Lupang Kapdula farmers assert their rights through collective land cultivation and creative action

January 18, 2022

The province of Cavite in Southern Luzon, Philippines contains hundreds of hectares of agricultural land, yet most of it is being illegally converted into gated subdivisions, resorts, and various real estate properties. Through the guise of land “development” and complicity with state bureaucrats, local corporations owned by elite families continue to aggressively displace communities and destroy productive farmlands not just in the Southern Tagalog provinces but also in the whole country.

As a result of this relentless accumulation of profit along with the government’s neoliberal policies and counterfeit agrarian reform programs, millions of farmers across the country are further pushed into hunger and debt. They face repression and violence from the state yet they continue to survive through protest and bungkalan, collective and militant cultivation of idle or disputed lands for the sake of their own food security. The farmers’ struggle in Lupang Kapdula is no exemption.

An inconspicuous entryway in a forested area along Aguinaldo Highway in Dasmariñas, Cavite leads to Lupang Kapdula. Farmers have been tilling this 155-hectare piece of land since 1976. It was in 1991 when the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) awarded Certificates of Land Ownership (CLOAs) to agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) in the area yet such only remains a lip service. The CLOAs were cancelled and the farmers were deceived into a Joint Venture Agreement scheme involving “land developers” JAKA Investment Corporation, South Cavite Land Company Inc. (SCLCI), and Sta. Lucia Realty Development Inc. JAKA Corp. is known to be a property of the family of landlord and politician Juan Ponce Enrile.

In 2007, 62 of the ARBs were displaced from the land through unscrupulous means, while the SCLCI continues attempts to drive out the 100 families tilling Lupang Kapdula. In January 2021, DAR gave away 30 hectares to Mesilo Nueva Vida Subdivision, while more farm lots are being converted as JAKA and Sta. Lucia Realty continue to expand their operations. It was after this period when the security agency hired by SCLCI closed the gate leading to a farm-to-market road, as well as access to the water tank.

From Aguinaldo highway, it takes a 20 minute-hike through muddy slopes, steep footpaths, and a river to get to Lupang Kapdula. There is no electricity aside from a petroleum generator, and there is a lack of a proper water irrigation system. Basic utility services are being denied from those who plant our food, all to give way to the interests of realty corporations.

“Farm-to-market road. Do not block the road, and give it to us,” says Davelyn Corpuz, a woman farmer who took after her father in working on the fields of Kapdula. She explains that years ago her father was one of those who did not receive a CLOA from the government. “This road is our primary demand because through this, we will have electricity and water, and we’ll be able to transport our goods.”

Continuing livelihood remains a gamble for the farmers because on top of the natural risks and calamities involved in crop production, market demands controlled by transnational agri-corporations favor imported varieties, which are hard competition for the farmers’ local crops. The influx of imported agricultural products is enabled by government neoliberal policy such as the Rice Tariffication Law, dragging down the price of palay (10 pesos per kilo at the lowest), further hurting the local rice and crops industry, and pushing farmers into debt and misery.

While harvesting string beans with her children, Corpuz points to her brother’s farm lot, “My brother has a lot of papaya trees, but he can’t harvest the fruits because first of all, there is no one to offer them to, and even if someone wants to buy it, how much is a kilo of papaya anyway? It has dropped to seven pesos. If he brings the papaya to the market, it’s as if he just gave them away, because he has to pay for delivery and labor.”

“This is why our demand is access to the road! So that we can properly transport our goods to the market.” Corpuz is one of the many women farmers in Lupang Kapdula who have been doing bungkalan in order to support their families. Through their local organization SAMAKA (Samahang Magbubukid sa Kapdula), they have currently allotted a hectare of communal land where they plant rice and vegetables to secure their food supply especially during this period of pandemic and crisis. Their organization has also come up with a system of carabao-lending and cheap rentals of farming tools for those who lack them.

The Kapdula farmers’ collective cultivation or bungkalan not only addresses their food security but also more crucially becomes a form of resistance against state-sponsored violence and harassment.

In August 2021 when Cavite was placed under Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), South Cavite Land and Sta. Lucia Realty imposed strict security measures in the area, preventing farmers from planting in their farm lots located inside Mesilo Subdivision premises. The rules also stated that the farmers are not allowed to conduct any form of organizing, rally, protest, or meeting against SCLCI, Sta. Lucia Inc. and/or their representatives. The farmers also face harassment and intimidation from JAKA-backed Sigma Security Agency who destroy their crops and huts.

Amid worsening human rights violations and redtagging against peasant organizers, Kapdula farmers continue to assert their rights to genuine agrarian reform, to reclaim land that is rightfully theirs. Aside from the women, the youth play a crucial role in defending their communities. The young farmers of Lupang Kapdula have developed ways of organizing and educating themselves through art-making, theater workshops, and educational discussions about the plight of their land.

Through TEKAMUNA (Teatro Kabataan Mula sa Nayon), a cultural organization mobilizing youth farmers, fisherfolk, and indigenous people, the youth of Kapdula empower themselves through songs, theater plays, mural-making, and performance. One of them shares, “Youth farmers play an important role in portraying their struggle for land, to show how they experience landgrabbing and displacement. They show their struggle by enacting plays and performing in mobilizations and protest actions. This is why young farmers who are artists have a crucial role in amplifying the farmers’ struggle. We use music and theater because we want to promote a nationalist and scientific culture and put it into practice.”