Hacienda Matias: Taking steps towards the right to adequate food

Catherine Atienza, Astrud Lea Beringer
Hacienda Matias: Taking steps towards the right to adequate food
How is one's right to own land linked to achieving one's right to adequate food? This is the story of the Hacienda Matias farmers

QUEZON, Philippines — The dream of many is to have a house, a car, and a well-paying job. But the dream of people living on the margins, like the farmers in Hacienda Matias, is modest — to have sufficient food on the table.  

Access to land means access to food and proper nutrition. However, incomplete land distribution under the National Agrarian Reform Program, as well as harassments and intimidation by former landowners, denied the farmers’ access to land in Hacienda Matias for over a decade. The government’s inadequate land distribution process has resulted in the violation of the fundamental human right to food, the right to be free from hunger, and to live a life with dignity. 

On July 2, 2015, the Philippine Government resumed the land installation process in Hacienda Matias, a major step toward fulfilling the right to adequate food of the farmer beneficiaries. However, agrarian reform has yet to be fully completed as there are still over 200 farmer beneficiaries waiting for their land, living in hunger and poverty. 

Food, nutrition

Rice is the staple food in the Philippines, yet Hacienda Matias farmers could not afford it since the price of rice in their area is P45 per kilogram — around P10 higher than that of the town of San Francisco. 

San Francisco is already the closest town to Hacienda Matias, but is still 15 kilometers away. The travel is not only far, but also inconvenient and expensive for most farmers because of poor infrastructure. (READ: Farm-to-market roads, a farmer’s journey)

Strong resistance from former landowners prevented farmer beneficiaries from entering their newly-acquired land. As a result, they could not harvest their crop and had to rely on alternative sources of livelihood. But due to the positive developments in the land distribution process, farmer beneficiaries who regained their land could finally make full use of it as their main source of income. Meanwhile, those who still do not own land continue to experience difficulties in feeding themselves and their families adequately. 

If the sea is not too rough, the men go fishing and the women sell or exchange self-produced tingting (brooms) or tuyo (dried fish) with kamote (sweet potato) or rice at the sari-sari store (neighborhood store) or in town. 

ALTERNATIVES. Tuyo (dried fish) serves as an alternative source of income. Photo by Astrud Lea Beringer

If there is fish catch, we have money to buy rice,said Amalia Ortega, one of the villagers. With the start of the rainy season, it becomes more difficult to go fishing, hence, many farmers are forced to leave their homes to find work in other farms or cities as house helpers or construction workers.

Due to a lack of income, the household food supply becomes insufficient and the vast majority of the farmers loose important nutrients. If there is no rice, the farmers’ meals are limited to fish, root crops and bananas.

As vegetables, for example, that are rich in vitamins and minerals are not easily available for the farmers because there is no market in the area, the farmers combine rice with toyo (soy sauce), ginamos (bagoong/shrimp paste) or mais (corn) to make meals more diversified – although still poor in essential nutrients. (READ: Plenty of food, little nutrition)

Vegetables are only available to farmers who are able to plant them in their backyards. While some farmers were able to install deep wells as a source of drinking water, others have to rely on their neighbors for their potable water needs.  

Inadequate diet causes serious effects on the farmers’ health. Children become susceptible to common colds and skin infections. However, the closest health center is not only far, its medical supply and personnel are also often insufficient and if available, costy for the farmers. 

EDUCATION. Children are most affected by food insecurity in the hacienda. Photo by Astrud Lea Beringer

As a consequence of their low income, many farmers also have difficulties paying for the basic education of their children. They do not have the means to spend for their school supplies, food allowance, and transportation expenses with a distance of 2 to 3 kilometers.

Struggle for land 

For over a decade, the farmers in Hacienda Matias have been demanding for their right to land under the 1988 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), a social justice measure guaranteeing the rural population’s right to food and nutrition through land distribution. In their struggle for land, they faced not only hunger and poverty, but also fear due to harassments and intimidations by the former landowners. 

“Before, when we did not have titles yet, we could not harvest our copra because we were prevented by the goons. Now, even if we have our titles, we still could not produce copra continuously,” said Lemnar Luna, a farmer.

He added: “Even as I produce copra on my own land, I am charged with qualified theft. The harassments are intense and I hope that the government will find a solution. If the goons continue to seize our copra, our families will go hungry.”

After over 4 weeks of camping-out in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) from May to June to push for the fulfillment of the right to adequate food and nutrition, the remaining 69 out of 283 farmer beneficiaries who have been awarded with land titles in December 2014 were successfully installed in the land in Hacienda Matias on July 2, 2015. 

STRUGGLE. Resistant pro-landlord farmers prevented the DAR and the police from entering the awarded land during the installation. Photo by Astrud Lea Beringer   Astrud Lea Beringer Astrud Lea Beringer

The only entrance by land, a steel gate that was established by the former landowners many years ago and turned into a wall after the first failed installation attempt by DAR on May 15, 2015 was finally dismantled and removed — a historical moment for the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias. 

Before, children were forced to climb over the gate on their way to school or pass through barb wired fence, causing scratches and bruises. 

The establishment of a police and military detachment inside the hacienda that should be maintained for 15 days after the installation is supposed to guarantee necessary protection to the farmers. The installed farmer beneficiaries are now able to harvest peacefully. However, the agrarian reform process has yet to be fully completed as there are still over 200 farmer beneficiaries waiting for their land.

By fully implementing agrarian reform, the government will show strong political will to end the decade-long land struggle in Hacienda Matias. 

PH govt accountable 

All human beings are entitled to enjoy the full realization of their right to adequate food and nutrition, a basic human right. 

The Philippine government is obliged to respect, protect, and fulfill this right as enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which the country is a State Party. Therefore, under the CARP, the government is duty-bound to uphold the right to adequate food of the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias by fast-tracking the land distribution process and providing necessary protection measures until the farmers are able to produce their crop peacefully. 

Notwithstanding the recent successful installation, the land struggle has not yet ended. The right to an adequate standard of living is a fundamental human right and has to be secured for the 500 farmer beneficiaries and their families in Hacienda Matias. Rappler.com

Astrud Lea Beringer is an Austrian national currently doing volunteer work with FIAN Philippines. She finished Master of Arts in International Development from the University of Vienna in Austria. Catherine Atienza is the National Coordinator of FIAN Philippines and has been involved in advocacy work for more than 10 years.

The Foodfirst Information or Action Network (FIAN) – Philippines is a human rights organization that promotes and defends the fundamental human right to adequate food. FIAN has consultative status with the United Nations and is active in more than 50 countries worldwide. 

FIAN Philippines together with FIAN International have expressed their solidarity with the farmer beneficiaries in Hacienda Matias in a joint statement. They have called on the government of the Philippines to finally complete this decades-long struggle for agrarian reform that serves the right to adequate food.

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