IN SUNDAY’S "Gikan sa Masa, para sa Masa," Davao City Mayor Rodrigo R. Duterte and Liberal Party senatorial candidate Neric Acosta tackled the "loosening" of foreign land ownership restrictions that charter change proponents have consistently been pushing. Investments for development are how this move is being packaged.

But both Duterte and Acosta see this as but another shackle that will strengthen the hold of poverty on poor people once all the land in this small archipelagic country is taken over by foreign investors, their rich local partners, and benefactor politicians.

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Land-grabbing, it's called, even in today's modern world. New colonialism it has been coined because this takeover of thousands of hectares of land is not only happening in the country, but is a new phenomenon that has already been taken note of by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization last year.

The issue about landgrabbing by big countries is in fact a pressing global concern. Even without charter change and the loosening of land ownership restrictions have already taking over lands in the Philippines, mostly for agricultural projects, plus the huge chunks are for mining. Both with the full blessing and support and coddling by government.

In the International Food Policy Research Institute table of media reports, it noted that 10,000 hectares has been secured for agro-forestry by Bahrain in the Philippines, the deal signed in February 2009, a lease was made December 2008 by Qatar for 100,000 hectares, while a China company has fortunately discontinued a lease for 1.24-million hectares.

Vast tracts of land are being disposed of as if the Philippines has all the land to give away.

In a study entitled "Land grab or development opportunity? Agricultural investment and international land deals in Africa" sponsored by the Food FAO, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), debunks perceptions that there are vast tracts of idle lands.

"While there is a perception that land is abundant in certain countries, these claims need to be treated with caution. In many cases land is already being used or claimed -- yet existing land uses and claims go unrecognized because land users are marginalized from formal land rights and access to the law and institutions."

Example, poor farm communities in the mountains have access to rivers and streams as well as patches of land that they can till for subsistence for food security. Once this is taken over by big investors, the land will be restricted complete with armed guards and fences. As we all know, we cannot rely on government to fill in what has been fenced off even if politicians promise that support social structures will be built.

"Although on paper some countries have progressive laws and procedures that seek to increase local voice and benefit, big gaps between theory and practice, between statute books and reality on the ground result in major costs being internalized by local people -- but also in difficulties for investor companies," reads the June 2009 Policy Brief by FAO entitled "From Land Grab to Win-Win, Seizing the Opportunities of International Investments in Agriculture."

So true, especially for the Philippines where indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands are supposed to be protected by the Indigenous Peoples Reform Act (Ipra) Law.

"Even in the minority of countries where legal requirements for community consultation are in place, processes to negotiate land access with communities remain unsatisfactory. Lack of transparency and of checks and balances in contract negotiations creates a breeding ground for corruption and deals that do not maximize the public interest," the June 2009 policy brief reads.