Unlike many countries the Philippines has long reserved the right of land ownership to its own citizens. However with the rise of globalisation and integration of the Philippines with the world market, many of the Philippine business and governing elite such as Arroyo the president would like to remove those restrictions. She would be well rewarded no doubt. This article shows how the Arroyo govt. is already at work trying to please foreign investment by alienating Philippine land.
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Manila selling land to foreigners
By Gerry Albert CorpuzColumn: Politics in Command
Published: June 22, 2009
Font size: Manila, Philippines —
Last week Philippine President Gloria Arroyo announced that her government will allow the Japanese investor Pacific Bio-Fields Holdings to acquire 400,000 hectares of land in northern Luzon for the production of biodiesel products intended for the Japanese market in the next five years.
During her state visit to Tokyo, Japan, Arroyo confirmed that the agreement between the United Kingdom-based Japanese firm and its local counterpart, Bio-Energy NL, will be signed sometime in August.
The agreement will allow both companies to utilize forest area to plant coconut trees for a reasonable fee, provided that 60 percent of the biodiesel products will be acquired by the Philippine government and the remaining 40 percent will supply biodiesel fuel to Japan for Japanese users in five years.
However, the Japanese investor maintains that all the products will be shipped to Japan, contrary to previous reports that 60 percent would be made available for the use of Filipinos, and 40 percent for Japanese car users. Based on the existing agreement, the Manila government will charge standard fees for the lease of 400,000 hectares of land for 25 years, renewable for another 25 years.
A separate memorandum of agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Philippine Coconut Authority had been clinched to facilitate the takeover of the land by the two firms.
Agrarian reform advocates in Manila denounced the agreement. One of the groups, the fisherfolk umbrella alliance Pamalakaya, called on members of Parliament to stop the deal. Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap lamented that while seven out of 10 Filipino farmers and fishermen are landless people, the Philippine government is giving away 400,000 hectares of land.
“In exchange for 400 nursing and caregiving jobs in Japan, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will allow the corporate exploitation of 400,000 hectares of Philippine agricultural lands to foreign groups identified with and serving at the pleasure of Japanese carmakers,” Hicap said.
Prior to the announcement in Tokyo, the Philippines government came under fire from critics after news reports in Manila alleged that the European Union was interfering in local politics by pressing Arroyo to revise the Constitution and lift the ban on foreign ownership of land in the country.
Ambassador Alistair MacDonald, the EU Commission’s ambassador to Manila, denied the report, saying there was no formal request from European states to revise the Philippine charter.
But despite the denial, anti-charter change groups are still convinced the European Union is after Philippine lands.
Human rights lawyer and agrarian reform activist Jobert Pahilga, executive director of Sentro Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo, appealed to the European Union to spare the country’s agricultural lands from EU takeover.
The controversy was sparked by former Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Merlin Magallona, who warned Filipino lawmakers that calling for the removal of nationalist economic provisions in the 1987 Constitution could be playing into the hands of the European Union.
Magallona, also former dean of the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, said that the 27-member European Union had formally requested the Arroyo government, under World Trade Organization rules, to remove the ban on foreign land ownership.
The European Union also requested the government to allow foreign nationals, particularly lawyers, to be allowed to practice in the Philippines, according to Magallona, who was a guest speaker at a forum on charter change at the UP College of Law last week.
Agrarian reform activists do not want to see agricultural lands sold to foreign economic powers like Japan and the European Union. Their message is that their country is not for sale; that the land should be reserved for the people.
(Gerry Albert Corpuz is a correspondent of Bulatlat.com, an alternative Philippine online news site. He is also head of the information department of Pamalakaya, a national federation of small fisherfolk organizations in the Philippines. His website is www.pampil.wordpress.com, and he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. ©Copyright Gerry Albert Corpuz)