Quezon City, Philippines, 12 April 2014 – More than five months after being left homeless by Typhoon Yolanda, residents of Sicogon Island are still fighting for a decent place to rebuild their lives and their homes.
On April 12, members of the Federation of Sicogon Island Farmers and Fisherfolk Association (FESIFFA), along with the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA), sounded the alarm on the dire state of over 6,000 residents of Brgys. Buaya, San Fernando, and Alipata in Sicogon Island, Iloilo, whose homes, livelihoods and fishing craft have been devastated since the onset of Typhoon Yolanda last November.
According to the groups, not only has no single government agency assisted the residents of Sicogon Islands in reconstructing their homes and rebuilding their lives— continuing harassments and other rights violations by the Sicogon Development Corporation (SIDECO), have prevented them from returning to their long-held lands.
“It has been already five months and one day after Yolanda struck, but the government has completely failed to protect the land rights of Sicogon’s residents from land-grabbers like SIDECO,” said Raul Ramos, FESIFFA president. “Up to today, we are still being forcibly prevented by SIDECO’s private security guards from rebuilding houses that we, our families and other agrarian reform beneficiaries have been living in for decades.This is not helped at all by the no-dwelling zone policy of the government, which practically rendered more than 1,000 families homeless.”
“With no options left to rebuild our communities, we are being forced by the government and by SIDECO to occupy public forest lands as a resettlement site, even without support and approval from official authorities. Because government agencies have systematically failed to protect our rights in the face of SIDECO’s post-Yolanda land-grabbing efforts, we have nowhere else left to go,” Ramos added.
Ramos was referring to the recent initiative of more than 200 Sicogon families to settle in a portion of a 282-hectare public forest land area in Brgy. Buaya, Sicogon.
Since March 28, FESIFFA members have sought to establish a residential camp, having been displaced by Yolanda last November 2013, followed by a mass eviction orchestrated by SIDECO.
Earlier, claimed FESIFFA in a statement, SIDECO had prohibited the island’s residents “to reconstruct or even simply repair their houses. Instead, the corporation offered the residents two options: a) PHP 150,000 for each family who will voluntarily vacate the islands; and b) a relocation site in Barangay Jolog, Estancia Iloilo.”
Most of the families who have opted for either of these options, according to FESIFFA, are now attempting to return to the island, both due to the substandard quality of relocation homes offered and the lack of available resettlement areas in the Yolanda-stricken region.
At present, both SIDECO and its allied officials in the local DENR are threatening to file cases against FESIFFA farmers for their occupation of the public forest lands.
“SARA condemns the government’s continuing neglect of the welfare of Sicogon Island’s residents, most especially its consistent failure to protect their right to land,” said Trinidad Domingo, SARA spokesperson. “The residents affected by SIDECO’s plans for a tourism resort have ample legal documents to prove that they are agrarian reform beneficiaries. This is a clear incident of land-grabbing facilitated by both natural disasters and government’s lack of political will.”
“We, from the various federation-members of SARA, demand a stronger political commitment from the government to protect the right to land of small farmers and rural communities like those from Sicogon Island. Stopping land-grabbing by developers like SIDECO and ensuring the effective implementation of the agrarian reform program will be the best venue to start demonstrating this stronger commitment,” Domingo asserted.
According to various sources and documents secured by SARA, SIDECO has entered into a joint venture partnership with Ayala Land to undertake a claimed “Sicogon Island Redevelopment Project.”
In a recent media report last April 9, Ayala Land director Antonino Aquino stated that “We’re looking around for properties in Sicogon. We’re interested in expanding our tourism portfolio.”
Media Release – Save Land Reform Alliance (SARA)