Alamon: The emergent occupy movement

IN CASE you missed it, an important lesson on the nature of political institutions has been unraveling on a national scale. Over the last few months, there has been a host of organized actions pushed by a critical mass of citizens and people’s organizations that assert a marginalized sector’s right to a range of public resources. This emergent “occupy movement” has challenged both the ideological and repressive nature of the State as protector of private property and interests and have stirred debates about established notions of entitlement.

The most famous and socially divisive among these is of course Kadamay’s occupation of thousands of units of abandoned public housing in Bulacan. The urban poor organization, through a successful campaign involving thousands of informal settlers from Bulacan and nearby Manila, peacefully occupied deteriorating housing units that have not been turned over to their intended beneficiaries who either found them too far from their places of work or too shabby and small for their growing families.

Kadamay’s organized action still reap passionate reactions particularly from the middle class and a few media personalities who are one in condemning what to their minds was a strong but misplaced entitlement of the urban poor towards costly state resources. Whereas they followed the difficult and circuitous paths to home ownership by gaining an education and working, they look at Kadamay’s action as a sly and lazy route of an entitled sector to secure housing for their members. They were quick to label the urban poor as mendicants and their action as extreme examples of dangerous social anarchy.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. The mass action staged by the urban poor group was in fact an organized political move that required a certain degree of political awareness about their issues as a sector and how they can seek gains collectively by asserting their rights as a group. If anything, Kadamay’s actions were showcases of organized political action and the power of collective unity – traits that prevented the Duterte administration from dismissing their move and letting loose its police and military for dispersal. A testament to their success is when government through the pronouncement of President Duterte himself relented and allowed them to stay in their occupied houses.

If Kadamay represented the actions of the urban poor to secure public housing, agrarian reform beneficiaries all over the country are also staging their own occupy actions to force out private enterprises who have held on to thousands of hectares of land already distributed to farmers under the Comprehensive Land Reform Program or CARP law. There are, at present, two flashpoints, where landless peasants are confronting landlords and their plantations.

Portions of the 145-hectare banana plantation of Lapanday Food Corporation’s Tagum, Davao del Norte are in contention between 159 beneficiaries and the Lorenzo-owned company. Last April 21, 2017, backed by an installation order from the Department of Agrarian Reform, the farmers attempted to occupy their awarded land only to be frustrated once again by the lack of police support versus the 800-strong private security firm of the plantation. This private security have been used by the plantation to drive out claimants and even caused a shooting melee last December 2016 where seven farmers were shot and wounded.

This is not altogether different from the situation of the farmers of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. Peasants have died for their right to own the land they till in Luisita. Last November 16, 2004, 14 farm workers were killed when the police and military opened fire on unarmed protesters on strike over low wages. Last April 2012, the Supreme Court issued a final and executory ruling declaring null and void the stock distribution scheme that has allowed the Aquinos to maintain control over the land for decades despite being placed on CARP and ordering the installation of farmers. Years later, the farmers have yet to be installed on land.

Last April 24, 2017, in remembrance of the 2012 Supreme Court ruling, the farmers of Luisita staged a mass action occupying 500 hectares of disputed land within the Hacienda. 500 policemen and 50 armed guards attempted to stop the 700 members of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas but eventually relented.

The actions of urban poor group Kadamay in Bulacan to have access to public housing, and the peasants brave bid to reclaim land in Tagum, Davao del Norte and in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac versus plantations are all indications of an emergent occupy movement that challenge the traditional operations of a State as protector of private property and interests.

Note that the nature of the State has not changed in all these instances. It is just that the strength of the mass movement and organizations through their collective action carve these emancipated spaces and allow for liberative practices to bear fruit. There is a lesson about our political institutions here – the monolithic State is not so monolithic after all before an awakened and organized citizenry.
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