The Philippines is a predominantly agrarian country, with more than 70% of the population deriving their income from agriculture. Large tracts of land, however, are concentrated in the hands of a few landed families while majority of farmers are classified as poor, with little or no land to call their own. On the other hand, large estates ranging in size from hundreds to sometimes thousands of hectares are owned by a few landed families.

Land disputes are common in the country, with many farmers having been dispossessed of lands their forebears tilled. Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) in Tarlac province is a prime example. The hacienda’s over 6000 hectares of prime agricultural land is planted with sugarcane and the hacienda contributes a significant percent to the country’s sugar production. HLI is owned on paper by the Cojuangco family, which has produced two Philippines presidents and several pother politicians. Although the government implemented an agrarian reform program in the late 1980’s under then president Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, HLI was never subjected to the agrarian reform program through legal maneuvers.

In November 2004, 14 people were killed when the Philippine military violently dispersed and indiscriminately fired on protesters who were asserting their right to claim the lands they have tilled for decades. The dead included two children who died due to inhalation of tear gas used by the military to disperse the crowd of protesters. No government or militay official was charged for the incident. Since 2004, several people have been killed by suspected military agents for supporting the farmers’ struggle for land.

In 2012, the Philippine Supreme Court issued an order to distribute HLI lands to farmers under the agrarian reform law, yet the government failed to enforce this order. In April 2017, tired of waiting for the government to act, farmers took it upon themselves to assert their right to land by destroying the walls and structures constructed by HLI management to keep them out of their lands, including the guard tower depicted in this photo.

“This is not enough (payment) for what they did to us,” tearfully said one farmer.

But HLI is just one of many estates that are held by the elite few, and it is expected that land disputes will continue while the elite and the government continue to deny farmers and tillers their right to land.

(Photo by Amihan Mabalay/Bulatlat)

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