Philippines: Right to food of 6,212 farmers threatened despite the issuance of land titles

Rally in Manila to defend the agrarian reform. Photo: Astrud Beringer/FIAN Philippines.

Beginning of Action: 19 February 2014  End of Action: 17 April 2014

After a decades-long struggle for the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, the farmworker beneficiaries of Hacienda Luisita were finally awarded land titles - the Certificates of Land Ownership Awards by the Department of Agrarian Reform in October 2013. Despite having obtained the land titles, the farmworker beneficiaries are still unable to cultivate the awarded land in order to exercise their right to adequate food. This is in part due to: the slow ground survey by the Department of Agrarian Reform needed to identify boundaries between the lots to be given to each individual farmworker beneficiary; the existing informal contracts with middlemen/middlewomen to whom the farmworkers have rented land to grow sugar cane; and the lack of social protection measures and support services in order to make the awarded land productive after the completion of the land distribution.

This case needs your URGENT ACTION, by writing to the Filipino government to demand them to immediately install farmworkers in their land and provide essential support services and social protection measures to the farm beneficiaries and their families to ensure their right to food.

ACTION
Please write to the Secretary of the Department of Agrarian Reform, with a copy to the President of the Philippines and the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, requesting them to meet the necessary measures in order to guarantee the right to food of the farm beneficiaries and their families.

Please inform FIAN if you receive a response to your letters.

Further Information

In the search of a land marker. Photo: Rights Network Inc.

Background

Philippines' national agrarian reform program - Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) - took effect in 1988, with an aim to distribute all agricultural lands beyond five hectares to landless farmers and farmworkers. One of the largest landholdings to be distributed under the CARP was Hacienda Luisita, a vast sugar cane estate owned by the family of current President Benigno Simeon Cojuango Aquino III.

Section 31 of the CARP allowed corporate landowners an option to give farmers partial ownership of a company (in form of stocks) in lieu of land distribution. This mode of land distribution known as the "Stock Distribution Option" (SDO) was opted by Hacienda Luisita Inc., the company created by the Cojuangco family. Instead of acquring actual land to till, the farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita thus received shares which were computed based on the number of work days. With, however, the landowners gradually transferring significant portions of the hacienda into residential, commercial, and industrial complexes, the size of the agricultural land decreased, leading to less production, reduced person-days, and much lower take-home pay and eventual retrenchment of the farmworkers. Retrenched farmworkers were removed from the payroll and no longer received any shares of the stock. The wages of the farmworkers were so minimal (some two USD a day) that they were unable to feed their families adequately.

Farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita thus consistently opposed the SDO scheme for denying their right to directly own the land, which was at the heart of the CARP. After a decades-long struggle, on April 2012, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled with finality to revoke the SDO and ordered redistribution of the 4,102 hectares land to the farmworkers. On February 27, 2013, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) released the list of the beneficiaries, whereby the hacienda will be distributed to 6,212 farmworkers, each to acquire a 6,600 square meters lot. While the majority of the farmworkers have received their land titles till date, they are not yet in possession of the lands awarded to them and thus cannot till the land and exercise their right to access to land and to food. There are several obstacles. Firstly, the DAR is still conducting ground survey and placing boundary markers for the remaining half of the concerned landholding. It has, however, been reported that some of the boundary markers have been removed or destroyed. Survey and marking of boundary markers must be completed before the farmworker beneficiaries can be fully installed in their lots. Secondly, majority of the plots to be distributed is planted with sugar cane by middlemen/middlewomen ("ariendador").

Since 2004 and especially after 2006, in order to survive, many farmworkers spontaneously occupied the land and entered into informal contracts with the ariendador and rented out their land. These contracts are highly controversial since they are not only agreed on an informal basis, but also comprise unjust conditions, i.e. the whole property is rented out to the ariendador, thus the farmworker beneficiaries cannot even till some parts of the land with crops for their own needs, nor do they have access to their land, nor do they obtain a profit income share. They only receive a minimal yearly loan of maximum PhP 7,000 (amount to 150 USD). Today, 95 percent of the entitled land is already rented by the ariendador and planted with sugar cane. On top of this, it is uncertain how long the harvesting of the sugar cane will last since, due to economic hardship, some farmeworkers were forced to renew contracts with the ariendador. This will further slow down the installation process. In this period of time, farmworker beneficiaries and their families are neither able to access the land nor to feed themselves. Thirdly, the DAR has so far failed to deliver social protection measures as well as support services i.e. start up capital/credit, irrigation facilities, seeds, farming machineries (tractors), especially to those farmworkers who did not lease their lands to the ariendador.

Thus, in order to prevent further suffering from hunger, it is crucial that the DAR fast-track the setting up of land markers, immediately install farmworker beneficiaries on the lands awarded to them, and urgently provide necessary social protection measures and support services.

FIAN Mandate

The Philippines is a State Party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and therefore obliged to protect and fulfil the right to food of its people. The Philippine government breached its protect-bound obligation under the right to food by not regulating the unjust conditioned contracts of the ariendador, as these had detrimental impact on the farmworkers' right to adequate food. Finally, the government of the Philippines has failed to fulfil the right to adequate food of the Hacienda Luisita farmers by not duly implementing the CARP - a program which aims to distribute land to landless farmers and to provide sufficient support services to guarantee their right to adequate food.