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ILC members commemorate International Day of Peasant Struggle

On 17 April 1996, 19 peasants involved in the landless movement in Brazil were killed by police while mobilizing for access to land. Since then, the International Day of Peasant Struggle has been commemorated every 17 April to recognize the ongoing struggle for recognition of peasant rights.

ILC’s members in Asia likewise mobilizing for this year’s International Day of Peasant Struggle.

Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) in Pakistan issued an open letter condemning land grabbing.

In recent years, we have suffered from the implementation of new policies and of a new development model based on land expansion and land expropriation, commonly known as land grabbing. Land grabbing is a global phenomenon led by local, national and transnational elites and investors, with the participation of governments and local authorities, in order to control the world’s most precious resources.

Land grabbing has resulted in the concentration of the ownership of land and natural resources in the hands of large-scale investors, plantation owners, logging, hydro-power and mining companies, tourism and real estates developers, port and infrastructures authorities, and so forth. This has led to the eviction and displacement of the local populations (usually farmers), the violation of human rights and women rights, increased poverty, social fracture, and environmental pollution. Land grabbing goes beyond traditional North-South imperialist structures; the involved transnational corporations are based in the United States, Europe, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, India, Pakistan, China, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea, among others.

Land grabbing is a global phenomenon based on the corporate domination of agriculture through control over land, water, seeds and other resources. It is justified by many governments and policy think tanks through claims that agribusiness will modernize backward agricultural practices and guarantee food security for all. However widespread those claims may be, they have been shown to be entirely false in the real world.

The key players behind land grabbing prioritize profit over people’s well-being: they produce agrofuels if this is more profitable than food production, and they export their food production if this is more lucrative than selling it at home. In this race to profit, the corporate sector is increasing its control over food production systems, monopolizing resources, and dominating decision making processes. Business lobbies have strong political influence that often overrides democratic institutions; in addition, they act with the complicity of local and national elites (traders, politicians and community leaders) who fail to protect their own people from predation.

SCOPE also invites the public to participate in a seminar organized by the National Peasants Coalition of Pakistan or Pakistan Kisan Sangat (NPCP/PKS), to be held today at the Hyderabad Press Club from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. NPCP/PKS will launch an open letter to Pakistan’s political parties and civil society in order to set the political agenda in favour of peasants struggle.

In the Philippines, Task Force Anti-APECO, which includes members Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PaKiSaMa) and the People’s Campaign for Agrarian Reform Network (AR Now!), issued a press release marking a camp-out by 15 rice growers (representing 54 families) at the Department of Agrarian Reform in Metro Manila for speedy agrarian reform implementation and against land grabbing by the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO) in Aurora province.

Anti-APECO Farmers Occupy DAR, Call for Land Reform in Provincial Rice Bowl

They made it their home, they made it flourish— and they will not budge.

Surrounded by rice sacks reaped from Sitio Reserva, Nanay Florentina Solis elaborated to onlookers the long history that the residents of her community have had with their farming grounds.

“We have been residing here for more than five decades now, tilling it to productivity. That’s why I believe it’s only right that the decision on what to do with it, preserving it, should come from us.”

Solis is one of 15 rice growers (eight women, seven men), representing 54 farmer families, started today their indefinite camp-out before the Department of Agrarian Reform Central Office in Quezon City. Their lands— situated in Sitio Reserva, Barangay Estevez, Municipality of Casiguran in Aurora province— have been tilled by the peasant group for the past 50 years.

The farmers settled on the other side of the Sierra Madre mountain range amidst the tide of northward migration during the postwar period. Since then, they have transformed a neglected 105-hectare expanse into an active and prosperous farming community.

In fact, their harvests have not only satisfied their immediate needs; they have addressed demands for rice elsewhere in the country. At the same time, many of these same peasants have been pioneering organic methods which promise to heighten their yields, yet in more ecologically-sustainable fashion.

But Sitio Reserva—considered one of Aurora’s rice bowls— now faces an uncertain future.

Looming like a dark cloud over the community is the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO). Though publicly lampooned in the past years for harboring a number of damning anomalies, the project initiated by Senator Edgardo Angara, Congressman Sonny Angara, and Governor Bella Angara-Castillo, covering 12, 923 hectares, continues to jeopardize farming, fishing and ancestral domains and is now in the process of evicting 3,000 small farmers, fishers, and indigenous peoples from their homes and livelihoods within the Casiguran municipality, They will be resettled in the 105-hectare agricultural land in Sitio Reserva in the same municipality being cultivated by Nanay Florentina and 53 other farmer families.

Already, due to the impetuous construction of the ecozone, various irrigation waterways have been buried or narrowed, triggering flash-floods in farming grounds during the wet seasons.

In effect, Nanay Adelina Constantino calls for the immediate redistribution of their land to 54 farmers, calling on DAR Secretary Virgilio de los Reyes to issue a Notice of CARPER Coverage over the 105 hectare-agricultural land controlled by Aurora State College of Technology (ASCOT) .

“We have not been helped at all by the government in tilling this land, even in irrigation. And now they will take that land? Where is the ‘straight path’ there? We now call on them to give us justice and distribute the land to us under the CARPER Law and prevent APECO from stealing our fields.”

The farmers of Sitio Reserva is supported by Task-Force Anti-APECO— a coalition composed of various peoples’ movements and non-government organizations campaigning against APECO. Their support for broader crusades for agrarian reform is unequivocally borne by their call:

Together with PIGLASCA, PAKISAMA, NASSA-CBCP, Alternative Law Group, ARNow!, FDC and other organizations, we will accompany the farmers in their struggle for justice,” said Fr. Joefran Talaban, a parish priest in Aurora and spokesperson of Task Force Anti-APECO. Father Joefran has been assisting the affected families and survived an assassination attempt on June 26, 2010.

The same Congress that enacted CARPER, IPRA, Fisheries Code to empower landless farmers, marginal fishers, and indigenous peoples, is the same institution that enacted the APECO law displacing and dis-empowering the rural poor. A new law on land use should be passed and the Supreme Court should declare the APECO law unconstitutional,” added Vicente Fabe, Chaiperson of PAKISAMA peasant confederation, a member of the People’s Campaign for Agrarian Reform Network (ARNow!) and co-convener of Task Force Anti-APECO.

Meanwhile, the DAR occupation of Aurora farmers is also hosting a trade fair, highlighting the crops produced within Casiguran which will likely be negatively impacted by the encroachment of APECO. Once again, peasants voice their staunch disapproval to’s Angara’s obstinate patronage of APECO through slogans such as “Junk ANGARA’s APECO!”

Their struggle continues, and with it, the struggle against fatally-mistaken notions of development.