Résolution des conflits fonciers: études de cas aux Philippines
Cet article résume la nature des conflits fonciers aux Philippines dans le cadre de la situation prévalant actuellement sur le plan agraire à travers l'ensemble du pays. Grâce à une analyse des institutions agraires et des différents types d'évolution qui se sont produits dans certaines régions, il donne une description très générale de la situation actuelle. La mise en uvre du Programme général de réforme agraire, lancé par la Présidente Corazón Aquino en 1988, a été lente et deux études de cas décrites dans l'article font apparaître les obstructions et les difficultés que pose l'administration de la justice par la réforme agraire. Bien que les caractéristiques des deux études présentées et les contextes dans lesquels elles s'inscrivent présentent des différences, l'une et l'autre montrent le rôle important que jouent les organisations de la société civile, comme les organisations paysannes et les organisations non gouvernementales, en facilitant la résolution des conflits.
Solución de los conflictos por la tierra: estudios monográficos en Filipinas
Este artículo resume la naturaleza de los conflictos por la tierra en Filipinas, en el contexto de la situación agraria imperante en el país. El análisis de las instituciones agrarias y de la evolución de las distintas regiones ofrece una visión amplia de la situación actual. La aplicación del Programa Global de Reforma Agraria, introducido por la Presidenta Corazón Aquino en 1988, ha sido lenta, y los dos estudios monográficos descritos en el artículo revelan las obstrucciones y complejidades a los que hay que hacer frente al administrar justicia a través de una reforma agraria. Aunque existen diferencias en las características y contextos de los dos estudios presentados, ambos demuestran la importancia de los grupos de la sociedad civil, tales como las organizaciones de campesinos y las ONG, para facilitar el proceso de solución de los conflictos.
Executive Director, Philippine Developmend Assistance Programme
This article summarizes the nature of land-related conflicts in the Philippines within the context of the prevailing agrarian situation throughout the country. An analysis of the agrarian institutions and different types of development that have occurred in a number of regions provide a broad representation of the current situation. The implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), introduced by President Corazon Aquino in 1988, has been slow, and the two case studies described in the article reveal the obstructions and complexities that are encountered in the administration of justice through agrarian reform. Although there are differences in the features and contexts of the two cases presented, they both demonstrate the important role of civil society groups, such as peasant and non-governmental organizations, in facilitating the conflict resolution process.
It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon in April 1994 when Pablito Dante, a farmer leader of the Pecuaria Development Cooperative Inc. (PDCI), decided to go home after attending a short meeting of the cooperative's board of directors. That afternoon they had discussed the merits of the solution proposed by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) on how the 800-ha land could be divided between their cooperative and another group, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), who were also making claims on the land. Pablito argued that they had prior right to the land; after all, the FFF were really just settlers who came from another part of the province.
While walking back to his farm, Pablito was stabbed to death by some members of the FFF. This incident almost ignited a violent confrontation between the two groups that would have cost more lives. The government stepped in immediately and handed down its decision. The PDCI was awarded 700 ha, while FFF was given 100 ha. Today the two groups live in peaceful coexistence, but it has been at the expense of Pablito Dante's life.
This incident is an example of numerous agrarian-related land conflict problems in the Philippines. It demonstrates how the absence of conflict resolution mechanisms leads to violent and undesirable consequences. The main premise of this article is that land conflict is influenced by the prevailing agrarian situation. In the Philippines, land conflict stems from a condition where land reform is being implemented, albeit slowly and with much difficulty. The second major premise is that civil society groups play an important role in facilitating the resolution of land conflicts. The next few sections will attempt to examine the relationship of land conflict with the agrarian reform situation.
The core of agrarian reform is change. It is change resulting from the transfer of ownership from landowner to landless farmer, change from being formerly landless to being an owner cultivator, and change from being powerless to being empowered. Its very nature, therefore, easily becomes a source of resistance, dispute, controversy and conflict.
In the case of the Philippines, agrarian reform is being implemented by the state as a social justice measure to change the prevailing situation of unjust and inequitable ownership of land and resources by a few individuals in society. For hundreds of years, from the Spanish occupation of the Philippines in the 1500s to the present, agricultural lands have been in the possession of a few powerful landlords and corporations. The majority of people have remained as tenants, farm workers and landless agricultural labourers, a factor that has contributed to the poverty in the countryside. Land conflict stems mainly from agrarian disputes brought about by the prevailing agrarian situation.
Hayami, Quisumbing and Adriano (1990)1 relate three major sources of agrarian unrest in the Philippines to the social transformations that occurred in the evolution of the Philippine agrarian structures. First, the emergence of agrarian institutions in the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions in the Philippines represent disputes between tenants and landlords. Second, the development of the sugar industry in Luzon, based on tenanted haciendas, and then Negros Islands, based on centrally managed haciendas employing hired labour, represent confrontations between wage labourers and hacendero planters in traditional plantations. Third, the emergence of modern plantations and commercial farms in the southern island of Mindanao represents confrontation between wage labourers and corporate management in modern agribusiness plantations.
Landownership was communal in pre-Hispanic Philippine society. Land was owned by the barangay (village) and individuals had rights to use the land and make it productive. The Spaniards introduced private ownership through the granting of legal titles. Thus began the accumulation of land by indigenous elite groups in connivance with the Spanish authorities. Landlordism proliferated in the Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog regions, where the main crops planted were rice and coconut.
The transformation of smallholders to tenants was aided by the usurious and oppressive practices of landlords. Hans Bobek (1962)2 calls "rent capitalism" what arises from the commercialization of a feudal economy in such a way that the original claims of the aristocracy upon peasant services are transferred into more explicitly profit-seeking obligations. According to Bobek, "it is an absolute ideal of the rent capitalist to get as many peasants as possible into debt so permanently that with all their yearly payments they can never liquidate the initial debt, which soon becomes legendary." Being deeply mired in debt, therefore, has become a condition of tenancy and has added stress to the already strenuous landlord-tenant relationship.
It is not surprising that the early government land reform programmes from 1933 to 1972 were designed to address tenancy regulations and redistribute lands in the tenanted rice and maize areas. Yet, after almost 30 years of Marcos' Operation Land Transfer (OLT, in 1972), which sought to emancipate the tenant from the bondage of the soil, there still remain a sizeable number of tenanted farms that have not been placed under land reform. Approximately 50 000 ha, half of which are considered problematic, are still targeted for distribution from an original scope of more than 600 000 ha (DAR, Land Acquisition and Distribution Status as of 31 July 2001).
A more recent source of tension and conflict in OLT areas is the growing number of cancellations of emancipation patents or land reform titles under the OLT programme. Organized peasant groups have criticized the DAR for what it calls "land reversion" because the DAR bodies adjudicating the petitions made by the former landlords were cancelling land titles already given to farmers. The farmer who has been given the title has legal recourse to object to the cancellation. In most cases, farmers who have access to legal or paralegal support have better chances of winning their cases. Otherwise, the landlords are able to use their money and power to get their lands back.
The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), ratified by President Corazon Aquino in 1988, was hailed as an important piece of legislation because it went beyond the scope of previous land reform programmes by including in its coverage the acquisition and distribution of all private agricultural land regardless of the crop produced. Finally, there was hope that the thousands of hectares of land planted to sugar under the hacienda system that had been in existence since the time of Spanish occupation would be given to thousands of poor landless workers. But more than ten years after the implementation of CARP, the sugar haciendas, especially in the Negros Islands, have barely been touched. These haciendas continue to be the last bastion of feudalism in the Philippines.
The sugar industry in the Philippines employs more than half a million workers. The Spanish introduced sugar in the 1500s through the encomienda system, whereby lands were awarded by the colonial government to the church (friar lands) and to the local elite. The industry developed further when the Americans came and opened up trade with the United States. Sugar was booming until 1985, when a crisis hit the industry, the price of sugar went down and the Americans cancelled the sugar quota. Most hacienda owners were forced to sell or mortgage their properties or convert their farms to other commercial uses. However, for several years these planters had enjoyed accumulating profits that were then channelled to other investments. The hardest hit by the crisis were the farm workers, who belong, together with agricultural labourers in the sugar haciendas, to the poorest of the poor in the Philippines.
To illustrate the gravity of the slow-paced implementation of agrarian reform in the sugar haciendas in the Negros Islands, a report3 from the Regional Director of the Department of Agrarian Reform to the Under-secretary for Operations shows that, as of September 1999, in Negros Occidental alone, more than 90 000 ha of lands measuring 50 ha and larger had still not been distributed to farm workers.
Furthermore, in the same report, a section entitled "Problematics" refers to properties undergoing difficulties in terms of proceeding with the land reform process. These "problematic" lands constitute about 10 000 of the 90 000 ha. Hence, these problems are the causes of various forms of land conflict. For instance, problems relating to land that is subject to applications for exclusion and exemption from land reform, or applications for the conversion of land from agricultural to commercial and industrial uses, or where the landlord has protested against the coverage of his or her farm under the agrarian reform programme often lead to conflict between the landlord and the farm workers. The farm workers react to attempts by the landlord to evade the land reform programme. They counter these attempts by filing legal opposition with the DAR. The landlord retaliates by dismissing from the farm those workers who have signed up under the agrarian reform programme or filed opposition to his or her application for exemption and conversion. The dismissed farm workers then file complaints with the Department of Labour for illegal dismissal. Organized farm workers have the advantage of providing safety nets for fellow workers who have been illegally dismissed. They also have the advantage of extralegal action to force the government to act in their favour. However, farm workers who do not have access to organized action can become easy prey to recruitment by communist insurgents advocating armed struggle against the government.
The conflict in the sugar areas is such that the DAR has hundreds of cases docketed in its adjudication bodies. The case study on Task Force Mapalad, presented below, demonstrates how organized farm workers have used extralegal methods to achieve social justice through agrarian reform.
Mindanao, the southernmost part of the Philippines, is home to thousands of hectares of commercial farms and modern plantations. These farms are planted mainly to bananas, pineapples and rubber. Corporations such as Del Monte, Dole and B.F. Goodrich operate in the area. Although Philippine law prohibits landownership by foreign companies, these corporations have gained control over lands through lease arrangements or through local Philippine companies. A more recent phenomenon is a leaseback arrangement in which farmer beneficiaries of the agrarian reform programme surrender to the multinational corporation the use of their farm for a period of 10-15 years. In exchange, they are given cash advances equivalent to five years of the annual lease rate. This offer is especially attractive to farmers in need of cash.
The majority of conflict cases in commercial farms emanate from labour relations. Farm wage labourers are usually organized into labour unions that deal with the agribusiness corporations. Thus the most common issues include, among others, the provision of mandated wages and benefits, observance of fair labour practices and ensuring occupational safety.
Agrarian reform in the Philippines has a fundamental legal mandate. It is embodied in the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, which also emphasizes the importance of agrarian reform as a social justice programme that must be given priority by the government.
On 10 June 1988, President Corazon Aquino ratified Republic Act 6657, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). This law is considered to be an improvement over the earlier agrarian laws primarily because it covers all agricultural lands regardless of the crops produced.
The plight of farmers within the legal system was tackled in the first alternative law conference organized by the Alternative Law Group Network and the University of the Philippines College of Law.4 The conference identified three major problems obstructing the administration of justice through agrarian reform. These are: acute ignorance of the agrarian reform law by the legal system's key institutions; a muddled agrarian reform policy climate; and a bureaucracy that seems ill-prepared to carry out its mandated task.
An article in the conference proceedings, "Stalled: the legal struggles of farmers for agrarian reform", cites several cases where judges or justices have made comments and voiced opinions that show ignorance of the law. One example cited is that of a justice of the Second Division of the Court of Appeals who expressed surprise that a cooperative was eligible to become a beneficiary of the agrarian reform programme.
Even though Section 50 of RA 6657 clearly confirms that agrarian cases fall under the jurisdiction of the DAR, this has also proved to be as a contentious issue. Conflicts emanate from the filing of agrarian cases in the regular courts by landlords who naturally feel that they have better chances in the municipal or regional trial courts than with the adjudication bodies of the DAR, which are perceived, correctly or mistakenly, as biased towards farmers. The conflicts escalate when the regular courts entertain the cases, sometimes even issuing injunction orders against the DAR, instead of dismissing the cases at the onset.
The following sections focus on the response of civil society groups, in particular non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and farmers' organizations, to the situation of land conflict.
Negros Occidental, a province in the Visayas region of the Philippines, is the last bastion of landlordism in the country; in this province the government still has to show its political will in implementing agrarian reform. Many people have described Negros as a social volcano waiting to erupt. Indeed, the highest proportion of poor Filipino peasants live in a land where natural resources abound. Insurgency has thrived and is being fanned by the deteriorating economic situation of rural households. If agrarian reform is not implemented properly in Negros Occidental, the scale of conflict, between landlords and farm workers, between and among farm workers, and between the government and the peasant farmers, is likely to be unprecedented.
This case study concerns a provincial federation of sugar farm workers, called Task Force Mapalad, that has initiated advocacy campaigns that have made a significant impact on the implementation of agrarian reform in Negros, particularly in the resolution of agrarian cases. In addition, the workers' campaigns have influenced national government policies. Their activities are reported in national newspapers, are aired on radio shows and are seen on television screens. Their experience shows that farm workers and farmers must organize themselves as a sector and act collectively to resolve the root of all conflict, that is, their exclusion from their share of wealth and resources. The case of Task Force Mapalad shows that resolving land conflicts means knowing the language of power. It also shows that when farm workers, who have the strength of numbers, act decisively and exercise their collective power, then the state bends, gives way to their demands and allies itself with them against the landlord bloc.
The creation of Task Force Mapalad - in English "Malapad" means "being lucky" or "being blessed" - was an offshoot of a rural enterprise programme implemented by the Philippine Development Assistance Programme (PDAP), a national network of six NGOs. The programme was called Promoting Participation in Sustainable Enterprises (PPSE). When PDAP was implementing the programme in Negros Occidental, the results showed that enterprises were successful and produced income for households only when the farmers owned the lands. The initial success in the project sites attracted farm workers from other haciendas. Soon, PDAP offices were swamped with "walk-ins", or farm workers from neighbouring haciendas who were requesting the same type of assistance.
PDAP embarked on a subproject under the PPSE called Land Tenure Improvement (LTI). The project utilized a social technology that combined community organization at the hacienda level with community mobilization along each step of the agrarian reform process. Local community organizers who were farm workers themselves were trained to form people's organizations in each hacienda. The members of these organizations went through a process whereby they analysed their situation and studied the agrarian reform law and process. They then scrutinized the status of their hacienda in terms of the land reform process and identified the bottlenecks or the particular step where their papers had been blocked. For instance some would realize that the processing at the level of the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer (MARO) was taking a long time because the officer was delaying the compilation and completion of documents. The community organizer would then facilitate planning with the people's organization members for a course of action to force the MARO to act faster on the claim folders. In such a case, the members may decide to conduct a dialogue with the officer, picket the local office or conduct sit-down strikes to put pressure on the officer.
The project started in August 2000 with 40 haciendas, but by January 2001 the number of haciendas being assisted had grown to 100. More farm workers from neighbouring haciendas were joining because they saw that the activities of Task Force Mapalad were producing results. PDAP and the leaders of Task Force Mapalad developed tools such as tracking forms to monitor the progress of claim folders.
The cases cited in the tracking instrument illustrate how farm workers' organizations have confronted and resolved their land conflicts. For example, at Hacienda Kanlaon, the 98 farmer beneficiaries who were organized into the Kanlaon Uno farmers' organization participated in the CARP process until they were given the land titles. The remaining obstruction to the conflict was their inability to occupy and till the land because the landowner, despite several dialogues, would not allow them to enter the property. Finally, in February 2001, they entered the property as an organized group accompanied by officials from the DAR, the Philippine National Police, the local government unit and other support groups. They were successful in maintaining their hold on the land. To date, PDAP has provided credit for their sugar-cane production.
Not all farm workers, however, have been as fortunate as those at Hacienda Kanlaon, although there were positive developments in their cases from January to October 2001. The acceleration in the movement of their claim folders and the resolution of their cases were brought about by direct, active and militant engagement with the government. These actions included dialogues, pickets, office camp-outs and press conferences - "small but dramatic actions" that catch media attention and persistent follow-up of their issues. More often than not, actions such as these create tension and antagonism between Task Force Mapalad and the DAR, but in the end the DAR takes action.
Violation of the law and legal manoeuvres to avoid CARP. A major factor contributing to the continuing landlessness of many farmers or farm workers in the country, in general, and in Task Force Mapalad areas, in particular, is the unabated resistance of landowners to agrarian reform. This resistance is invariably manifested or exercised through: a) illegal means - such as actual or direct violations of the law - that have the net effect of dislocating farmers who could be agrarian reform beneficiaries; b) legal manoeuvres - characterized by the filing of (often groundless) cases designed to delay, if not completely forestall, the CARP acquisition and distribution processes; or c) a combination of illegal means and legal manoeuvres.
Actual or direct violations of the law resulting in the dislocation of farmers and farm workers include the illegal conversion of agricultural lands to non-agricultural uses, the actual or constructive illegal ejection of farmers, and/or the illegal actual or constructive dismissal of farm workers. In many cases, these acts are accomplished by force and intimidation, which are themselves illegal acts and direct encroachments on farmers' and farm workers' civil rights. These illegal acts and legal manoeuvres effectively delay or forestall CARP implementation.
Additionally, in the ordinary course of implementing the land transfer scheme of the agrarian reform programme, an entire range of tactics to delay or forestall the completion of the implementation processes has been and is being tenaciously employed. Included in this are the concealment of land titles and other legal documents needed in the land transfer processes, landowners' non-participation in mediation conferences, misrepresentations and various other tactics, some of which are characterized or brought about by corruption in the agencies involved in the implementation of the CARP.
Violation of the law and legal manoeuvres to reverse agrarian gains. In many cases, the distribution of lands to agrarian reform beneficiaries through the award of land tenure instruments is actually, or in jeopardy of being, "legally" recalled in favour of previous owners or their agents. As in the case of CARP- avoidance, the reversion of agrarian gains is perpetuated through illegal means or through legal manoeuvres.
An example of the use of illegal tactics is landowners' refusal to allow holders of a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) to install themselves on the land awarded to them. Accordingly, even after beneficiaries are issued their CLOAs, many landowners will not relinquish their possession and use of the land awarded. Beneficiaries are prevented from occupying and tilling parcels of land, which are already theirs, through the previous landowner's use of force and intimidation, particularly through the employment of armed guards.
On the other hand, the legal manoeuvres that are used to undermine the award of land to beneficiaries include the filing of often groundless cases for: a) CLOA or emancipation patent cancellation; b) conversion; c) CARP exemption or exclusion; d) agrarian reform beneficiary disqualification or exclusion; and e) nullification of the award.
Farmers' and farm workers' claim-making activities hindered by the lack of legal support and/or pertinent legal knowledge and skills. As with the enforcement of most reform measures in the country, the efficient and speedy implementation of the agrarian reform programme is undertaken only to the extent that farmers and farm workers press for action. This is a matter over which political observers have long been in consensus inasmuch as it is a hard lesson learned through experience by farmers and farm workers engaged in the lengthy struggle for a piece of land within the context of the government's agrarian reform programme.
Farmers' and farm workers' collective action for the implementation of the agrarian reform programme has reaped invaluable gains for the farming sector. It is noted, however, that owing to the "ultra-legalistic" approach in programme implementation, such collective action results more easily in concrete gains if there is legal support. Similarly, efforts for legal enforcement are sometimes thwarted by the lack of such legal support, when they could be accomplished by enlisting the support of a legal practitioner in combination with the development of farmers or farm workers as paralegals. As it is, the development of paralegals entails their training in the pertinent legal knowledge and skills that would aid them in various activities advocating agrarian reform.
Enforcement and protection of rights and redress of violations require pertinent legal knowledge and skills on the part of affected farmers and farm workers. As was mentioned above, the rights of farmers and farm workers are increasingly undermined through actual and/or direct violations committed by recalcitrant landowners or their agents. Redress for actual violations of farmers' legal and civil rights may be pursued in the proper lawcourts. However, farmers and farm workers are reluctant to file charges against their offenders for various reasons, particularly the lack of readily available (private) legal assistance. Their only option for this purpose is to demand that government agencies, particularly the DAR or public attorneys' offices, file the charges on their behalf. But the government response is usually unsatisfactory. First, a favourable response, whereby the government office agrees to pursue cases on the farmer's behalf, is not assured; and, second, more often than not, if there is a favourable response, it is not carried out with dispatch. Consequently, even in cases of positive action, the government response is criticized for being "slow-paced".
It is believed that the redress of wrongs committed against farmers and farm workers would be better facilitated if those made to suffer these wrongs were able to articulate properly the legal bases of their demand for redress. Not only do these "legal bases" include the specific provisions of the law that spell out the specific causes of the farmers' and farm workers' action; there is also provision for them to demand that certain government offices act upon their complaints in an efficient manner.
It is also emphasized that farmers and farm workers should have a direct role in the processing of their cases even if they have the representation of private or government counsel. The filing of cases is one matter; ensuring that farmers and farm workers prevail in these cases is another. Experience has proved, for instance, that gathering important pieces of evidence and ensuring that they are not lost or destroyed are better facilitated if these tasks are primarily under the responsibility of the farmers and farm workers themselves. They are in a better position to collect the relevant evidence owing to their proximity to the factual milieu of the matter under litigation. They are the ones who actually experienced the wrong committed against them and can identify witnesses and convince them to testify. Experience has also proved that when the farmers and farm workers concerned are involved in decision-making about how their cases should be pursued, they are more likely to make a good impression in the lawcourts.
Undoubtedly, the participation of affected farmers and farm workers in processing their cases is critical. It is also an empowering process in which those with a direct stake in the cases are not compelled by circumstances to leave their fate in the hands of their lawyers.
Finally, it should be noted that the applicable agrarian rules allow farmer-representation in certain cases and venues. A trained farmer-paralegal should be able to represent himself or herself and other farmers and farm workers in such cases, thus eliminating overdependence on lawyers.
Legal defence in cases filed against farmers and farm workers also requires their direct participation. The various cases that are filed by landowners to avoid CARP or to bring about a reversion of agrarian gains need to be resolved, but the farmers and farm workers affected by such actions must also have the opportunity to present their cases properly before the deciding authorities. In most cases, however, decisions are reached that are adverse to the interests of farmers and farm workers because their claims and defence have not been fully explained in the courts or agencies where the cases are lodged. Sometimes, the farmers and farm workers concerned are not even included as party-litigants.
It is believed that agrarian legal defence could be better effected with the participation of the farmers and farm workers. This can only be achieved if they are equipped with the fundamental knowledge of the pertinent laws and rules. In particular, the following benefits would result from farmers and farm workers being properly trained in the basic legal knowledge and skills relevant to their sector:
Policy reform initiatives should be actively undertaken by farmers and farm workers. It is a recognized fact that there are many existing policies in agrarian reform that stifle the programme's efficient implementation and defence. Policy reform advocacy is, therefore, essential. As regards alternative policies, these should be grounded on actual farmer/farm worker experience. Needless to say, policy reform is best approached through the initiatives of farmers and farm workers who experience at first hand the hindering factors of existing policies (e.g. overly tedious procedures in CARP implementation, processes and structures that are engulfed in bureaucratic red tape). It is essential that policy reform efforts entail the training of farmers and farm workers in the relevant legal knowledge and skills.
Negros Occidental is no haven for farmers wanting a piece of land. To date, it holds first place out of the 77 Philippine provinces in terms of acquisition and distribution of private agricultural lands.
The provincial peasant federation Task Force Mapalad has worked on people's initiative while taking on these realities. In 2000, its sustained campaigns for land tenure improvement achieved a number of important gains, including the installation of some 645 CARP beneficiaries at ten haciendas covering 974 ha; the generation and awarding of CLOAs to some 100 beneficiaries at three haciendas covering 400 ha; and the establishment and empowerment of 15 municipal organizations and 105 hacienda-based organizations.
These actual gains indicate that CARP can indeed be beneficial to its main constituents if the state is continually pressed to work effectively and if people are provided with a common venue in their collective struggle for land.
The Guingona estate is a 609-ha piece of land situated in the village of San Miguel, Maramag municipality, Bukidnon province in the southern part of the Philippines. It is owned primarily by Luis Guingona, brother of the incumbent vice-president of the Philippines, Teofisto Guingona. The remaining lots are registered in the names of corporations owned by the Guingona family, namely the Philippine Greenhills Development Corporation and the Tri-Tree Plantation Corporation. In 1989 the property was placed under the agrarian reform programme. The case revolves around the conflict between three groups of farm workers and farmers, all claiming to be the rightful beneficiaries of the land.
SMARBEFA is a group of landless residents in San Miguel, numbering 32 members, who applied under CARP to become beneficiaries of the Guingona property when the Municipal Agrarian Reform Officer was just beginning the process of farmer beneficiary identification in 1992. They were, at that time, the only farm workers at Guingona who had the courage to present themselves and be listed as potential beneficiaries.
Finally, on 28 February 1996, the Department of Agrarian Reform awarded the CLOA for about 98 ha of the Guingona property to the members of SMARBEFA. However, to date, they have not fully occupied and farmed the land given to them. The Guingonas, through their corporations, had filed cases in the DAR and in the regular courts to prevent the farmers from entering the area. Their legal opposition was based on three arguments: first, that there was no due process in the coverage of the land under CARP; second, that the DAR had failed to identify the correct beneficiaries; and, third, that they had a pending protest against the valuation of the property by the Land Bank of the Philippines. The legal tactics employed by the Guingona family were accompanied by the use of force, i.e. security guards were hired and the property was fenced off. To complicate matters, another group of farm workers belonging to a group called KAMMPhil physically entered the property previously awarded to SMARBEFA.
KAMMPhil stands for Kapunungan sa Mamumuong Mag-uuma sa Philippine Greenhills (Organization of Farm Workers in Philippine Greenhills). It is led by a farm worker named Joel Casas and is composed of farm workers who were initally unable to apply as agrarian reform beneficiaries.
Philtreed is a cooperative of farm workers employed by the Philippine Greenhills Development Corporation. It is the third group claiming to be the rightful beneficiaries to the land. This cooperative was at first perceived to be controlled by the landowner, Mr Guingona.
The basic issue among the three farmers' organizations is ownership and the possession of the 98-ha portion of the Guingona property. The property was placed under agrarian reform and, because SMARBEFA had participated in that process, they were awarded the CLOA. However, when the landowner filed a case that sought to nullify the SMARBEFA CLOA, all but three of the SMARBEFA members desisted from occupying the property for fear of being cited in contempt because of the pending case,
Meanwhile, members of KAMMPhil and PhilTreed were also claiming that they qualified as CARP beneficiaries because they were former Guingona farm workers. They made representations to the DAR to be included in the CLOA. But, while they were making use of this legal process, many of their members started occupying the 98 ha that SMARBEFA had not occupied. The members of SMARBEFA were alarmed by the sudden entry of the KAMMPhil and PhilTreed members into the contentious piece of Guingona property.
The three-way conflict caused tension in the area. Several violent incidents occurred involving members of the three groups. Each organization has "dug in" in terms of their demands and positions on how to resolve the issue. And, because none of the groups wanted to give way, the conflict has reached an impasse.
Lawyers from an alternative legal group called Balaod-Mindanaw and community organizers from a provincial farmers' federation called Palambu intervened in the conflict. The lawyers from Balaod provided paralegal training and training in negotiation and dispute mediation skills to the leaders of the three groups.
Balaod-Mindanaw and Palambu organized a series of dialogues among the three groups. Each organization was allowed three representatives, who were given the authority by their respective organizations to negotiate on their behalf. However, if there were major decisions to be made they had to consult their members. The Balaod-Mindanaw lawyer and Palambu organizers served as facilitators in the dialogue. The barangay captain (village chief) also attended the dialogues.
The key to reaching a consensus was to accommodate the interests of each group, which primarily centred on ownership of the land. In turn, however, each group also had to make concessions. For instance, the KAMMPhil and PhilTreed farmers were willing to abandon portions of the property they currently occupied if SMARBEFA would allow them to be included in the CLOA. The result would have been a reduction in the size of land awarded per farmer, i.e. probably 1 ha each instead of 3 ha. Agreement to this proposal would enable SMARBEFA farmers to gain entry into the property they own.
After five dialogues, the mutual gains approach seemed to attain a compromise agreement among the contending parties. The emerging consensus was the partition of the property into three parts - one area per organization. The remaining points for negotiation were the size and location of each partition. The final act was the signing of the agreement among the three parties to formalize and legalize the agreement. However, in a move that surprised everyone, SMARBEFA refused to sign the agreement. The negotiations reached a dead end.
The dialogues using the mutual gains approach have temporarily stopped. Balaod-Mindanaw and Palambu facilitators are evaluating the situation and attempting to bring the parties back to the negotiating table. Meanwhile, the barangay captain took matters into his own hands by calling on the leaders of KAMMPhil and PhilTreed. In the process, the two organizations forged a tactical alliance and made a resolution to enter the property at a future date and divide the land equally between them - a decision that would surely result in a head-on collision with SMARBEFA.
SMARBEFA, on the other hand, decided to wait for the court's decision on the case filed by the landowner. They were optimistic that they would win the case. Were that to happen, they would be granted the necessary orders and assistance from the court, the DAR and the Philippine National Police for them to be installed in the property. It was unclear, however, how they would evict the KAMMPhil and PhilTreed farmers without causing harm and damage to person and property.
The Guingona case exemplifies a land conflict situation where outside groups from civil society have stepped in to assist the contending parties in resolving the case. The necessary and appropriate interventions were made, from paralegal training to mediation using the mutual gains approach. Yet the failure to resolve the conflict stems from one important factor - the absence of a higher governmental authority in the mediation process. The barangay captain, while representing the government, was not invested with sufficient authority. The process would have been more effective if there had been a provincial- or national-level official from the DAR who could offer other options to the three groups when seeking a compromise solution. For example, KAMMPhil had stated that if land were available elsewhere they would pull out of the area. Only DAR officials would have the information and corresponding authority to pursue this option. Furthermore, higher-level officials could have used their powers to compel other government agencies to participate in the resolution of the conflict. At this point, perhaps it is not yet too late to persuade such an authority to intervene.
The two case studies above effectively elaborate the close connection between agrarian reform and land conflict in the Philippines. They reflect efforts by groups of farm workers and NGOs to confront and manage land conflict. Based on all these factors, the following concrete proposals are intended to spell out an agenda for action:
1 Hayami, Y., Quisumbing, M.A. & Adriano, L. 1990. Toward an alternative land reform paradigm: a Philippine perspective. Quezon City, Ateneo de Manila University Press.
2 Bobek, H. 1962. The main stages in socio-economic evolution from a geographical point of view. In P.L. Wagner and M.W. Mikesell, eds. Readings in Cultural Geography. Chicago, USA, University of Chicago Press.
3 Department of Agrarian Reform. 1999. Regional report on the status of lands above 50 hectares.
4 Alternative Law Group. 2000. Lawyering for the public interest. Conference Proceedings, Alternative Law Groups Inc.