Representatives from the Canadian Catholic Organization For Development and Peace (Caritas Canada) visit a piece of land distributed to Filipino farmers in Leyte province. (Contributed photo)
It took some time for farmer Rosenda Apay, 59, to realize that she was finally tilling her own farm. It took more than 16 years of lobbying and asserting her rights to have land.
Today, Apay and 21 other farmers, affected by the disaster wrought by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, are tilling a 25-hectare communal farm in the central Philippines.
They said their perseverance paid off as they admitted that many of their fellow farmers "have given up the fight."
The realization of the farmers' dream came about with the help of non-government groups and the Canadian Catholic Organization For Development and Peace, or Caritas Canada.
"They gave us hope," said Apay, leader of the Bugho Farmers Association in the city of Ormoc, on the central Philippine island of Leyte. "This is the first time that an organization really worked for our rights."
Florina Reyes, project coordinator of the Rights Network group, said its partnership with Caritas Canada made possible the distribution of land to communities most affected by Haiyan, the most powerful typhoon on record to have hit the Philippines.
A total of 1,981 certificates of land ownership covering 3,722 hectares of land are set to be released to more farmer beneficiaries in Leyte province. At least 3,588 families are expected to benefit.
"We expect to gain more land titles in favor of the people," said Reyes, who also works with an alliance of disaster survivors in the region.
"If Haiyan had not hit us, we would not have known that farmers like us have rights to land," said Lolita Candaza, 59, from the town of Barugo.
"They opened our eyes to the truth," she said, referring to the non-government and church groups.
Danny Carranza, former national coordinator of Rights Network, said the organization has been working on land rights since 2008.
When Haiyan hit, areas affected by the typhoon became "special cases" because of the "intersection of land rights, development issues and humanitarian response."
He cited the problem of undistributed certificates of land ownership as an "issue of misgovernance" by the authorities with their "pro-poor programs."
The non-distribution of certificates of land ownership to the farmers caused delay in the giving of shelter and livelihood assistance to disaster victims.
Farmer-survivors were excluded from shelter and farming assistance by various humanitarian groups and government agencies due to a lack of "tenurial documents" to prove land ownership.
"Those without the security of land tenure had to rely on themselves to rise again from the devastation of the typhoon with limited access to farm inputs and shelter assistance," said Carranza.
In the central Philippines, thousands of farmers were without land security as a result of the "poor, if not anomalous, implementation of the existing agrarian reform program" of the government.
Carranza said its partnership with Caritas Canada is "a positive enabling development." He said the support sustains the productivity of the farmers.
Bishop Noel Simard, head of Caritas Canada who visited the Philippines last month, said the support is Canada's response to the "great need and suffering" the people experienced.
"Seeing the happy faces of the families, of the children in their new homes, we can only say that Development and Peace did the right thing pushing for this project," said Bishop Simard from Valleyfield Diocese in Quebec.
Father Edwin Gariguez, head of Caritas Philippines, said the help brought by various religious organizations showed that "the Church is not giving up on her people."
"The way we were able to organize the survivors and mobilize all resources available were a reflection of our commitment to better the lives of the most vulnerable," said the priest. "The Church, with all its might, must do the best service."