The Philippine Government showed commitment to fast-track land distribution in Hacienda Matias, Quezon Province, in order to guarantee the right to adequate food of the farmer beneficiaries and their families.
San Francisco, Quezon, Philippines – The dream of many is to have a house, a car and a well-paying job. But the dream of people living on the margins, like the farmers in Hacienda Matias, is modest — to have sufficient food on the table.
Access to land means access to food and proper nutrition. However, incomplete land distribution under the national agrarian reform program as well as harassments and intimidation by the former landowners denied the farmers’ access to land in Hacienda Matias for over a decade. The government’s inadequate land distribution process has resulted in the violation of the fundamental human right to food, the right to be free from hunger and to live a life with dignity.
On July 2, 2015, the Philippine Government resumed the land installation process in Hacienda Matias, a major step toward fulfilling the right to adequate food of the farmer beneficiaries. However, agrarian reform has yet to be fully completed as there are still over 200 farmer beneficiaries waiting for their land, living in hunger and poverty.
Food and Nutrition Situation
Rice is the staple food in the Philippines. Yet, due to the people’s weak financial capacity, this basic staple is not always affordable for the farmers in Hacienda Matias since the price of one kilogram of rice is PHP45, about PHP 10 higher in their area than in the closest town, San Francisco. Moreover, the town is not only far (15 kilometers) but also inconvenient and expensive for most farmers because of poor infrastructure.
Strong resistance from the former landowners prevented the farmer beneficiaries from entering their newly-acquired land. As a result, they could not harvest their crop and had to rely on alternative sources of livelihood. But due to the positive developments in the land distribution process, those farmer beneficiaries who re-gained their land can finally make full use of it as their main source of income. Others, who do not own their land yet, have still difficulties to feed themselves and their families adequately.
One of the villagers, Amalia Ortega, says that “kapag may huling isda, may pambili kami ng bigas”. [If there is fish catch, we have money to buy rice.]
If the sea is not too rough, the men go fishing and the women sell or exchange self-produced tingting (brooms) or tuyo (dried fish) with kamote (sweet potato) or rice at the sari-sari store (neighborhood store) or in town. With the start of the rainy season, it becomes more difficult to go fishing, hence, many farmers are forced to leave their home to find work in other farms or cities as house helpers or construction workers.
Due to a lack of income, the household food supply becomes insufficient and the vast majority of the farmers loose important nutrients. If there is no rice, the farmers’ meals are limited to fish, root crops and bananas. As vegetables for example that are rich in vitamins and minerals are not easily available for the farmers because there is no market in the area, the farmers combine rice with toyo (soy sauce), ginamos (bagoong/shrimp paste) or mais (corn) to make meals more diversified although still poor in essential nutrients.
Vegetables are only available to farmers who are able to plant them in their backyards. While some farmers were able to install deep wells as a source of drinking water, others have to rely on their neighbors for their potable water needs.
Inadequate diet causes serious effects on the farmers’ health. Children become susceptible to common colds and skin infections. However, the closest health center is not only far, its medical supply and personnel are also often insufficient and if available, costy for the farmers.
As a consequence of their low income, many farmers have also difficulties affording the basic education of their children. They do not have the means to spend for their transportation expenses to school (a distance of two to three kilometers), school supplies and food allowance.
Struggle for Land
Since over one decade, the farmers in Hacienda Matias have been demanding for their right to land under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), a social justice measure to guarantee the right to food and nutrition to the rural population through land distribution. In their struggle for land, they faced not only hunger and poverty, but also fear due to harassments and intimidations by the former landowners.
“Noong wala pa kaming titulo, hindi kami makapag-copra kasi hinaharang ng mga goons ni Matias. Ngayon naman na may titulo na, hindi pa rin kami makapag-copra ng tuloy-tuloy. Sa pagkokopra ko sa sarili kong niyugan ay may kaso ako na qualified theft. Matindi ang harassment sa amin at sana ay masolusyunan na ito ng gobyerno. Kapag lagi nilang aagawin ang kopras namin, magugutom ang pamilya namin”, says Lemnar Luna. [Before, when we did not have titles yet, we could not harvest our copra because we were prevented by the goons. Now even if we have our titles, we still could not produce copra continuously. Even as I produce copra on my own land, I am charged with qualified theft.
Police officer is facing the steel gate during DAR’s first installation attempt, May 15, 2015 © Astrud Lea Beringer / FIAN Philippines
After over four weeks of camping-out in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) head office from May to June, to push for the fulfillment of the right to adequate food and nutrition, the remaining 69 out of 283 farmer beneficiaries who have been awarded with land titles in December 2014 were successfully installed in the land in Hacienda Matias on July 2, 2015.
The only entrance by land, a steel gate that was established by the former landowners many years ago and turned into a wall after the first failed installation attempt by DAR on May 15, 2015 was finally dismantled and removed – a historical moment for the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias.
Before, children were forced to climb over the gate on their way to school or pass through barb wired fence, causing scratches and bruises.
The establishment of a police and military detachment inside the hacienda that should be maintained for 15 days after the installation is supposed to guarantee necessary protection to the farmers. The installed farmer beneficiaries are now able to harvest peacefully. However, the agrarian reform process has yet to be fully completed as there are still over 200 farmer beneficiaries waiting for their land. By fully implementing agrarian reform, the government will show strong political will to end the decade-long land struggle in Hacienda Matias.
The Right to Adequate Food
All human beings are entitled to enjoy the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition. The Philippine government is obliged to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate food as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to which the country is a State Party. Therefore, under the CARP, the government is duty-bound to uphold the right to adequate food of the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias by fast-tracking the land distribution process and providing necessary protection measures until the farmers are able to produce their crop peacefully.
Notwithstanding the recent successful installation, the land struggle has not yet ended. The right to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right and has to be secured for the 500 farmer beneficiaries and their families in Hacienda Matias.
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FIAN Philippines together with FIAN International have expressed their solidarity with the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias in a joint statement. They have called on the government of the Philippines to finally complete this decades-long struggle for agrarian reform that serves the right to adequate food