An international fact-finding mission began a probe today into alleged land grabbing by large real estate developers in Central Luzon. The mission, headed by the United Church of Canada, was heading to Hacienda Looc in Nasugbu, to investigate allegations that land awarded to farmers by the government is now being developed for commercial use. Other members of the team include environmental and social activists from the Philippines, other parts of Asia and Europe. Willy Marbella, a local farmers' leader, said 8,650 hectares of land in four villages are under threat from a tourism project planned for the area. “We are going to show the international community that this tourism project isn’t fun and will result in the eviction of thousands of farmers,” Marbella said. At the center of the controversy is SM Land Inc which is developing a 5,800-hectare property called the Hamilo Coast Project, while another firm, the Manila Southcoast Development Corp, together with Fil-Estate Properties Inc, is looking to turn 1,800 hectares of land into a golf resort. The hacienda with 5,218 hectares around it was awarded to farmers in the 1990s under the government’s agrarian reform program. “This shows how the government’s program has failed to defend farmers’ land rights,” Marbella said. Farmers say the projects will displace more than 10,000 farmers and drastically alter the landscape of Hacienda Looc. They involve the building of four golf courses, two marinas, and an exclusive beach resort, “all for the use of a privileged few,” Marbella said. SM Land calls the projects "sustainable" and says it is working in "partnership with World Wide Fund (WWF-Philippines)". According to the developer's own website, this "partnership with has been strengthened in the areas of coastal resource management, solid waste management, and in finding renewable sources of energy onsite."
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