Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Battle for Bulacan

Bulacan, which sits beyond the northern fringe of Metro Manila, has traditionally been a world away from its capital city neighbor in terms of production, scenery and lifestyle. But today it is at the forefront of dual struggles. One for the peasant farmers that make up the bulk of the landscape and another for the urban poor that are increasingly finding themselves pushed beyond the boundaries of Metro Manila.

Bulacan plays an important role in supporting the country’s agricultural output  as a central source of income. The major agricultural crops are leafy vegetables, cassava, pineapple, mango and coffee beans. Its biggest meat earner remains pork.

But today these lands are facing the bulldozer and while urbanization is the buzzword, thousands of houses continue to lie empty.

Tunkong Mangga, in the municipality of San Jose Del Monte City, is an example of one of the peasant farming communities that is facing an existential struggle to remain on their lands .

The push factor is being caused by a two decade struggle against the planned US$ 1.23-billion Metro Rail Transit 7 (MRT 7) train network extension and accompanying residential development, which was first proposed under the Gloria Arroyo administration, administered by San Miguel Corporation and funded through “aid” loans from the Japanese Government.

To make way for a 23-kilometer elevated railway line with 14 stations from San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan to Quezon City,  two hundred hectares of farmland will be confiscated and 1,250 farmers will be displaced from this community alone.

This is despite the fact that in 1998 the 300-hectare agricultural estate was declared for distribution under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). One of the richest families in the Philippines, the Aranetas ,have  resisted coverage claiming the land is still theirs despite it having being compulsorily acquired by the Central Bank in 1987.

For many peasant farmers it has been an ongoing struggle to maintain and continue to cultivate their lands. During a recent visit to Bulacan, I spoke with members of Sandigan Samahang Magsasaka (SASAMAG), a local affiliate of  KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines).

As Victoria Sabio said, “Before the KMP, we were living in fear. We were recipients of harassment and physical attacks and looting. They [pro-development criminals] would take our bolos [machetes] and farm equipment.”

“We asserted ourselves and we became more inspired to fight for the right to the land. It was a time when the bulldozing wasn’t stopping and coupled with the military and the guards who also confronted us. Because if we don’t fight for the land what will become of us. We won’t have anything to eat, we won’t have anything to provide for our children or schooling. Now we are being threatened by the MRT-7 project. We don’t know what will happen to us. But we know we are going to fight for the right to the land”

To try to prevent this landgrabbing, the peasant farmers have been aided by the wider mass movement.

As Sabio explained, ““We were advised to organize ourselves, to build an organization, hold activities and it was then when we were able to get things moving. The organization became SASAMAG. As the organisation grew more organizations were supporting us from the outside, even from other countries, NGOs were helping us. The organisations that supported us were not just in solidarity with them but physically here. In times of harassment, they can really take the hit of the security guards and they join the rallies outside”.

Another example of this solidarity is being shown in the efforts of the progressive Makabayan Coalition, which has seven members in the House of Representatives,  to push the congress to implement a two year moratorium on land conversions covering at least 4.6 million hectares of lands already awarded under agrarian reform programs.

KMP see this bill “an essential element in ensuring that land reform can be carried out without the threat of landlords, real estate developers and land grabbing oligarchs creating facts on the ground before the law catches up. Stability in availability of land is an essential element of food security.”

Progressive Congressman Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna Partylist (one part of the Makabayan Coalition) has also said that the moratorium on land-use conversion would support rice self-sufficiency problem and also would help slow the tide of farmers, farm workers and national minorities forced to move into urban centers. Zarate also stated that agricultural lands that have been already converted could have produced food for seven million Filipinos every year.

“In addressing the basic problems of Philippine society, we must look at the whole picture and craft a comprehensive solution for the majority of our people, not just piecemeal solutions that would only benefit the oligarchs and their apologists and maintain the status quo,” Zarate said.

To see the importance of this campaign from another angle we only need to travel a short drive away because Bulacan is also home to a growing number of informal settlers from Metro Manila. Cost, space and closeness to the capital have made it attractive place for resettlement sites.

Consolidated data from the National Housing Authority, the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor, and Kadamay showed that there are around 36 housing projects located in 12 areas in the province, 15,000 of which lie vacant. Most of the sites are intended for informal settlers while 3 are for the police and military.

In 2016, the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) reported a large national housing backlog of 5.6 million units. But the National Housing Authority revealed that only 13% of the 50,000-plus houses built for the police and armed forces personnel had been filled.

It was these conditions that lead to the Occupy Bulacan actions lead by urban poor organisation Kadamay. On March 8, with International Women’s Day actions happening around the globe, Kadamay, lead by urban poor mothers claimed over 5000 empty government housing units in Pandi, Bulacan.

The action came on the heels of continuing government inaction on distributing housing units that have been unoccupied for at least 5 years.

Kadamay had previously attempted to weave through the bureaucratic channels to gain their demands.

In August last year, Vice President Leni Robredo visited the relocation sites and talked with Kadamay members in Bulacan about possible distribution of unclaimed houses.

In September, a unity statement was signed calling for social services for the poor, including free housing. The statement was signed by representatives of Kadamay, Anakpawis Partylist and the HUDCC.

One month before the action, a housing summit had taken place to attempt resolve the matter.

All of these failed actions helped convince many people that the occupation would be an important step in asserting their right to housing. Despite threats of eviction from no less than President Rodrigo Duterte, the movement has so far stayed put and forced him to both admit the righteousness of their cause. Only time will tell if this can be maintained but it provides a powerful example to many homeless and underserviced Filipinos.

But even with the occupation of the houses, the fight goes on. The residents must now fight for access to services, to jobs and against discrimination due to their social status and the false ideas they are asking for a “free ride” from the government.

But the problems of housing and land justice go beyond one lot or one occupation. They demand a dramatic policy redirection that is being pursued by the National Democratic Front in its peace talks with the Philippine Government.

As Kadamay Chairwoman Gloria Arellano has said, “If we allow land use conversions and corporate housing to continue, both rural and urban poor Filipinos will suffer. This reeks of ‘daang matuwid’ [Straight Path policy of previous Aquino government] politics which consistently favored profit over people”.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail