“Bulacan used to be a sprawling agricultural land that guaranteed the economic and nutritional needs of immediate communities,” recalled Antonio Flores, chairperson of Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA). “Now it’s a site of landgrabs, development aggression, and hardship for the farmers displaced by fake urbanization.”
On May 12, the day after the death of Central Luzon peasant leader Joseph Canlas, UMA joined Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Bulacan (AMB), a local chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), in Brgy. Kaybanban, San Jose Del Monte in collective condemnation of state actions that resulted in his death.
Canlas had been chairperson of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Central Luzon (AMGL) with which AMB is affiliated, and led campaigns against land-use conversion that turned productive farmlands in Bulacan into desolate subdivisions, commercial centers, and even state infrastructure.
“The farmers of Bulacan understand the urgency of Ka Joseph’s struggle against land-use conversion,” narrated Flores. “The Aranetas, who own a devastatingly large part of San Jose Del Monte, have been conniving with different corporate landgrabbers—from Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation to the Villars of Vista Land—to convert farmlands into prime real estate, including some into parts of MRT-7. Ka Joseph had campaigned hard against the displacement of peasants from productive agricultural lands being converted into other uses.
DEVELOPMENT FOR WHOM?
Flores explained that the Marcos dictatorship had empowered the Araneta clan to grab thousands of hectares from the peasants of San Jose Del Monte. The fake land reform program initiated by former President Aquino exempted the land from being distributed to the farmers who actually made the land productive long before Marcos even came to power. Now, members and leaders of associations that made up AMB were receiving orders to vacate the farmlands they were occupying.
“UMA, AMB, and AMGL are not against development,” clarified Flores. “But we need to ask: whom is this development for? Turning rice fields into malls, vegetable patches into subdivisions, mango and coconut farms into train depots and intermodal terminals—this kind of ‘development’ does not benefit the peasants who make up the majority of the country’s population. And this certainly does not help guarantee food security in a time when the country faces a food crisis.”
According to the agri-workers’ federation, development aggression is a tactic of landgrabbers to pit common Filipinos against each other. While it was true that some development structures like those for housing and public transport could benefit the public, the damage they dealt the local peasantry was as unnecessary. Proper state planning with genuine regard for human rights could accommodate development without having to sacrifice livelihoods and food security at all.
DAR RESPONSIBLE FOR PEASANT DEATHS LIKE CANLAS’
“The bureaucrats who vilified Ka Joseph and had him jailed are so far detached from what actually goes on in peasant communities,” lamented Flores. “If the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) actually bothered to look into the situation of farmers in Bulacan, then it would listen to Ka Joseph’s arguments in favor of genuine agrarian reform rather than participate in landgrabbing and state terrorism.“
Flores echoed AMB’s complaint that, in spite of the Duterte regime’s criticism of Aquino’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), it nevertheless adhered to it dogmatically, especially to its loopholes. DAR had exempted San Jose Del Monte farmlands from being distributed to its tillers because of the angle it is sloped, refusing to consider the soil “arable.” The agency made this conclusion in spite of the area’s history of consistently yielding diverse, even organic, produce.
“The blood on their hands is not just that of activist-farmers who had been gunned down under the Duterte regime,” concluded Flores. “It is also the blood of farmers who’ve died from displacement and hunger. It is the blood of Ka Joseph who died of COVID-19 in jail—a virus he had contracted while in detention he did not deserve.”