Dear Madame President:

New Agri Paradigm: Development for Whom?
RP-China Agri Deals: Sinong Makikinabang?

You recently made a very disturbing statement: “There is a new paradigm being proposed to open new lands for agriculture so that we can give farmers a chance to have their own land and yet avoid all this bloodshed in the implementation of land reform…What I am trying to say is let’s make land reform, as much as possible, non-confrontational. Let’s open up new farms for agribusiness.” By “new lands”, you explained that the government is opening up some two million hectares of public lands for agriculture and that the landless farmers have “the first option to be there.”

We, in the broad network of agrarian reform and peasant advocates, shudder at the implications of this new agricultural paradigm. This was articulated only days after the Department of Agriculture concluded with the big agribusiness outfits of the People’s Republic of China 19 agribusiness contracts aimed at developing joint RP-China marine/aquaculture projects and securing over 1.2 million hectares of Philippine lands to grow food, fruit, flower, vegetable and bio-fuel crops for China, with the Chinese investors themselves providing the technology, direct management and marketing facilitation. These contracts were concluded without the benefit of any consultation with any farmer or fisherfolk organization, much less any public disclosure of the details of any of the agreements.

We are shocked to discover startling facts about the RP-China deals and the 2-M hectare agribusiness targets originally set by NEDA under the MTPDP, to wit:

  • Most of the Filipino firms paired with their Chinese agribusiness counterparts have either bogus identities or no agribusiness track record, e.g., Palawan Bioenergy Development Corp., Philippine China Fisheries Corp., One Cagayan Resource Development Inc., were registered only last year or early this year, while the rest (B.M.SB Integrated Biofuels Co., Negros Southern Integrated Biofuels Co., Philippine Marine Technology Group Inc., Sun Warm Tuna Fishing Corp. and E.L. Enterprises Inc.) have not made any reports to the SEC. And yet, these firms are supposed to engage in the massive development of bio-fuel, fishery and agricultural products involving hundreds of thousands of hectares and billions of peso investments! One Cagayan Resource even has as incorporators two pairs of couples and a certain Joey Candasua with no known address, who all got their CTCs on the same day (June 22, 2006) and ‘presented’ these CTCs to the Notary Public on June 7, 2006 or two weeks before they got their CTCs! Philippine China Fisheries Corp. was incorporated on January 16, 2007, or the day after the ceremonial PGMA-Premier Wen Jiabao signing of the 19 deals.
  • The DA-DENR-DAR ‘Convergence’ group has identified for agribusiness development 4.8 M hectares of ‘idle’ or ‘underutilized’ agricultural lands (on top of the 9.3 M hectares of lands presently being utilized) and another 4.0 M hectares of ‘idle’ forest land (aside from the 6.4 M hectares of protected forest and 5.4 M hectares of production forest). So what the DA-DENR-DAR Convergence group is saying is that this country, after decades of land unrest and endless conflicts over agrarian reform, has no shortage of land after all! As much as 8.8 M hectares of ‘idle’ agricultural and forest lands can be opened up for agribusiness, including the 1.2 M hectares for the Chinese investors!
  • The above DA-DENR-DAR mathematics is awful. The NSO’s Philippine Yearbook 2005 pointed out that the country had only 9.6 M hectares of agricultural lands left as of 2002. The truth is that in their rush to justify the opening up of new lands, they forgot to mention that roughly one-third of the 30-M-hectare Philippine lands are now covered by cities, towns, resorts, golf courses, highways and varied community/social facilities. The truth is that one sociological/anthropological study after the other shows that there are no tillable lands in the country today that are not occupied by ethnic communities, settlers, hillside farmers and all types of landless poor. The truth is that reforestation is an urgent necessity – with our forest cover measuring, as of 1999, only 5.4 M hectares or a mere 18 per cent of the total land area (compared to over 50 per cent forest cover for Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar; Vietnam, 30 per cent; Thailand, 25 per cent; and Singapore, 3.3 per cent, per UNDP data). Or is reforestation – and the future of the country’s generations – secondary only to the MTPDP’s new 2-M hectare agribusiness program, now being expanded to 4 M hectare target by NEDA’s Romulo Neri and the DA-DENR-DAR Convergence group?
  • There is no clear DEVELOPMENT FRAMEWORK guiding the two-to-four (2-4) M-hectare agribusiness promotion program of NEDA/DA-DENR-DAR Convergence group. Only an aimless and lazy FOREIGN INVESTMENT LIBERALIZATION FRAMEWORK. The concerned Cabinet members and their fawning subalterns assume that liberalizing the entry of Chinese and other foreign investors into ‘new’ lands or marine areas under long-term leasing arrangements (25 years, renewable by another 25 years), agriculture and fisheries will automatically develop, production will rise, overseas markets will be opened and we shall all live happily ever after. They forgot that we have a Constitution which expressly prohibits the leasing by any corporation of over 1,000 hectares. They forgot we have laws protecting the forest lands, ancestral domain and, yes, a Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program that still has to be completed. They have also developed an amnesia over the long history of peasant and farmer revolts against the Spanish encomiendas and haciendas, the American land colonizations in Mindanao and the modern-day agribusiness encroachments on and privatization of ancestral lands, settler lands, pasture lands and forestry lands, including the appropriation of aqua, water and natural resources. Are they deliberately stirring age-old class conflicts and re-dividing the country for their own narrow benefits and those of their foreign partners?

Madame President, please stop this madness, this mad scheming by officials who want to ruin the countryside by foisting a false development paradigm while pushing their own narrow private interests. Please stop this attack on CARP and this false pretension that this country has no land distribution problem. Please stop this subversion of our food and agricultural security in the name of an imaginary growth under the Chinese investors, who naturally want to transform the Philippines as part of their own food, raw material and biofuel security. Above all, please stop this effort to reverse past efforts to put the small farmer – owner occupier, tenant or landless – at the center of development by empowering the farmer through equitable and democratic access to land, technology, credit, support services and the market. Transforming the Filipino farmers into workers of the new agribusiness outfits and joint ventures with the Chinese is a giant step backward. It is like bringing back the encomenderos, the hacenderos, the land-grabbing big agribusiness corporations and the unreconstructed land concentrators.

What NEDA and the DA-DENR-DAR Convergence Group should have asked themselves is – what have they done to promote a development framework based on an integrated capacity-building program for the small farmers similar to what has happened in Israel, Taiwan and Vietnam? Sound rural development and agri-based industrialization, as mandated by the Constitution, are possible only if the agrarian reform beneficiaries and the small farmers are transformed and empowered to exercise leadership in land development and rural entrepreneurship. This, unfortunately, is not the priority of the scheming NEDA-Convergence group.

In the name of the generations of Filipino farmers and peasants who fought and continue to fight against past and present inequities in land, water and natural resources, we ask you, Madame President, please rein in your scheming anti-development officials. Yes, let us trade with China, but no, let us not allow them to take control of our land, forest and fishery resources! Yes, let us develop two million new or more jobs in agriculture – not by surrendering our land sovereignty to the Chinese but by transforming every Filipino farmer into a modern agribusiness producer! Yes, let us make agrarian reform a genuine instrument for progress and stability by completing it, not by subverting it!

PEACE!

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