The thing with issues of land grabbing and farmers’ rights is that it always seems so complex, so historically bound to the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the 80’s, and too difficult to discuss without sounding like one is against development or feudalism, take your pick. It’s entirely possible that we do not discuss these issues at length lest we be called Leftists – and you know that is such a scary thing!
But there is nothing scarier than living in the land you inherited from your ancestors, land you’ve tilled all your life, and to now live on that same land with the guns and goons that new large-scale development brings. Such is the case of Hacienda Dolores in Porac, Pampanga.
Rewinding on land ownership
Hacienda Dolores only caught my attention when news of the shooting of three farmers on January 12 was posted on Facebook and other non-mainstream newspapers. Noel Tumali, Reynold Tumali, and Arman Padino were on their way to their farm when they were shot. Padino has since died, while the Tumali father and son remain in critical condition.
The following Sunday, January 19, farmers went to the security post of LLL Holdings Inc. (LLHI) – one of the developers of the land – and a confrontation ensued. Hacienda Dolores’s Village Chairman Antonio Tolentino, along with Ener Tolentino, Ed Tolentino, Erwin Tolentino and Eddie Tolentino were jailed and charged with a variety of offenses including malicious mischief and murder.
This is an escalation of the kind of violence that has been happening in Hacienda Dolores. In December 2013, farmer Modesto Posadas survived a shooting – an attempt on his life. Earlier that same month, a grenade was thrown into farmer Jessel Orgas’s home. In November 2013, one of the elders of Hacienda Dolores, Ruben Zalta, told the story of being threatened by 20 armed men to sign a waiver that would give up his land to developers.
It is not clear whether anyone was jailed and charged for these cases of coercion and harassment, and attempted murder, against the farmers of Hacienda Dolores. Farmers whose claim on this land go back more than a century, in 1835, when their ancestors cleared, farmed and developed it.
But in 2004, alongside the construction of the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEx), LLLHI and FL Development Coporation (FLDC) started to claim the same 700-hectare agricultural land. In 2005, the two corporations had the land titled.
The Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) had issued an Exemption Order that kept Hacienda Dolores from being covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). DAR’s Exemption Order also allowed for the land to be claimed and titled under the two private corporations, regardless of the farmer community that had developed it. The barangay captain of Hacienda Dolores helped this Exemption Order along, as Hacienda Dolores was reclassified based his certification that this was idle land (talahiban) without tenants.
Disputed land and development
No matter where we stand with regards agrarian reform and development, it should be clear that Hacienda Dolores is disputed land. It is land that farmers have been rooted in sine 1835. It is land that was developed and made productive by the community of farmers, and in 2004 was claimed and in 2005 was titled to two large private corporations. The circumstances under which this land was given to LLLHI and FLC was highly irregular, to say the least.
Now it might be said that the case of Hacienda Dolores is nothing new in a country where bigger corporations and families have gotten away with keeping their lands intact despite the CARP, which seeks to redistribute land to farmer-tenants. But what is distinct about the case of Hacienda Dolores is that no one family owned that land to begin with, and it would’ve been easier to award the land of the farmers. Instead it’s been given to two big developers, outsiders to the productive land, which was not at all talahiban.
Because really, were this idle land, why would the developers have to clear it of mango, guava and coconut trees, rice land and vegetable crops? If this were land that had no tenants, why was there a need to fence off the land to bar farmers from their crops?
My bigger question is why would Ayala Land talk about its new development in Porac— right on Hacienda Dolores – as if it is not displacing farmers and their families, a whole existing community? I always thought Ayala to be far kinder, far more compassionate, than most oligarchs in this country, and this is why this is not only a surprise to naïve old me, as it is absolutely offensive. Why be part of the task of displacing farmers and a farmer community, why be complicit in the injustice that has been happening in Hacienda Dolores?
The beauty of Hacienda Dolores
It is ironic that Ayala Land’s press releases about its new Porac development speak of Hacienda Dolores’s beauty and peace, when the task of building a “residential and commercial estate” has meant violence against farmers and their families, and I mean too the fact that they have been displaced, and have lost their means of livelihood since LLLHI and FLCD came into the picture.
With Ayala now talking about developing this piece of property, what we’ve gotten are some pretty words. Their press release calls the new development Alvierra, which is in the “peaceful agricultural town of Porac,” and describes Hacienda Dolores to be a “mix of hills, valleys and plains relatively quiet” and says that “majority of the land is still undeveloped with relatively rough terrain with natural pathways along the forested areas.”
Oh it sounds beautiful doesn’t it? Until we realize the number of farmer lives lost and the farmer community stunted in the name of Alvierra. It takes very little to see the blood spilled in the name of this Ayala development. That ground is red with blood.