With every till of soil, sweat dripped, and hours endured under the scorching heat comes a plate filled with the labor of an unwavering farmer. For every grain of crop wasted feeding pigs, plunderers, and thieves lies a farmer who desires nothing more but to afford the same rice they spend months cultivating. They say farmers are the heart of all nations, but where’s the heart when the law steals their lives to convert them into yet another soulless apartment complex?
Land grabbing—a crime as old as time and a story that proves that privilege and cold hard cash can make even the supposed impartial hands of the law biased. This term, commonly seen in news about farmers, refers to land acquisition by governments, corporations, or individuals without the consent of the settlers or proper compensation. It involves the forced eviction of families, usually in the name of real estate development – and such instances have been increasingly prevalent in the Philippines as of late.
Last September 21, 2023, Barangay Anunas, a quaint community of Angeles City, Pampanga found itself gasping for air as demolition teams, together with the authorities, commenced their operation under the impression of legality and progress. This incident came after authorities, on September 11, 2023, claimed that the lot rights awarded to the resident farmers in the 72-hectare land of Barangay Anunas were being void and given to the interests of Clark Hills Properties Corporation. The residents also filed a “Motion to Quash,” a formal request to declare the aforementioned right decisions invalid.
Additionally, despite a petition to the Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudication Board (DARAB) to halt the demolition due to issues in the documents used by Clark Hills Properties Corporation, their concerns were completely disregarded. Like an unguided fire destroying everything in its path, rains of hammers engulfed the town as hopeless civilians watched decades of dedication and hard work be torn down in just a day.
In an article by Rappler, Clarkhills representative Gener Endona clarified that the 73-hectare land’s incorrect classification as residential led to the cancellation of the Certificate of Land Ownership Awards given through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. They explained that in terms of technicality, the land should have been categorized as “housing projects.” Due to this discrepancy, the court was able to execute the demolition in favor of Clarkhills – possibly displacing approximately 2,000 families.
What else can years of memories do when one hand is wiping down tears while the other is being cuffed by the police officers who took it upon themselves to become slaves of the affluent? Charmaine Estrada, a resident, also told Rappler that despite the mayor’s direct appeals to the police, the demolition proceeded. Angeles police personnel continued with their operations, which resulted in a violent protest after authorities utilised a truck to dismantle the barricade by the residents.
Turning their backs against people who wish nothing but to be heard, using excessive force and intimidation through full-on SWAT gear—like rabid dogs that bite the arms that feed them, state forces have once again proven that their loyalty can be bought and that empathy is their price to pay for their shiny pinned badges.
It was as if history repeated itself, or could it technically be history when it has been the everyday life for many Filipinos for so long?
Ka Melon Barcia, an agrarian leader and an advocate for the land reclamation in Hacienda Dolores, Porac from private landowners, was declared dead in 2014 after an ambush attack by armed men. Being Aniban ng Nagkakaisang Mamamayan sa Hacienda Dolores or ANIBAN’s former secretary, he bravely fought against real estate developers FL Properties and Management Corporation/LLL Holdings, Inc. (FL/LLL) and Ayala Land, Inc., to reclaim their 700-hectare lands in Hacienda Dolores and Sapang Uwak villages in Porac.. With four gunshots, three on the chest and one on the head, his lasting legacy was senselessly ended.
Another instance of cruel land reclamation can be cited within the Casiguran municipality of the Philippines, a struggle that started way back in 2007. The construction of the airstrip near the crucial fishing grounds of Casiguran Sound has tragically displaced hundreds of fishing families, compelling them to leave their homes. It even prompted 120 residents in 2012 to walk a distance of 300 kilometers in protest of what they referred to as “legalized land grabbing” surrounding the building of APECO, or the Aurora Pacific Ecozone and Freeport Authority. The residents cried that whatever progress would be attained from this ecozone would be done at the expense of the future of their families. Nearly two decades ago, issues surrounding the same controversy became the news headlines.
Almost 20 years and still, what do these have in common with Barangay Anunas aside from the thievery of lands? These operations were legitimized by the law. Often, corporations win over citizens because they have the financial resources to hire lawyers to help them manipulate the loopholes of the law, a situation Filipinos are all aware of.
Citing Barangay Anunas as an example, even if there were formal appeals, their voices remained ignored because governments tend to prioritize economic growth over residents’ rights. It’s the same situation with CARP. According to its provisions, Farmers must pay land amortizations for 30 years, risking forfeiture after three missed payments. Considering most farmers receive insufficient support from the government and are in debt, these laws inherently become anti-poor and a tool for corruption.
Whoever said jurisprudence is the verdict for moral finality must have never experienced what it is like to be a farmer unknowingly signing off his legacy to corporate developers. They must have never been exploited by someone who understands that the bind of contracts can cause the rich to legally steal from the impoverished. Sometimes, what satisfies the requisites of the law isn’t what is right at all.
While the future remains uncertain for Barangay Anunas and other affected areas, one thing is for sure, greed doesn’t care. There could be a newborn infant inside a house, and still, when money talks, it talks loud enough that it can mask all pleas and screams for humanity.