Judicial harassment vs land activists in the Mekong Region on the rise

Using the courts and legal system, governments and private corporations are intensifying the persecution of land rights activists in the Mekong region.
Civil society calls for release of detained land activist Tep Vanny who was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison by Cambodian court (Photo: CCFC)

Land rights activists face different forms of harassment to discourage them from continuing their advocacy. In the Mekong Region, where large-scale land grabbing has displaced thousands in the past decade, judicial harassment is increasingly being employed by governments and private individuals and entities alike to silence resistance to projects which threaten to evict entire communities from their homes and sources of livelihood.

Cambodia: Legal system as muzzle

In Cambodia, where more than two million hectares of agricultural land has been given away to both domestic and foreign investors through economic land concessions, the judicial system, according to human rights group Licadho, “is used as a muzzle against those whom the government deems a threat.” According to the group, the rise in the number of land and human rights defenders being “slammed with baseless charges, summonsed to court… and even imprisoned” started in 2015.

August 15 marks the first year in prison of Tep Vanny, a land rights activist who figured prominently as a member of “Boeung Kak 13,” a group of 13 women who actively mobilized their communities against a real estate development project around the Boeung Kak Lake in Phnom Penh that displaced around 4,000 residents.

Tep Vanny and three others were arrested in 2011 during a protest to demand proper resettlement and compensation for the affected residents and were charged with “obstruction of a public official with aggravating circumstances” and “insult” under Articles 502 and 504 of Cambodia’s Penal Code. In 2013, she was arrested again, this time with fellow activist Bov Sophea, and charged with “intentional violence with aggravated circumstances” under Article 218 of the Criminal Code for her involvement in a protest in front of the Prime Minister’s house. She was arrested for the third time on August 15, 2016 for participating in one of the “Black Monday” protests calling for the release of detained activists and for justice for assassinated political analyst Kem Ley. She was convicted of “insulting a public official” under Article 502 of the Criminal Code and sentenced to six days imprisonment.

After her most recent arrest, old cases against Tep Vanny were reopened and in September 2016, she, along with Boeung Kak 13’s Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom, and Kong Chantha, were sentenced to six months in prison for the 2011 case. Five months after, she was sentenced to two years and six months in prison for the 2013 case, in a conviction upheld by the Court of Appeals only this August 8.

The activist’s legal persecution, according to Human Rights Watch, was intended not only to silence her, but to intimidate other activists. Laws are constantly created and amended for this purpose, and since 2014, Licadho has recorded the enactment of at least six repressive laws “specifically aimed at closing off space for civil society, delegitimizing the work of human rights defenders and harshly punishing expression and dissent.”

Thailand: Targeting women land activists

In Thailand, several local and international human rights groups including the United Nations (UN) and Amnesty International, have raised concerns over the increased harassment of human rights activists, “especially those working on land issues or with community-based organizations.” Rural-based women activists, in particular, have increasingly been targeted by the government especially after the May 2014 coup d’etat, using existing and newly introduced laws and decrees.

Supap Kamlae is currently serving a six month jail term for “trespassing” a forest area. She and her husband – disappeared land activist Dem Kamlae – had been leading their community in the fight for legal title for the land they have long been occupying but was declared by the government as a protected area in Chaiyaphum Province. They, together with dozen other villagers, were arrested in July 2011 and charged under the National Forest Reserve Act. The others were acquitted in August 2012, while Supap and Dem were convicted. The two were released on bail pending decision on an appeal on their case, and after delays due to complications related to the disappearance of Dem in April 2016, the court upheld the original decision in July 2017.

Similarly, seven women members of the anti-mining group Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) in Loei Province, are being subjected to judicial harassment, and face up to five years in prison as well as a 10,000 baht (about USD 293) fine if convicted. On July 25, Pornthip Hongchai, Viron Rujichaiyavat, Ranong Kongsaen, Mon Khunna, Suphat Khunna, Boonraeng Srithong, and Lumplearn Ruengrith were indicted under Articles 8 and 24 of Thailand’s Public Assembly Act and Article 309 of the Criminal Code for leading more than 200 KRBK members and villagers in a peaceful action in November 2016 to demand community participation in the decision regarding the operations of the Tungkum gold mining company. The case against the seven is only one of the 21 criminal and civil complaints against the Loei villagers, 19 of which were filed by the company, including a defamation case against three of the seven women which was dismissed by the court in March 2016.

Members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd (KRBK) peacefully protesting against the Tungkim gold mining company’s operations in Loei Province. (Photo: Protection Online)

Vietnam: Rise in land confiscation and persecution

Vietnam, on the other hand, “has a long history of persecuting anyone the ruling Communist Party deems threatening to its monopoly of power,” according to Human Rights Watch. As of January 2017, the group has recorded at least 112 individuals in prison for exercising their rights to basic freedoms such as to expression and association.

Judicial harassment, however, has further intensified with the recent real estate boom in the country as government confiscation of land for public and private development projects, more often than not without proper compensation, is increasingly met with resistance from “dan oan” or people affected by such projects, despite the risk of imprisonment.

Farmer and land activist Can Thi Theu was sentenced to 20 months in jail in September 2016 for “disrupting public order” under Article 245 of the country’s Penal Code for joining peaceful actions against land confiscation in the province of Duong Noi. That was the second time she got arrested for participating in such actions: In April 2014, she and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were arrested for photographing and filming the forced eviction of communities in the said province, and were charged with “resisting against those who are on public duties” under Article 257. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison, while her husband, to 18 months.

According to human rights groups, “broadly and vaguely worded” provisions in the 1999 Penal Code are often used to detain, prosecute, and imprison activists and dissidents in Vietnam. Articles 79, 88, 257, and 258, which carry lengthy jail sentences, and in some cases, lifetime imprisonment, are the most often used.

Vietnamese blogger Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh (L), aka Mother Mushroom, stands trial at a courthouse in the city of Nha Trang in south-central Vietnam’s Khanh Hoa province, June 29, 2017. (Photo: AFP/RFA, www.rfa.org)

In July 2017, Tran Thi Nga, a vocal critique against land confiscation, was sentenced to a nine-year jail term and five years of house arrest for “conducting propaganda against the government”, a crime under Article 88 of the Penal Code. The same charges were made against Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quynh, a blogger and human rights activist. Better known as “Mother Mushroom,” she was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for commenting on social and political issues on various social media platforms.

More land grabs, more harassment

The use of judicial harassment against land activists in the Mekong Region has reached an alarming rate. Laws and judicial processes, instead of protecting citizens, are being used to arrest and imprison those asserting and fighting for land rights in Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In a blatant abuse of authority and power, fabricated and baseless charges are made and unfair (and sometimes fake) trials are held in order not only to silence current opposition, but to discourage any future resistance. With large-scale land grabbing in the region showing no signs of abating, judicial harassment against more land rights activists could further intensify in the coming years. ###

#NoLandNoLife Features discuss recent developments, events, and trends on land and resource grabbing and related human rights issues in the region as well as the factors and forces that drive it. Send us your feedback at nolandnolife@panap.net.

One killed every week for defending right to land in the Philippines

Of the 68 victims of extrajudicial killings during the first year of the Duterte administration, 66 were farmers, farmer-community leaders, and land rights activists. This translates to more than five killed every month or at least one every week in the past year.
Peasant groups in the Philippines are up in arms over the spate of extrajudicial killings in the country (Photo: KMP)

Since it assumed power in July 2016, the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been earning criticisms from the international community for its blatant disregard for human rights. A particular concern is its bloody war on drugs, which has reportedly killed several thousands already mostly from urban poor communities in the capital.

Equally alarming but unfortunately getting far less attention is the State’s continuing war against the country’s peasantry, the biggest and yet the most neglected and marginalized sector of Philippine society.

Of the 68 victims of extrajudicial killings during the first year of the Duterte administration, 66 were farmers, farmer-community leaders, and land rights activists, according to a report by the national human rights advocacy group Karapatan. This translates to more than five killed every month or at least one every week in the past year.

It is not surprising, therefore, that Global Witness, an international group campaigning against human rights abuses, has declared the Philippines to be among the world’s most dangerous places for land and environmental defenders. In 2016 alone, the group has monitored 28 cases of killings, the third highest figure recorded, next only to Brazil and Colombia.

Most farmer killings occurred in agricultural regions where there are ongoing land disputes between farmers and local landlords or big agro-business and mining companies such as Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Negros, Panay, Caraga, Southern Mindanao, Northern Mindanao, and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Most of the victims were community leaders or members/officers of local peasant and indigenous people’s organizations affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP), fighting for genuine land reform and resisting the loss of ownership and control over their land and resources.

The first victims of extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration were three farmers belonging to the indigenous group Higaonon from Sumilao, Bukidnon in Mindanao. Raymar Mayantao, Rogen Sindangan, and Cenon Nacaytona were shot dead on July 12, 2016 – just twelve days after the new president assumed office – by 13 security personnel hired to guard a ranch operated by Ramcar Inc. The three, together with others from their tribe, set up camps inside the ranch in an attempt to reclaim the 2,400 hectare-land granted to the company which they claim as part of their ancestral domain.

Similarly, on September 3, farmers Baby Mercado, Violeta Mercado, Eligio Barbado, and Gaudencio Bagalay were killed in Palayan, Nueva Ecija, after members of the AFP opened fired at them and other members of Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid na Nagkakaisa 3100 or Alliance of Farmers United (ALAMANA 3100) participating in the “bungkalan” or collective farming inside the 3,100 hectare-land declared in the 1990s by the government as part of its land reform program to which all the members are beneficiaries. The land, which is part of the Fort Magsaysay military reservation, however, is being eyed as the relocation site for the New Bilibid Prison (NBP), the country’s national penitentiary.

Duterte’s “all out war” vs the NPA and the declaration of martial law in Mindanao

Human rights and peasant organizations point to the military, paramilitary groups, and private security of landlords and companies as the alleged perpetrators of the killings. Independent monitoring by Karapatan and its nationwide network attributes more than half of the killings to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) conducting counter-insurgency operations against the rebel group New People’s Army (NPA).

Karapatan blames the  government’s counter-insurgency program “Oplan Kapayapaan” and its predecessor “Oplan Bayanihan” for the killings of indigenous people and peasants, and the forcible evacuation of communities that the military tag as NPA supporters, as well as the illegal arrests and detention of activists. (“Bayanihan” is the Filipino word for communal unity and cooperation while “Kapayapaan” literally means peace.)

The state-perpetrated killings further escalated after the AFP declared an “all out war” against the NPA on February 2. Since then, 41 farmers – or, in the estimate of peasant group KMP, one farmer every two days – have been killed.

Only a day after the declaration, two indigenous farmers were killed: Matanem Lorendo Pocuan and Renato Anglao, both from Bukidnon province in Mindanao. Pocuan was a respected elder of the indigenous Omayam/Matigsalog tribe greatly opposed to military operations in his community and tagged by the AFP as an NPA supporter. He was shot at close range by a member of the paramilitary group Alamara. Anglao, on the other hand, was a leader of a mass organization of the indigenous Manobo-Pulangion tribe opposed to the entry of agri-business plantations in their ancestral land. He was shot by three unidentified men on board a motorcycle.

Lorendo Borres and Ian Borres, on the other hand, were killed by members of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) themselves, who indiscriminately fired at them and five others while resting after a day of work on their corn field in Maayon, Capiz, on February 24. The said unit claimed them to be members of the NPA, an allegation that their families denied.

The declaration of martial law in Mindanao on May 23 due to the activities of a local armed group in Marawi City claiming connection with the international terrorist group ISIS raised fears among human rights and peasant organizations of greater military harassment, abuses, and violation of the human rights of farmers and indigenous peoples. Mindanao, ironically where President Duterte is originally from, is home not only to resource-rich ancestral land but to peasant and Lumad (indigenous people) struggles against big agri-business and mining operations. More than half of the extrajudicial killings in the past year occurred in Mindanao.

Through “Bungkalan” or collective farming and land occupation, Filipino farmers assert their right to land (Photo: KMP)

Lack of genuine land reform

Filipino farmers have historically been among the most neglected and marginalized in society. The political and socio-economic structure in the Philippines makes farmers, together with the indigenous peoples, the first victims of land-dependent, capital intensive projects undertaken either by local landlords, domestic and foreign companies, or the State.

During the campaign period, Duterte, who is the country’s first President from Mindanao, sought the support of farmers with his promise to fast track the distribution of agricultural lands under the 30-year-old Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). Immediately after winning the elections, he appointed as head of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) a prominent national peasant leader with a proven track record in promoting and defending the rights of poor farmers. This move earned the praise not only of those from the peasant sector, but also of those advocating for the farmers and land rights in the government, non-government organizations, and the academe.

It’s been one year since Duterte came to power, but for groups like KMP, no real change has occurred. Indeed, instead of securing their ownership, control, and access to land, more farmers and indigenous peoples are experiencing different forms of human rights violations. Haciendas and other large landholdings remain intact while huge tracts of productive land continue to be converted for non-agriculture use.

These disputed lands serve as battlegrounds for the Filipino farmers’ struggles – a conflict that has already claimed many among their ranks. But it is also a conflict that will persist and the farmers will have to face as long as landlessness and injustice remain. ###

#NoLandNoLife Features discuss recent developments, events, and trends on land and resource grabbing and related human rights issues in the region as well as the factors and forces that drive it. Send us your feedback at nolandnolife@panap.net.

PANAP expresses solidarity with Indonesian farmers violently dispersed during assembly vs. displacement

(photo by AGRA)

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) expressed solidarity with its partner organization Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA) in calling for the Indonesian Government to respect and protect the rights of farmers, among them, to freely assemble and to seek redress of grievances. This call came after the violent dispersal by the police of the peaceful action being held by AGRA members and farmers at the office of the East Lombok Regional Representative on July 24, to request for the revocation of the industrial forest concession (HTI) permit issued to agri-industrial company PT Sadhana Arifnusa.

(photo by AGRA)

Several farmers sustained injuries while two others were arrested during the dispersal. The arrested farmers – Samboza Hurria, member of Sekraend AGRA NTB Region, and Hulafaurrasyidin, head of FMN Branch Lotim – were later released.

The Ministry of Environment and Forestry issued PT Sadhana Afirnusa an HTI permit in 2011, which covers 1,883 hectares of land, including 602 hectares in Sambelia district belonging to farming families who have been occupying the area since 1997 and granted management rights in 2007. The company began clearing forest areas in 2012 without consultation or communication with the original occupants and has since then been converting huge tracts of agricultural land into industrial plantations, expelling dozens of families from their homes and sources of livelihood along the way.

(photo by AGRA)

The farmers resisted the appropriation of their lands but the company employed intimidation, abuses, vandalism, arrests, among others, against them, often with help from the local government and the police. So far, 35 farmers have been arrested, one of whom died while in detention.

Large-scale land grabbing such as that by PT Sadhana Arifnusa has been intensifying in Indonesia. It is increasingly disrupting the lives and livelihood of farmers, as well as, of indigenous peoples all over the country. PANAP sincerely hopes that the Indonesian Government will heed the call of AGRA and implement pro-people measures that will protect the rights of the marginalized sectors against both domestic and foreign land grabbers. #

Acceptance speech: PANAP Executive Director acknowledges millions of rural women

I would like to thank KEMI for nominating me and the members of the selection committee. As a woman, a feminist, and an advocate of agroecology and for the elimination of pesticides, it is an honour to be one of the recipients of the “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award.

Let me acknowledge the millions of rural women on the ground who are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers. This recognition I dedicate to and share with them.

They have inspired me with their commitment to protect their children, their families, and their communities from hazardous pesticides and to work for non-chemical alternatives. The reality of pesticide use in the farms and plantations is horrendous and women as sprayers often do not have the information about what they are spraying and what the impacts are. When they are poisoned, there is no medical support. Their health issue, like issues of women in general, are rarely taken seriously. This is because as women, they are still in position of subordination in their homes and communities, and at the national level.

It has been my privilege to contribute in the struggle of women through our work at PANAP. In our little way, we help build the capacity of women to monitor the impact of pesticides on health and the environment through what we call community pesticide action monitoring or CPAM. This process helps women become more organised to take action against harmful pesticides in their communities and at the national level. We take the results of these community monitoring initiatives to the global level such as here in the BRS and other platforms. By doing so, we hope to highlight the reality faced by many communities that are exposed to highly hazardous pesticides and lobby for policy reforms.

Aside from pesticide monitoring, we also provide support to women and other rural sectors for capacity building in agroecology. All these efforts are meant to ensure that women and children and the communities are no longer poisoned and silenced; and that they have sustainable livelihoods, healthy and safe environment, and production systems that are just.

This recognition will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice.

Thank you.



PANAP’s Sarojeni Rengam clinches award for championing women’s struggle against toxic pesticides

For her efforts in championing women’s issues in various campaigns against toxic pesticides in the past 25 years, Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of Malaysia-based PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), was recognized in the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions on May 3, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rengam was among the recipients of the ‘Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified’ award given by the BRS Conventions for distinguished advocates of advancing gender equality and mainstreaming gender issues in the area of chemicals and wastes.

In her speech accepting the award, Rengam acknowledged the millions of rural women on the ground that are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers.

“This recognition I dedicate to and share with them. This will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice,” Rengam said.

Ule Johanson, senior advisor for Development Cooperation, International Unit of Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) who nominated Rengam for the award said, “We are very happy to hear that Ms. Rengam has received this award. Her long and persistent fight for human rights at all levels and in particular for rural women is noteworthy and makes her a perfect choice.”

Dr. Burnad Fathima Natesan of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) said this is a proud moment for many rural women whose rights and interests Rengam has steadfastly fought for in PANAP’s campaigns, including on harmful pesticides and right to land and resources.

“The impact and awareness she has created in helping rural women understand the hazards of pesticide application in their fields and the impacts on one’s health, especially on women’s reproductive health, makes her the right person for this award,” Burnad said.

Burnad pointed out that Rengam has initiated a special program called Women and Agriculture in PANAP to study and look into the aspect of women’s land rights and to expose the role of corporations in promoting highly hazardous pesticides. “The rural women from India and from women’s movements in the region rejoice over this special moment,” said Burnad.

The PANAP official is known for her strong position on issues of women, farmers, farm workers, indigenous people and other marginalised rural sectors.

Glorene Amala, Executive Director of Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based advocacy group working with migrants, refugees and women, described Rengam as an “embodiment of women empowerment”. She continues to inspire women through her leadership by building women’s resistance against pesticides and chemicals through many programs and activities nationally, regionally and at the global level,” Amala said.

Situations change when people are informed and empowered.

“To make things change you have to educate and empower people. To improve farming conditions and reduce the negative impact of pesticide use you have to collect evidence of malpractice and cases of people getting hurt. Rengam has done all of this, and year by year conditions start to improve,” said KEMI’s Ule.

Amala added, “Her (Rengam’s) work has brought about tremendous changes in the lives of those who have been affected with pesticides and chemicals as she led many of them in global actions and movement on environment issues, food security and sovereignty, and women’s rights over land and productive resources.”

Based in Switzerland, the BRS Conventions are multilateral environmental agreements that aim to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes. The “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award is part of its activities on gender equality.

Click here to read Sarojeni Rengam’s acceptance speech




Day of the Landless: Resistance and people’s rights, best counter vs. land grabs – PANAP

(“The Right to Resist Land Grabs” is a short film that tells the story of land grabbing and repression faced by rural communities, and the people’s resistance. PANAP is launching it today to mark the Day of the Landless.)


Press statement

29 March 2017

Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net

PENANG, Malaysia – Still the most effective way to counter the land grabbers is the collective action of rural communities to resist and to assert the people’s rights to their own land and resources.

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) stressed this message as it joined various peasant organizations and advocates of the right to land in the region in marking 29 March as the “Day of the Landless”.

Landless peasants across the region are taking bold actions to reclaim the lands that have been taken away from them. In the Philippines’ southern island of Mindanao, for instance, farmers and farm workers have occupied portion of a banana plantation. They asserted that 145 hectares of land inside the plantation operated by Lapanday Foods Corporation, one of the country’s largest banana exporters, rightfully belong to them.

PANAP staff join the solidarity mission to support farmers resisting land grabbing at the Lapanday banana plantation in Mindanao, Philippines, 15 December 2016.

But these actions are often countered with violence. Alleged security personnel of the plantation fired upon the farmers in separate shooting incidents that wounded at least 10 people. In a solidarity mission to support the farmers, PANAP also learned that allegedly the plantation aerially sprayed pesticides on them and their children.

Despite the violence and harassments, the farmers and their supporters remained steadfast in their assertion to reclaim their land. Government eventually issued a cease and desist order against the plantation while Congress also probed the case.

29 March has been declared “Day of the Landless” by the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) – and supported by PANAP and other advocates of the people’s right to land – to highlight the struggle for genuine land reform and food sovereignty.

To commemorate the day, PANAP also launched a seven-minute animation “The Right to Resist Land Grabs”. The group said that through the video, it hopes to help popularize the issue of land grabbing and the repression faced by rural communities, and generate broader support.

PANAP pointed out that land grabs in the past decade have already turned over some 30 million hectares of farmlands from small farmers to foreign corporations, citing data from the group GRAIN.

This worsens the chronic poverty in the rural areas where 8 out of 10 of the world’s poorest live, PANAP said. At present, just a quarter of farmlands worldwide are in the hands of small farmers, based on World Bank data.

The Penang-based advocacy group has been a staunch supporter of community-led campaigns in Asia Pacific to expose and stop land and resource grabbing. PANAP and peasant groups from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka, among others initiated the “No Land, No Life!” campaign to highlight the human rights dimension of land grabbing. ###

#NoLandNoLife | An appeal to stop killing farmers, Lumad fighting land grabs, and pursue peace to address land issue as cause of conflict in the Philippines

As working closely with farmers and farmworkers’ groups and human rights advocates in the Philippines, we are alarmed by what appears to be an escalation of the attacks against leaders of rural communities fighting for their land and rights.

Since the start of the year, unknown assailants have killed five people already for reasons that could be related to their role in opposing land grabbers in their communities. This translates to one killing per week.

Among those killed are Lumad leaders Venie Diamante (killed on 5 January), Veronico Delamente (20 January), and Renato Anglao (3 February). Lumad pertains to the indigenous people in Mindanao, the country’s southernmost island. Accounts say that the victims are involved in resisting the encroachment on their ancestral lands by a palm oil plantation, a mining firm, and a pineapple plantation.

The two other victims are farmer-leaders Alexander Ceballos (20 January) and Wencislao Pacquiao (25 January). They are both active in opposing schemes by local politicians to seize lands from the farmers, based on reports. Ceballos’s assailants also hit his four-year old niece.

Photo by UMA

Such assaults have been going on for a long time now. Filipino activists and human rights groups pin the blame on the military’s counterinsurgency campaigns for these extrajudicial killings as well as other human rights violations.

Based on our monitoring, from January 2015 up to the present alone, at least 46 Filipino farmers, indigenous people and activists engaged in land struggles and conflicts have been killed already. (See Land & Rights Watch – http://panap.net/2017/01/land-and-rights-watch-20170131-2)

Compounding this is the reported termination recently by the Philippine President, Mr. Rodrigo Duterte, of the peace talks with revolutionary groups represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). Mr. Duterte’s decision came at a time when the peace panels are already negotiating key social and economic reforms that aim to address the roots of armed conflict in the country – chief of which is landlessness and poverty in the rural areas.

We share the anxiety of our Filipino friends and fellow advocates of the people’s right to land and resources that this unfortunate development could lead to more atrocities against rural communities, especially those that are resisting land grabbing.

We urge the Duterte administration to seriously look not just into the recent spate of killings of Lumad and farmers but past similar killings as well, immediately make those responsible to account for their crimes, and help end the reign of impunity that has long been gripping the Philippine countryside.

We also join the peace advocates in the Philippines in their appeal to both the Duterte administration and the NDFP not to totally abandon the ongoing peace negotiations. We believe that it provides a useful venue to institute the needed policy reforms that will help address the land issue which fuels rural unrest and the armed conflict. ###

#NoLandNoLife | PANAP joins solidarity mission vs. land grabbing, repression of farmers in Philippine banana plantation

Press Statement

DAVAO CITY, Philippines – Regional advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) joined a solidarity and fact finding mission for farmers and farm workers engaged in a land dispute against Lapanday Foods Corp., one of the Philippines’ largest banana plantation operators in Madaum village, Tagum City in Mindanao on 15 December.

In the past week, 10 people have been reportedly wounded in three separate shooting incidents as Lapanday security personnel tried to take down the camp out of farmers and farm workers asserting their rightful claim to 145 hectares of land grabbed by the company.

“We are deeply alarmed that these cases of violence seem to be committed by the alleged security people of Lapanday boldy and without fear of being held liable. We went here to let the farmers know that many groups, including those outside Mindanao and the Philippines, are supporting them. We join in the call for justice and accountability. We join in the call that the rightful claim of the farmers to their land be respected,” said Deeppa Ravindran, a program coordinator for PANAP, during the solidarity mission in Madaum.

PANAP also found out that aside from bullets, Lapanday also allegedly used toxic agrochemicals to drive away the protesting farmers. On the morning of 12 December, a Lapanday plane sprayed pesticide twice in the direction of farmers and their children who were having breakfast then. The aerial spraying “hurt their eyes and nose”, said one farmer.

“Pesticides, of course, have other long-term health impacts, including cancer and learning disorder, with children the most vulnerable. This is outrageous and enraging. Is Lapanday also using poisonous pesticides against the farmers and their innocent children? Someone should be made accountable here and we call on the authorities for a prompt and impartial probe,” Ravindran emphasized.

According to PANAP partners Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP) and the Union of Agricultural Workers (UMA), the plantation’s workers had been picketing in front of the Lapanday gate for the past seven months and decided to reclaim the 145-hectare land with support from other farmers’ groups last 9 December. The said land has already been awarded by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to 159 Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs).

Based on initial accounts, seven of those wounded were from the shooting incident on 14 December while three were hurt on a separate incident on 12 December. The first shooting incident happened on 9 December, the first day of the camp out, but no one was reported injured.

In a statement on International Human Rights Day (10 December), PANAP revealed that almost 16 farmers, indigenous people, and advocates of the people’s right to land were being killed every month this year – or three times the average in 2015 – in Asia Pacific and other regions. The data cover incidents that occurred in the Philippines. ###

Reference: Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net