Killings of defenders of people’s right to land, three times worse in 2016 – PANAP

PENANG, Malaysia – Advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today said that the attacks against defenders of the people’s right to land and resources continued to intensify and worsened to even more alarming levels in 2016.

An average of 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 group claimed.

PANAP made the statement as the world marks the International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

“The sharp rise in the number of killings and the overall increase in human rights atrocities against poor rural communities embroiled in land conflicts is alarming, to say the least. It underscores the impunity with which these political killings and brutalities are being committed,” said Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP executive director.

In 2015, PANAP monitored 61 victims of killings that ballooned to 171 from January to November 2016. There were also 32 victims of frustrated killings, adding up to the 54 victims last year. Meanwhile, the victims of arbitrary detention from January to November this year numbered 118 and trumped up charges, 14; in 2015, the figures were 127 and 82 victims, respectively.

The trend in worsening killings noted by PANAP is consistent with the data compiled by UK-based campaign group Global Witness, which has been tracking the killings of environmental and land activists since 2002. Global Witness reported that in the past 13 years there have been 1,209 killings of land and environmental activists worldwide. The trend has worsened with the average killings per year more than doubling from 55 annually in 2002 to 2009 to 128 in 2010 to 2015. Last year was the worst year, said Global Witness, with killings recorded at 185.

“These human rights violations represent double repression. The people’s collective rights to own or control their land and resources for livelihood and cultural needs are wantonly being violated by corporations and governments. When these people rightfully resist and defend their rights, they are harassed and in many cases, killed,” Rengam said.

PANAP’s data are based on its Land & Rights (L&R) Watch initiative, which monitors various cases of human rights violations against farmers, indigenous people, and advocates of the right to land and resources. L&R Watch started compiling data based on online reports and reports from PANAP partners in the region in January 2015 and is an ongoing effort. The latest data are as of end-November 2016.

Land grabs to intensify

PANAP expressed concern that the atrocities will not just continue but will even further intensify as recent global and regional trends and developments are fanning social conflicts in the countryside between rural communities and governments and profit-seeking corporations and local elites. The onslaught to monopolize land and resources for private profits – and massively displace peasant and indigenous communities, in the process – has intensified more than ever.

“One particular trend that should be closely watched in relation to our campaign against land grabbing in the region is the steady rise of China as an economic giant and the consequent surge in its appetite for more land and resources to feed its economy,” said Rengam.

PANAP noted that China has been leading the efforts to push for more trade and investment liberalization through its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), especially with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) expected to slow down under a Trump administration in the US.

China is also aggressively funding infrastructure development projects that stir land conflicts such as its ambitious trillion-dollar modern “Silk Road” covering about 60 countries. Public-private partnership (PPP) to build infrastructure that lead to massive displacement of rural folks will get a boost as well with the recently established China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), along with the usual PPP funders like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB).

In a recent meeting with peasant and indigenous leaders and campaigners from Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, PANAP learned of the increasing Chinese presence or involvement in various development projects such as in economic zones, plantations, eco-tourism, and others that displaced or are feared to displace numerous rural communities.

Greater vigilance, resistance and support

“Now more than ever, we need greater vigilance and resistance to protect and advance the people’s collective right to land and resources. We must generate broader support for the peasant and indigenous communities that are fighting back as those who want to take away their farm and ancestral lands for profit become more and bigger,” Rengam emphasized.

The PANAP official pointed out that while China is emerging as a new formidable foe, the usual powerful forces and players remain such as the local elite and corrupt politicians, and the corporations and financial institutions from the West.

“It’s good that the theme for this year (of the International Human Rights Day) is to stand up for someone’s rights. It’s a call for everyone who believe in what is just and democratic to stand up for the landless and join the movement to defend the people’s rights,” said Rengam. ###

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

Free detained land activists and all political prisoners in the Philippines

PENANG, Malaysia – Consistent with our advocacy to defend and promote human rights – including the people’s right to land – we support our friends and allies in the Philippines as they call on their national government to immediately release all political prisoners.

amnestynowph-manilaAs noted by one of our partners, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), majority of these political detainees “are farmers and land reform advocates who were arrested, charged with fabricated cases and jailed because of their struggle for land and democratic rights”.

We believe that the appeal for their release through a general amnesty is a fair and legitimate demand. Their prolonged detention is a form of continuing repression, aggravated by the fact that their imprisonment was caused by merely asserting their rightful claim to land and rights, and standing up for what is just.

We also note the urgency of the call as bitterly demonstrated by the recent death of peasant political prisoner Bernabe Ocasla due to cardiac arrest and lack of proper medical attention because of his continued detention. Twelve other political prisoners have already died under similar circumstances since 2010.

amnestynowph-penangThe criminalization of the struggle for land of peasants and indigenous people is a scheme that is prevalent not only in the Philippines but also in the region. Along with other forms of human rights violations, the filing of trumped up charges and detention of land rights activists and members of local communities are happening as well in other countries.

But Filipino activists, including those who are involved in land struggles, are among who suffer most from the filing of fabricated cases. Based on our monitoring, 19 Filipino farmers, indigenous people, and land activists have been filed with trumped up charges in the last two years alone. That’s almost 20% of the total number of victims of trumped charges related to land struggles and conflicts that we have monitored in Asia Pacific and other regions during the said period.

We respectfully urge the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte to heed the people’s appeal for the release of all political prisoners. We hope that like the theme of this year’s International Human Rights Day on 10 December, Mr. Duterte will stand up for the rights of Filipino political prisoners who did not commit any crime but merely served and fought for the poor and landless. ###

Reference: Sarojeni Rengam, PAN Asia Pacific, Executive Director, nolandnolife@panap.net

#NoLandNoLife #AmnestyNowPH

Support and sign the online petition by Pilgrims for Peace, Release Political Prisoners in the Philippines: Support the GRP-NDFP Peace Talks! You may access the petition through: https://www.change.org/p/release-political-prisoners-in-the-philippines-support-the-grp-ndfp-peace-talks.

Defend food sovereignty! Strengthen community resilience amid climate crisis!

From 1-16 October, 34 organisations of farmers, rural women and advocacy groups from 17 countries across the globe have responded to the most urgent crises faced by small-scale farmers and food producers, especially in poor countries- climate change, hunger, food insecurity, and land grabbing through PAN Asia Pacific’s “16 Days of Global Action on Land and Resources”.

PANAP joins PH peasant groups in condemning massacre of farmers in disputed military land

Press Release
07 September 2016

PENANG, Malaysia – Regional advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) joins Filipino peasant groups in condemning the recent killing of four farmers in a military reservation that is the subject of a land conflict.

Members of the quick response team of BAYAN-Central Luzon and KARAPATAN-Central Luzon. (Photo credit: Radyo Natin Guimba facebook page)
Members of the quick response team of BAYAN-Central Luzon and KARAPATAN-Central Luzon. (Photo credit: Radyo Natin Guimba facebook page)

In a report by the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid ng Gitnang Luzon (Alliance of Farmers in Central Luzon – AMGL), the farmers were shot and killed by unknown assailants while resting from their farm chores last Saturday afternoon, 3 September. Victims Baby Mercado, Violeta Mercado, Eligio Barbado and Gaudencio Bagalay were part of an AMGL-initiated land cultivation campaign inside Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation in Nueva Ecija province, more than 179 kilometers north of the capital, Manila.

Another victim, Angelita Milan was injured and rushed to the hospital. Land cultivation campaign – locally called “bungkalan” – is a symbolic protest to assert land rights among Philippine farmers.

Fort Magsaysay is a 3,100 hectare disputed land where incidents of human rights violations such as displacement and killings have been previously reported by local farmers and human rights organizations.

A portion of land under land cultivation campaign on lot 28, Fort Magsasay. (Photo credit: Radyo Natin Guimba facebook page)
A portion of land under land cultivation campaign on lot 28, Fort Magsasay. (Photo credit: Radyo Natin Guimba facebook page)

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (Philippine Peasant Movement – KMP) claims that Fort Magsaysay has been ruled for distribution since 1991 under government’s land reform program. But until today, no one of the 5,000 farmer beneficiaries was given genuine land ownership.

A 2015 report by the Global Witness has tagged the Philippines as one of the most dangerous places for environment and land defenders. Meanwhile, PANAP’s Land & Rights Watch has monitored 48 cases of human rights violations related to land grabbing from January 2015 to August 2016.

PANAP expressed hope that the new Philippine administration will be able to put an end to the longstanding violence and human rights abuses against landless farmers and poor rural people.

###

Groups vow to strengthen solidarity to press on rural youth agenda

Tarlac, PHILIPPINES – Renewing their call for people’s rights to land and life, thirty-one (31) rural youth activists and advocates from eight (8) countries in Asia Pacific gathered here for a consultation-workshop on enhancing youth participation in rural issues, struggles and alternatives.

A discussion of issues facing the rural youth and sharing of effective strategies and campaigns to confront them highlighted the three-day consultation-workshop. The struggle for land emerged as the key issue facing the rural youth and was the central theme in the discussions.

“We believe that landlessness underlines the various structural social ills facing the vast majority of rural people in the region. Lack of own land to till leads to the physical, economic and cultural dislocation of countless peasant and indigenous communities,” read the unity statement adopted by the participants at the end of the meeting. (see the Unity statement here)

YCW-2016-pr

The groups noted that landlessness forces the rural youth to become tenant farmers under exploitative relations, waged agricultural laborers with cheap wages, or migrants vulnerable to various abuses, with young rural women particularly exposed to trafficking and sexual abuse. The youth are also deprived of education, health and other basic social services.

“Education and cultural identity are central to the holistic development of the youth. But poverty and lack of economic opportunities due to landlessness, coupled with abandonment and neglect of governments, deprive the youth of education,” the groups said. “Meanwhile, the kind of education given to the youth promotes individualism, colonial mentality, and subservience to the interest of the market instead of the development agenda and aspirations of the people. Cultural identity and traditional knowledge are systematically eroded to transform the youth as slaves of global monopoly capitalism,” the participants added.

To substantially address the issues facing the rural youth, the participants stressed the need to join the global people’s movement advancing genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty, and the promotion of people’s collective rights to land and life. The groups noted that the rural youth’s “energy, vitality, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment” would make them a major contributor to the said movement.

The youth activists resolved to strengthen international solidarity to press on the agenda of the rural youth, including through establishing a network of rural youth groups and advocates that will advance genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty. A separate planning meeting for a global assembly of rural youth in 2017 was held after the consultation-workshop.

Co-organized by PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), with Philippine-based rural youth and peasant groups NNARA-Youth (National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates), SINAGBAYAN and KMP- Peasant Movement of the Philippines, the consultation-workshop was held on 16-18 July at the MangaRita Organic Farm in Capas town, Tarlac province, about 120 kilometers north of the capital Manila. ###

Contact: Marjo Busto, marjo.busto@panap.net

Rural youth, advance the people’s rights to land and life! Fight for genuine agrarian reform and food sovereignty!

Unity statement issued by participants of the Youth consultation workshop on enhancing youth participation in rural issues, struggles and alternatives, 16-18 July 2016, MangaRita Organic Farm, Capas, Tarlac, Philippines

YCW-2016-01-unitystatement

We believe that landlessness underlines the various structural social ills facing the vast majority of rural people in the region. Lack of own land to till leads to the physical, economic and cultural dislocation of countless peasant and indigenous communities. To survive, many are forced to sell their labor very cheaply as farm workers or migrate to urban areas for odd jobs with incomes that do not afford them a decent living.

Worse, the concentration of land in the hands of a few continues to intensify under neoliberal globalization. In complicity with national governments and international financial institutions, big local and foreign business interests are grabbing away land, water and other resources, including through public-private partnerships (PPPs), from local communities resulting to greater poverty and hunger in the rural areas. Corporate plantations are aggressively expanding and in the process do not only grab away lands but also poison the people and the environment with their agrochemical-intensive and unsustainable farming systems. These agrochemicals include even those that are already banned in industrialized countries and dumped in poor countries.

In addition, extreme weather events brought about by climate change make farming even more challenging and difficult, thus further aggravating the plight of farmers and resource-dependent communities.

Indeed, it is the biggest irony that those who directly produce food are among the world’s hungriest and most food insecure as a handful of landlords, local elites, and corporations accumulate wealth from the poverty and displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples.

We note that the realities of landlessness, land grabbing, and relentless neoliberal onslaught in agriculture in the region exploit and oppress the rural youth in various ways. At a young age, the rural youth become unpaid laborers in haciendas and plantations to help their families make both ends meet. When they themselves become tenant farmers or plantation workers, they suffer the exploitative production relations with landlords, local elites, or corporations. When they migrate to urban centers or to other countries in desperation to look for better economic opportunities, they become even more vulnerable being away from their families at an early age. Rural women youth are particularly exposed to trafficking, sexual harassment and prostitution.

Education and cultural identity are central to the holistic development of the youth. But poverty and lack of economic opportunities due to landlessness, coupled with the sheer abandonment and neglect of governments to provide education for its people under neoliberal globalization, deprive the rural youth of access to education. Meanwhile, the kind of education being peddled by neoliberal globalization promotes individualism, colonial mentality and subservience to the interest of the market instead of the development agenda and aspirations of the people, including the promotion of agriculture for national industrialization and food sovereignty. Cultural identity and traditional knowledge are systematically eroded to transform the youth as slaves of global monopoly capitalism.

We also take notice, with utmost urgency, how the rural people, including the youth and children, become victims of human rights atrocities and repression being carried out by state and private security forces to protect and expand corporate interests in the rural areas.

In the face of such huge challenges, we, the rural youth, as members of families and communities of rural people; and collectively the inheritor of the future we choose to forge today, demand:

  1. The implementation of genuine agrarian reform through the free distribution of land to the landless, and dismantling the land monopoly of landlords and corporations.
  2. The promotion of food sovereignty or the power of the people and their communities, including the rural youth, to assert and realize their right to food and to define their own food systems.
  3. An end to land grabbing being carried out through the expansion of agricultural plantations, implementation of so-called “development” projects under public-private partnerships, etc. to enable the rural population to enjoy the fruits of their labor and have a degree of economic security.
  4. The promotion of and support for farmer-centered agricultural research and development, including adequate and reliable state support in infrastructure and other services as part of a genuine agrarian reform program, to ensure sufficient livelihood and decent employment opportunities for rural people and end forced migrations.
  5. The promotion of just wages and safe labor conditions that will allow the rural youth, including migrant workers, and others engaged in waged agricultural work and their families to achieve decent living standards.
  6. The preservation and promotion of indigenous, traditional, and collective culture and knowledge among the rural youth.
  7. The democratization of access to education, which sufficiently discusses the important role of sustainable agriculture in the comprehensive and appropriate development of national economies responsive to the immediate and long-term needs of its people.
  8. The delivery of sufficient basic social services and safety net programs to the rural areas, including health and medical services for young rural women; and expose bogus social protection programs, which merely serves to obscure landlessness and other fundamental causes of rural poverty.
  9. The protection of the environment and people’s health by promoting organic and agro-ecological farming, climate-resilient agriculture, and safe food as opposed to corporate, chemical-intensive agriculture.
  10. An end to state-sponsored political persecution and human rights violations against rural people, including the youth, who are defending and asserting their collective rights to land and livelihood; make accountable all those responsible for the abuses; and assist the families of the victims.

We vow to use various strategies to push forward our demands, including through grassroots education, organizing and mobilization; policy advocacy; research and documentation; cultural work and advocacy; exchange programs; alliance building; coordinated regional and global actions; and maximizing information and communication technology, among others.

As youth activists and advocates, we firmly believe in the energy, vitalitity, enthusiasm, creativity and commitment of the rural youth to become leading participants in the movement to defend the people’s collective rights to land and life, for genuine agrarian reform and for food sovereignty.

Rural youth rise now! Assert people’s rights and food sovereignty! Fight for genuine agrarian reform!

On the continuing violation of the right to land and life of Lumad communities in Misamis Oriental, Philippines

It is with utmost alarm and indignation that we in PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) convey our condemnation of the reported continuing violation of the human rights of the Lumad group Higaonon from Misamis Oriental province in the Philippines.

The Higaonon people of Lagonglong town in Misamis Oriental have been driven away again from their ancestral lands and forced to abandon their livelihoods due to alleged relentless harassment by units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

lumads-fleeing_sunstar-com-ph
Photo from sunstar.com.ph

As advocates of the right to land and life of peasant and indigenous communities, we stand in solidarity with the Lumad in their struggle to return to their home and way of life safe from any form of intimidation.

Based on reports from our friends and partners in the Philippines, soldiers allegedly peppered a local school with bullets and looted houses. When the people left to flee the military atrocities, the soldiers set up camp in front of the area where the Lumad evacuated. The military justifies its actions by claiming that the locals are supporters or members of the armed rebel group New People’s Army (NPA).

But the inhumanity reportedly being committed by soldiers against the Lumad – including children who now suffer various illnesses in the evacuation center, not to mention the deep trauma from their ordeal – is absolutely unacceptable even when carried out in the name of government’s counter-insurgency campaign. The military is, in fact, fanning the insurgency as more and more rural families in the Philippine countryside become displaced and landless.

We join the Lumad in their unwavering assertion for land and life as we express deep hope that the incoming new Philippine administration and its stated willingness to peacefully deal with the decades-old insurgency would open up opportunities for the Lumad to return home and live in peace on their lands that have nurtured them for generations. ###

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