PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) joins its partners in the Philippines in condemning the arrest of 92 agrarian reform beneficiaries and their supporters, in what apparently is a case of influential people using power and intimidation to grab lands already awarded to farmers under the country’s land reform law.

On June 9, the local police manhandled and arrested members of the peasant group MAKISAMA-Tinang and land reform advocates from youth and artist groups who were clearing a small portion of a 200-hectare land to plant vegetables. The incident occurred in the village of Tinang in Concepcion town, Tarlac province (more than 100 kilometers north of Manila).

The police justified the arrests by claiming that the farmers and their supporters committed “obstruction of justice” and “malicious mischief” for taking part in a bungkalan (collective farming).

According to our local partner Peasant Movement of the Philippines (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas or KMP), the group held collective farming on land that has been awarded to MAKISAMA members, identified by the Philippine government as agrarian reform beneficiaries since 1995. The Department of Agrarian Reform promised to install the farmers on their land before the end of the month — a delay of more than two and a half decades already.

Recent information from KMP reveals that a local politician and his relatives want to retain control over the disputed lands using a farmers’ cooperative that MAKISAMA does not recognise.

We support the demand of peasant, human rights, and other cause-oriented groups in the Philippines to immediately and unconditionally release the arrested farmers and land reform advocates. PANAP’s monitoring of land-related human rights violations consistently place the Philippines as among the world’s most dangerous countries for farmers and land reform advocates.

The charges against the Tinang 92 are clearly insubstantial and should be dropped. Planting vegetables is not a crime. We strongly urge the authorities to stop criminalizing the legitimate assertion of farmers’ right to land. Amid a raging global food crisis, small farmers must instead be supported to strengthen domestic food production and fulfill the people’s right to food.