Land grabs in the Philippines: “It’s like they have killed us already”


In the once tranquil Casiguran municipality of the Philippines, a special economic zone has been initiated by a powerful local dynasty. There are plans for a deep water shipping port, and plans to develop the tourism industry in the area, while an air strip is already under construction. And it’s justified in the name of bringing economic progress to one of the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines. Sound good?

But the project has been embroiled in controversy ever since it began.

Thousands of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people have been challenging the project (known as APECO, the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport) since 2007. Research indicates that APECO has violated these marginalized groups' basic rights: stripping them from the land, livelihoods and ancestral ties that they have cultivated for generations, and threatening massive environmental damage.

Several hundred fishing families have already been forced from their homes by the construction of the air strip close to the Casiguran Sound, a vital fishing ground.

"Enrico". Photo: Simon Rawles/OxfamTake Enrico* (right). He's a farmer who doesn't own his own land, although he holds a lease. Enrico fears that APECO’s presence means the lease won’t be renewed in 2014. This will effectively evict him and his family from the land they have farmed all their lives.

“I am afraid that they will ask us to leave, and abandon the lands that we have worked really hard on. We’re all afraid that our lands will be taken away from us, because our lands are where we get what we need for our daily necessities and the education of our children. If we don’t have our lands, our kids won’t be able to go to school.”

For Manny* (above), the situation is even more acute. He lives with his wife, children and grandchildren. He’s a farmer. He has been a tenant on his land since the 1970s. He and his father, along with other farmers in the area, cleared the forest and developed the land for agricultural use, where previously it had been dense forest. Despite having a Leasehold Agreement with the owners of the land he lives on, Manny was shocked to find out that the land had been sold to APECO last year. The deed of sale made no mention of his tenancy, so according to APECO he is not a recognized tenant and doesn’t have any right to complain. He fears that he will be moved off his land at any minute, leaving his family with nowhere to go.

“This is how we earn our money. This is how we send our kids to school,” says Manny. “If you take this away from us, you’re taking away our source of income and our source of life. If I am forced to leave, in effect it’s like APECO has killed us already.”

Sadly, this case is just one example of a wave of “land grabbing” sweeping the developing world. Every week, banks and private investors buy an area the size of London!

Stop land grabs graphicThe World Bank influences how land is bought and sold on a global scale. It has the power to step in and play a vital role in stopping land injustice. Recently the Bank has acknowledged it has a part to play in tackling land grabs. Now, just before their Spring meetings, we need you to encourage the World Bank to take action. Let them know the world is watching.

* Names have been changed

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Watch the video about this story on the Guardian website

Read Oxfam’s research on land grabs: Land and Power: The growing scandal surrounding the new wave of investments in land

More on why we work to stop land grabs