Correspondence: Land grabbing intensifies in Masbate

This article is available in PilipinoBisaya

At the onset of 2023, Masbate farmers faced intensified land grabbing by the province’s big ranchers, bourgeois compradors and bureaucrat-capitalists. Among them are old and new cronies of the Marcos family.

Masbate Governor Antonio T. Kho evicted peasants from Rantso Pecson’s 550-hectare land in Cawayan town. Even nearby private lands were not spared from the governor’s extensive land grabbing. Sitio Calman, Barangay Madbad in the said town was fenced off and a military detachment built to prevent farmers from returning.

The D.M. Consunji Inc. (DMCI)’s hybrid solar energy power plant also took over several hectares of land in the province.

In Dimasalang and Palanas towns, Empark company continues to grab land for its 1,854-hectare Masbate International Tourism Enterprise and Special Economic Zone ecotourism project.

In addition, many farmers in the province have been compelled to sell or mortgage the land they till to pay usurious lending and microfinance companies. Many small and independent farming families have became semi-proletarian or farm workers.

To suppress peasant resistance, the 2nd IB built a new headquarters in Barangay Panicijan, Uson. It will serve to secure the planned expansion of the big foreign mining company Filminera. The company will cover 1,755 hectares of mountain land in Mobo, Milagros and Uson towns.

Fake and militarist land distribution

The counterrevolutionary agrarian program is now being implemented in Masbate through Executive Order No. 75, series 2019 (EO 75, s. 2019), and the Support to Parcelization of Lands for Individual Titling or SPLIT program.

Up to 3,000 hectares of the target 9,000 hectares have been distributed under the SPLIT program. This includes the land of the Triple A ranch earlier targeted for the failed Masbate Agro-Industrial Growth Corridor or MAGIC and the Deagan island. Titles were split and distributed to make it easier for interested businessmen to seize land from individual farmers.

To implement EO 75 (issued in 2019) under Marcos Jr, land already granted to genuine beneficiaries are being seized to be redistributed to “rebel returnees” and families of retired military and police. Hacienda Yulo in Barangay Matagbac, Milagros is one of those subjected to the militarist program.

The government targets to include under the fake and bogus land reform the lands that Masbateño farmers have defended against local landlords and ranchers in the province. These are the same lands that the government have sequestered from the Marcos family that Marcos Jr plans to take back and use.

Ranchers reign

In the course of the 35 years of bogus land reform in the province, landlessness among Masbateños worsened. The province’s local ruling class used the program for large-scale agricultural land conversion and declaring productive land as pastures, timberland and forests. As a result, Masbate has one of the lowest land distributions under CARP.

Ranching remains as the primary scheme for the local ruling class to maintain land control. More than half of Masbate’s 400,000 hectares are covered by ranches, owned by only 150 families.

Most of these ranches, being exempted from distribution, are operated as coconut plantations. Pastures serve to disguise mining operations, quarrying, ecotourism, power plants and agribusinesses.

Land grabbing intensifies in Masbate