By Sophie Passelecq

April 3, 2017

When I visited San Isidro the first time, I was invited for a meeting a couple of weeks later. The meeting was of the SASAM (Sandigan Samahang Magsasaka; literally translated the Pillar of the Peasant Association). Sasam fights for the rights of the peasant to keep their home.

Going back to San Isidro it was inspiring to see how the community organizes themselves to fight for their homes. But it is difficult. The leaders of the organizations and the Barangay captains [who function like village leaders] urge the families to register so that they will be acknowledge as part of the community. If the families are not registered the government can easily ignore them, claiming they never lived there…

How can it be that in this 21st century people just don’t exist because they are not registered? And how can you register if the requirements for registration cost you a week’s food…?

Once again it shows the importance of awareness, some members of the community are not attending the meetings, it feels like they choose to ignore the situation and naïvely live in the moment, as they always have.

I admire the courage of the leaders of the organization to unite the community and urge them to fight for their rights. The call to be united because together they are stronger than alone and to fight for their lands, because if they do not appeal, nobody will do it for them. How can the value of a human being be brought down to meaningless and inexistent in order for them to make space for a train line or train station?

There is few or no dialogue… The government might offer relocation but where will the relocation be? Will it be far from their current lands? What will the transportation costs be? Will they still be allowed to cultivate the lands? The San Isidro residents have no information on their displacement, supposedly a constitutional right, offered by the government.

There is a total of 1300ha of land in Barangay Tungkong Mangga

·      200ha is destined for residential purposes

·      600ha is idle land

·      400ha is pasture land

·      Only 50ha is considered agricultural land

(Sitio San Isidro is part of the Barangay Tungkong Mangga. In the Philippines the Barangay, like a village, exists of different sitios or communities.)

The residents ask for only a part of the 600ha idle land to be agricultural land so they can guarantee their source of income as farmers of the lands.

They are not against development but will they be given a job when the area is commercially developed? With their level of education will they be guaranteed a job? Now they have a job, they are farmers and it allows them to create a sustainable live for themselves. Not a great life but a sustainable one.

(To give you an idea; Talbos (sweet potato leaves) results in 2500 PHP income a week which is about 47EUR a week, or less than 200 EUR a month)

With such low income, forced to move you are helpless when everything you have is taken away from you. If they are displaced they are at risk of being unemployed, no source of income left when the poor governmental help falls away, which will probably happen within a year. They are indirectly forced into criminality and immigration work because they have no other options as their livelihood is taken away from them.

As I am faced with the stories of the San Isidro residents I ask myself does sustainable development exist? Who was forced to move, who lost their job, their livelihood for the comfort of development?

Read more of Sophie’s stories as PSET’s volunteer at http://sophielippines.blogspot.com/