In an agricultural country like the Philippines, landlessness means massive poverty and hunger. Despite the Philippine government’s three-decade–old agrarian reform program, the majority of Filipino peasants remain landless. Worse, the flawed agrarian reform program itself is being used to perpetuate the monopoly of landlords and big corporations. Meanwhile, neoliberal restructuring and plunder under globalization further aggravates the problem of landlessness.
The Filipino peasants however, have a long history of struggle for their right to land and resources. They have braved repressions, killings, and massacres in their fight for land, livelihood and rights.
Rural women have an indispensable role in this struggle. Under the banner of groups such as AMIHAN, a nationwide organization of peasant women in the Philippines, rural women are at the heart of forging unity amongst peasants and play a leading role in the struggle for land.
Since the year 2000, 72 year-old Marcianita has been the spokeperson of the Sunflower Farmers Organization, which was formed to help farmers like her to fight for their right to land.
Their organization has 300 members who depend on a 68-hectare agricultural land for subsistence. The said land is being targeted by a Chinese corporation. “Our livelihood and survival rely on our land. We cannot afford to lose it,” Marcianita says.
Part of Marcianita’s responsibilities is voicing out their demands publicly on different platforms and to different audiences to make people understand and support their fight for land. But because of this, she and her family have become a target for the military. One of her sons, who is also active in their land struggle, was abducted by the military from their own home and detained with trumped-up charges.
With the help of the organization, Marcianita was able to secure a pro-bono lawyer for her son. The organization have since held protest actions during court hearings to demand freedom for Marcianita’s son.
“My son is still in jail, but my strength and courage remain as I know that I am not alone in this fight. Families of other victims of state repression are with me in our demand for justice,” Marcianita says.
Merlina “Maly” Amante
Sixty-one year-old Merlina “Maly” Amante is the Deputy Secretary General of AMIHAN, a nationwide organization of peasant women in the Philippines.
Before she became part of AMIHAN, Maly and other members of her community were cultivating land where they grew crops for their consumption. The said land came under dispute when a local landlord claimed to be its owner. The community decided to form an organization that will keep them united in asserting their rights to the land.
Later on, the community found an abandoned ranch and occupied it for cultivation.
Maly recalls: “One of the challenges I faced is encouraging the members to become more active and committed. We have held a lot of trainings, discussions and other awareness-raising activities. As a result, the organization grew in terms of number and strength.”
“I understand that my responsibility as a Deputy Secretary-General of AMIHAN entails sacrifice. My commitment in the cause for genuine land reform runs deep, the welfare of my people comes before me. I believe that this is a more permanent solution to the problems of hunger, poverty and injustice in our country.”
Angel Faye Mendoza
In 2012, the Samahan ng Maralita ng Pangkabuhayan Para sa Taga Samba (SAMBA) was formed and Angel Faye was elected treasurer. The objective of the organization is to secure alternative livelihood opportunities for the community. Angel Faye’s community was cultivating an abandoned 25-hectare land where they planted crops for consumption and livelihood.
Angel Faye recalls how the strength of their organization was put to the test when a bank claimed ownership over the land they were cultivating. Despite not having any proof of ownership, the bank wanted to put up a fence on the land. The organization fought for their rights and filed a petition to make the disputed land a part of the government’s land reform program. According to Angel Faye, they have somehow succeeded because some of the farmers were given a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) as a result of the struggle of the organization.
Angel Faye knows the importance of being part of an organization that fights for the people’s rights and welfare. She also understands deeply the responsibilities of being a member or a leader of such an organization.
Angel Faye shares: “Being a leader entails a lot of responsibility and sacrifice. The people here have different needs, personalities and interests. So it is important that you know how to get along inside the organization. You should set a good example in terms attitude and participation. Sharing of knowledge and skills is also important. Sometimes, marital and personal issues get in the way but the important thing is how we overcome them.“
Now, SAMBA has expanded their services and has built their own child care center that has a weekly feeding program.
Constancia J. Roxas
Constancia Roxas is a farmworker who for decades now has been fighting for the right to land. Together with her husband, she is also an organizer of PAMATU – a farmworkers’ organization in their town of Nasugbu in Batangas, a province south of Manila, the country’s capital.
In 1993, they became agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) under the government’s agrarian reform program. They were given a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). But in recent years, the powerful political and landlord clan of former Philippine senator Mar Roxas is claiming ownership of their lands.
For Constancia there is no other recourse but to fight. She believes that being an ARB or a CLOA holder does not guarantee that they will not lose their land. She also doesn’t trust the government to protect their rights.
Constancia says they face “red tagging” or being accused of supporting communists just because they fight for their rights. Despite this, she says she has already learned to defend what they are doing because it is just and it is their right.
“The life of a farmer is very hard,” Constancia says, “It’s hard when you already have a family. You have to labor for every bit of what the family will be eating. As a wife you have to budget your time carefully to spare time for the organization. I need to finish cleaning the house, wash clothes, take care of the animals and water the plants.”
Despite her old age, 73-year old Juanita who hails from Bohol, an island in central Philippines, is the leader of their farmers’ group, KAMASCA (Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Sitio Carandia).
For many decades, Juanita’s community has been occupying and cultivating the land of an absentee landlord whom they knew by the name of Mr. Durano. One day, armed goons arrived and tried to drive them away. The community stood their ground and continued farming. They were harassed, threatened and persecuted with criminal charges until they met Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL/ Organization of Boholano Farmers, a farmer’s organization in Bohol. HUMABOL helped Juanita’s community in forming their own organization, and in September of 2010, KAMASCA was born.
Juanita shares: “As KAMASCA’s vice chairperson, I help lead in negotiations, dialogues and protest actions. I have to stay strong and inspire bravery in the midst of threats and harassments by the military. Although I am a leader, I believe in learning and working together with my fellow members. Our work becomes easier because of bayanihan (cooperation).”
These are but a few stories of rural women who persevere in the struggle for land and resources. May they inspire more women to participate and lead in the global fight against landlessness, hunger and poverty.
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Our Stories, One Journey aims to highlight women’s stories of struggles and victories across the globe. As part of PAN Asia Pacific’s Women Rise Up campaign, it celebrates the one journey that connects women all over the world, specifically rural women – the journey towards empowerment, gender equality, food sovereignty and genuine freedom from all forms of oppression and discrimination.