Haiyan-affected farmers march on Manila to demand land distribution

Say government has failed to act on promised agrarian reform
Haiyan-affected farmers march on Manila to demand land distribution

Farmers from Typhoon Haiyan-ravaged Leyte province protest outside a government office in Manila on Tuesday (Photo by Joe Torres)

Dozens of farmers from typhoon-ravaged Leyte province gathered on Tuesday outside a government office in Manila to demand the immediate distribution of land to survivors still struggling to cope with the devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. 

“Our condition has worsened because of the government’s failure to address land issues,” said Manuel Cayubit from Barugo town, one of 45 village leaders who joined the protest camp outside the Department of Agrarian Reform in the Philippine capital.

Cayubit said he has not received any support from the government in processing papers that prove the land he has been tilling is his own.

He said farmers in Leyte province whose land was devastated by Haiyan in November 2013 require a “certificate of land ownership award”, or CLOA, to prove that they legally own their land, and pointed out that humanitarian agencies require this document before providing housing assistance to survivors.

Cayubit added that thousands of farmers in Leyte province who had earlier been identified as beneficiaries of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program had failed to receive assistance for failure to present these certificates.

Baby Reyes, head of Rights Network, a non-governmental group that helps landless farmers, told ucanews.com on Tuesday that the lack of “tenurial evidence” has hampered aid to poor farmers.

“Food security continues to be at risk in devastated areas because farmers are not able to till,” Reyes said.

The regional Agrarian Reform office in Eastern Visayas said it had agreed to hasten the distribution of CLOAs but said more time was needed.

“We cannot assure that the CLOAs will be distributed within one or three months,” said Shiela Enciso, regional director of the reforms office, adding that her office would need to conduct a “re-identification” of farmer beneficiaries before certificates could be distributed.

Data from the Agrarian Reform office shows that some 88,000 hectares of land are still to be distributed to farmers in the region.

Enciso said her office has already issued certificates that prove that the farmers are among those who will be given CLOAs.

Villamor Urena, an agricultural leader from Alangalang town, said progress on agrarian reform has stalled because of the slow resolution of problems in the reconstitution of land titles.

In June 2014, President Benigno Aquino certified as urgent the passage of a law that would extend the government's agrarian reform program, but the House has not yet passed the bill despite its supposed priority status.

"Landlord-politicians hold on to the land because of their greed. They squeeze profit and build wealth from the back of landless tillers like us who, because of very low income, live in abject poverty and are unable to feed and send our children to school," said Dorita Vargas, an agricultural leader involved in the camp protest.

"Many of us who have been displaced go to Metro Manila, hoping for a better life there. But we end up working as low-paid nannies, house helpers, and construction and factory workers, joining throngs of informal settlers in the city," she added.

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The international aid agency Oxfam noted in a report released last November that the devastation brought about by Typhoon Haiyan had delayed the processing of papers and the awarding of land to farmers.

Haiyan was the strongest typhoon to have hit the country in decades and killed at least 7,500 people and displaced some four million others.

Oxfam’s study, titled "Beyond Safe Land: Why security of land tenure is crucial in the Philippines post-Haiyan Recovery", noted that even before Haiyan more than a third of the total population of the Eastern Visayas region was landless while four out of 10 were people considered poor.

The Oxfam study noted that the prevalent lack of secure access to land in typhoon-affected areas exposes the poor to constant threats of eviction and loss of livelihoods during the rehabilitation and relocation stage.

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