June 14, 2007
The participants traveled by bus (and then climbed uphill) to Barangay San Jose, Antipolo City, Rizal. The area is a 58- hectare of hilly agricultural land located in Sitio Nagpatong. The land is owned by 42 farmers belonging to the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Bundok ng Antipolo (SAMBA) or the Association of Farmers in the Mountain of Antipolo, a member organization of PAKISAMA. Antipolo is famous for its historical, cultural and natural sites such as the Hinulugang Taktak Falls, Our Lady of Antipolo Shrine, festivals, resorts, and a view of the city from its hills.
The farmers started farming in the area in 1993, but because of lack of water, only some of them could stay full time, while others had to find off-farm work in the nearby cities. At present there are only 6 farming families who live full-time in the area. Some of the trees planted are mango, durian, star apple, etc.
To address the water problem, they have submitted an PhP 800,000 or more than USD 17,000- proposal to the Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF), a local funding facility. They decided to address the water problem even before the tenurial instrument has been secured so that more farmers can start planting on the land. Some farmers use an ingenious drip irrigation system to water the plants. However, at present, the area is only arable for 6 months a year using rain water.
Story of the First Settler
The first stop of the group was the house of Maximo Galicio (Ka Emong), the first settler in Barangay Jose and a member of SAMBA since 1993. Ka Emong, 47 years old, is one of the 6 families who now live in the area. He started to plant in 1994, going up the hill on weekends, until he finally settled there with his family of 10 children after 3 years. And he was able to raise all of his children through farming.
Ka Emong grew up in a farming family in Bicol. His father produced ‘tuba’, a local wine made from coconut. Farming is the only way of ‘life’ that he knows, and will probably continue to work on the land for the rest of his life. Life in Bicol was hard; thus, he decided to go to the capital to try his luck. He ended up living in Antipolo where he worked as a shoemaker, where he met his wife. But before they relocated to Barangay San Jose, his family and other SAMBA members lived in precarious conditions. Goons hired by a local landlord named Baltao terrorized the community where they lived. Demolition and shooting were the order of the day. One of their (SAMBA) members even died in one of the shooting incidents in the early 90s.
He recalled that the area they cultivated was filled with cogon, a coarse tall grass used for thatching. It took him and the others a year before they could plant fruit-bearing trees. Now, his land is filled with different plants and trees—fruit bearing, shrubs, and forest trees such as molave, mahogany, and narra. He said that he is now reaping the fruits of his labor.
And together with Ka Prot, one of the founders of SAMBA, he bought a water buffalo costing PhP 14,000 or more than USD 300 to use in the farm.
The Struggle of SAMBA for Land and Livelihood
The group then moved to the highest point of the hills where a small structure, which serves as the meeting venue of SAMBA, is located. The officials and members of SAMBA formally welcomed AFA, AsiaDHRRA and PAKISAMA to their area. This was then followed by a round of introductions.
Ka Samuel Fuellas, president of SAMBA, gave a historical overview of the struggles of SAMBA and why the organization is still fighting for land (see the table below).
Box 1. Case Brief
Barangay-level/family farming started in Sitio Banaba, San Luis, Antipolo during the early 70s when Marcos introduced the Green Revolution. In 1975, they formed the forerunner of SAMBA—the Samahang Ilaw sa Karimlan. At the outset, the organization (with 25 members) had no defined objectives. But the number of farmers increased in San Luis and this presented an opportune time for them to form the Banaba Farmers Association (BFA), which existed until 1983. The membership increased from the original 25 to 168 farmers. But in 1984, they membership drastically decreased to 31, mainly due to the physical harassments, demolitions and terror caused by Baltao’s goons. Baltao was a real estate developer with businesses in the Philippines and Spain (Natalia Realty, Inc.) who claimed that the land tilled by the BFA members was his. He filed numerous cases of illegal entry and malicious mischief in the mid-70s against BFA members but all of them were dismissed.
Due to this deluge of legal cases, BFA leaders sought the help of NGOs such as the ALG and SCAPS (a Catholic Church-affiliate) to conduct paralegal trainings, seminars on conflict management, organizing, and sustainable agriculture practices. BFA also started its advocacy work with relevant government agencies.
In the mid-80s, BFA changed its name to SAMABA (Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Banaba) or Association of Farmers in Banaba, and it later on expanded to other towns/villages, forming SAMBA, a town-wide farmers’ organization. SAMBA was then registered at the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1988 when the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law or Republic Act 6657 was enacted. The organization’s partnership with NGOs such as KAISAHAN and SALIGAN continued. In 1990, it became an affiliate of PAKISAMA. In 1993/94, the farmers relocated from Barangay San Luis to Barangay San Jose where 63.5 hectares of uphill land was awarded by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In 1995, the SMMPPI, an organization with members who came from the (subdivision) developed area of Sitio Banaba, was established. And in 1997, the Nagpatong Upland Farmers for Environment and Agrarian Reform (NUFEAR) was formed. Two years later, KMMP of San Ysidro united with SAMBA and this further strengthened the base of the latter.
At the height of the tussle between the BFA and Baltao in the 1980s, the Supreme Court of the Philippines passed a landmark decision more popularly known as the Natalia Doctrine. This doctrine formed the basis of a later decision, which upheld the “1997 Lungsod Silangan Reservation” covering 85,000 hectares. In that decision, the Supreme Court specified that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) does not apply in the reservation area for housing, forestry, etc. But using Presidential Proclamation 506, the farmers were able to claim 22 hectares of land by a certain Bautista under CARP. That law states that as long as there is agricultural activity in the land, it can be covered by CARP. Through this, the 58 hectares of land in Sitio Nagpatong has been awarded to the farmers of SAMBA under a Community Based Forest Management Agreement (CBFMA). This experience highlights the importance of research and investigation—making the law/legal system work for the farmers.
On the other hand, the farmers of SMMPPI based in Sitio Banaba have struggled for the last 14 years to own the 23 hectares of land. In 2002, a Court of Appeals decision allowed 42 agrarian reform beneficiaries to receive their Certificate of Land Ownership Awards (CLOA).
What Lies Ahead
At present, SAMBA farmers are still facing the difficulties of making their land productive. But they have changed their perspective— they are now more empowered to fight for their land tenure and the support services needed (such as water). The area itself is a good site for eco-tourism where students can learn about agriculture, farmers’ situations and agrarian reform issues.
What the farmers of SAMBA stressed is that the struggle for land is political, i.e. they need to organize, strengthen their rank and build alliances and use the agrarian reform law and the legal system in favor them. Political will both from the government agencies and the central government are needed to make CARP work.
Perspectives from AFA Comrades
After the presentation of Ka Samuel, the floor was opened for discussion.
Mr. Ho/TWADA asked whether there is a contract between the government and the farmers on the ownership of the land. Ka Samuel/SAMBA mentioned that a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA), allowing them to settle in the watershed area, between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) under Angelo Reyes and NUFEAR is being processed. According to him, this MOA is in the best interest of the government, as farmers can serve as stewards/protectors of the area. Ka Samuel also recalled that during the time of ousted President Joseph Estrada, they had a usufruct agreement/MOA with then DENR Secretary Cerilles. But this was cut short by Estrada’s impeachment and his ouster.
Yvoan/VNFU inquired about the market for their product—for domestic consumption or for export, and how they sell their product—collective or individual. SAMBA stated that transporting their products is a real problem, i.e. the distance from their land to the nearest wet/local market is 15 km and a taxing activity. Currently, they are selling their produce individually but they are already exploring how to collectively sell to the local markets. Their plan is that SAMBA as an organization will supervise the marketing and set up a market near Sitio Nagpatong. However, lack of capital and credit pose a big challenge in the implementation of this initiative. Their products include vegetables, fruits (jackfruits, banana), and root crops.
Mr. Sambito/API asked how NGOs and PAKISAMA assist them. Ka Samuel reiterated that SAMBA sought the help of organizations such as SCAPS, KAISAHAN and SALIGAN mainly for paralegal training and legal aid, documentation of their cases, and lobby and advocacy. PAKISAMA also helps them in lobby and advocacy, organizing and capacity building of their members.
Mr. Tith/FNN made a follow up query of how SAMBA will survive without the help of PAKISAMA. Ka Samuel stressed that SAMBA would able to stand on their own with the trainings they have received and with developing their leadership. But he also stated that building alliances and networking with like-minded groups (NGOs, religious institutions) remain important as a strategy.
Marlene/AsiaDHRRA asked how many hectares of land they were able to cultivate and how many remain idle and if they have plans to make them productive. Ka Samuel said that security of tenure/lack of titles is a big problem and the reality is they could not cultivate the 63.5 hectares without this. Rather than re-igniting conflict, their members have decided to see through the arduous and slow-paced process of obtaining land titles. Once this process is concluded in their favor, their farmers are more than ready to make the 63.5 hectares productive.
Mr. Sambito/ API made another intervention and asked the SAMBA leaders on why there are little crops planted in the area. Ka Samuel again pointed out that insecurity of land tenure is the main cause for this, even if they have entered the area in 1994. Competing claims for the land is very much real. And land classification is murky, i.e. despite the land being classified as public land/watershed area, there are private individuals claiming the 63.5 hectares. Ka Pedring de Naga, secretary of SAMBA, mentioned that the MOA with the DENR will be ready in 3 months time and they can finally claim the land and make it productive. Another problem is water/irrigation. As of the moment, SAMBA is trying to raise PhP 900,000 or USD 20,000 to set up an irrigation system or facility. Here, Mr. Ho made an intervention stating that they could not raise cows, given this condition. A cow drinks 3 gallons of milk in a day and lack of access to water would make it impossible to conduct dairy farming.
Finally, George suggested that AFA can send a solidarity statement/letter to DENR supporting SAMBA farmers’ claims.
Time to Relax and Socialize
The group was treated to a sumptuous meal of adobo (chicken marinated in soy sauce and vinegar), fried spring rolls, grilled fish, rice, and fresh fruits. After lunch, Esther thanked SAMBA for generously hosting the field visit and she wished them success in their struggles; she extended solidarity to SAMBA and presented gifts from AFA members. For documentation/souvenir, the group had a pictorial.
The group then traveled together to Marikina City for a visit to the world’s biggest shoes, exposure to the local economy (read: shopping) including drinking coffee in Figaro’s, a Starbucks-like but Filipino-owned coffee shop.