to cultivate would have been a better source of income than selling kangkong (river spinach) in which they harvest in the deeper part of the river dam alongside their homes. 

She was both wishful and angry when she said that if they had been able to cultivate the land named after her deceased husband, their family could have relocated to a safer location, had a source of vegetables for food and income from surplus harvests. 

“The flood reaches above human height when the river overflows after heavy rains,” Aboy said.

Like land, houses are social assets in which governments can better invest in by addressing vulnerabilities, as what was signified in the 2022 study that maps the country’s housing vulnerability to typhoons based on the Philippine census.  

The study’s indicators—tenure security, housing quality, extreme substandard housing, drinking water source, housing density, housing quality, and crowdedness—move away from geospatial location as an exposure factor, thus driving this point: vulnerabilities are intersectional, and the more these are addressed early on, the more proactive disaster management will be. 

The study emphasizes that focusing on vulnerability mitigation will be less expensive in the long run than simply responding to damages after damages since the latter shows the lack of regard to conditions that are likely to result in disasters. Unfortunately, for the last five years, the amount of money spent on disaster relief and management has been around one percent of the national budget.

Like many impoverished Filipinos, Aboy and her fellow ARBs don’t have access to better building materials as their kangkong selling can hardly get them by, as well as to typhoon-resistant construction models, including simple but effective roof fixes because these are not among the government’s priorities.

A fellow widow raising five children by the same means had been working all day, so she hadn’t been able to show up at the kubol.  She, too, believes that if their land was awarded to them soon, their lives would improve. 

Another ARB who was able to send his children to school stated that the land could have supplemented his income as a tricycle driver and that of his wife as a house helper. “We shouldn’t have had to resort to loans,” he said.


ARBs are often forced to self-install, according to a coordinator from Pahgida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), an organization in Negros Island that helps capacitate ARBs for their land tenure struggles. 

A PDG coordinator who asked not to be named for security reasons said in a Zoom interview that there are many instances that the ARBs have been awarded their CLOA but are yet to get installed ten or more years later. According to her, CLOA should be available in six months in a compulsory option, but in a voluntary-to-sell option, the transfer can be messy and the outcome unfavorable to the ARBs.

One such case is that of the PATAG Association from Hinigaran town in Negros Occidental.  They received a notice in 2002 as ARBs of the 31-hectare sugarcane farm out of the 51-hectare Hacienda Katamsikan, after religiously following up in DAR offices. 

The latter puts pressure on its officials, but it can only do so much because DAR’s role does not extend to institutional strengthening, according to the PDG coordinator. 

A woman ARB from PATAG Association said via Zoom interview that out of 35 original ARBs, only seven of them were retained when the hacienda’s management insisted on disqualifying retired farmers and workers and getting their existing staff qualified. 

Until now they have a pending petition to reinstate the disqualified ARBs, some of whom have already passed away. They were supposedly installed in 2004.

The group self-installed in 2006 and eventually won the case against the hacienda’s other family members who claimed a stake in the awarded land and whose private guards harassed them. The seven of them were only formally installed in 2008.

“With the assistance of PDG, we are now settled in our land as ARBs. We have crops like sugarcane, rice, and vegetables grown on individual and communal land,” the PATAG ARB member said, adding that it provides food for their families and grandchildren as well as income so they have cash to spend come planting time. 

However, they also skip planting at times due to insufficient irrigation which makes their farms vulnerable to drought. During these hard times, their patubas (collective rice yields) are distributed among members, while they borrow money for sugarcane planting to be paid at harvest time. 

As a MASIPAG member, the PDG assisted them with access to seeds, and later with budgeting farm yields, in addition to paralegal training. The ARBs also contributed money to their initial farming capital. 

This type of organized support system among struggling ARBs also aided in their survival during the pandemic. Another ARB association in Kabankalan City provided P4,500 (US$81) cash aid in installments to its members due to the impact of the lockdown on livelihoods and the devastating impact of Typhoon Odette.  

That budget was intended for its yearly tax of P189,000 (US$3,412), so they are now worried about penalties, which they claim give them headaches. They are hoping that their P118,000 mortgage for the 129 hectares of Class A farmland from Hacienda Bino will be condoned, like those who have yet to receive their land as promised by Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 2022.

Nonetheless, the members of the said associations are proud to be able to send their children to school and not have to worry about household budgets because they made a living from the land awarded to them, with the help of PDG in their transition phase and until now.

According to the PDG coordinator, despite such significant contributions, they receive so little in terms of government support service.

Worse, if not killed, they were red-tagged. In Tinang, alleged members of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) members dressed in T-shirts and shorts with army logos went door-to-door in May and June, asking some ARB families to sign a blank piece of paper that they claimed was an enlistment for a livelihood program. 

Among those visited was Felix who is also a beneficiary of the government financial assistance Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipinong Program (4Ps). This attracted its local coordinator to ask about her and her group being linked to the New People’s Army (NPA), labeling them as “pulang araw”.

She was forced to sign a letter stating that she was never a part of it out of fear for her life after being followed by unidentified men on the road several times.

 The 2019 DAR’s execution order stated that the cooperative’s appeal for revalidation of the remaining ARBs should not affect the 90 ARBs because they have passed the series of “reviews and validations.”

She lamented that the 90 ARBs have suffered far too long while DAR failed to act on their just demand. (

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

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