TARLAC, Philippines — In a field in Aranguren, a barangay in Capas, Tarlac, a small farmhouse stands silent witness as a new city rises from the plains. At night, the only lights are from a sports complex being built in the distance—the house itself has no electricity and water comes from a hand pump.
In April, it was a spare house for guests of the Nogoy family that farms the rice field across the dirt road. By June, it was being rented by contractors for infrastructure and landscaping projects around it. It is unclear if the hut of light wood and a dirt floor will still be there in the coming months.
Arnold Nogoy, 46, said his grandfather Porfirio settled in the area to farm in the 1930s, moving there from Porac in Pampanga.
Another of Porfirio’s grandsons, Ferdinand Manaloto, 54, said their family has been planting on these fields and what used to be a strand of mango trees in the distance "even before the Republic of the Philippines was a country."
They have grown old on this land and have known no other home, but that this is their land is only true to Porfirio’s descendants and their neighbors.
Their farms are actually on a military reservation that the Bases Conversion and Development Authority is turning into New Clark City, a new urban center and, it says on its website, “a destination where nature, lifestyle and business, education, and industry converge into a global city based on principles of sustainability.”
In 2014, Antonio Rodriguez—mayor at the time—told a House panel that residents had hoped that closure of the US bases in 1991 would mean they would get the rights to their land back.
Instead, the land was turned over to the BCDA through the law that created it.
“Again, the barangays and the people of western Capas were made unwilling prisoners in their own land by virtue of legislative fiat,” Rodriguez said then, pointing out that 23,024—a little more than half—of the town's 43,148 hectares are inside the military reservation.
Nogoy admits he and Manaloto do not have titles to the land they till, but adds their village knows that it is theirs to plant on.
The fear of losing their land to a sprawling new metropolis that will host the Southeast Asian Games and will house the National Government Administration Complex as well as, planners hope, bring in investors and locators to spur development in the town, is no less real than if they had papers saying it is their land.
The project, BusinessWorld reported in May, is expected to create 100,000 jobs by next year, and a million in 25 years. The new city, called Clark Green City during the Aquino administration, is meant to bring more development to the regional centers and make idle government land productive.
“But there is life here. There is livelihood here,” Manaloto stressed—researchers from the UP Department of Geography have been working on “countermapping” to show that there are people on this land, just not on official maps.
Part of the rice fields have already been bulldozed and concreted for a highway busy with trucks loaded with construction materials and motorcycles ferrying workers.
The BCDA said in a July 8 press statement the roads “will provide access and connectivity to everyone, especially indigenous peoples, residents, and farmers for their livelihood,” adding those communities “will be the first and biggest beneficiaries of these developments.”
Houses in a part of the village closer to the sports complex that were still there in April, were gone by June. The residents had already moved out, transferred to a relocation site with financial assistance of between P30,000 to P50,000—about the cost to build a house of light materials, Nogoy says.
In a July 8 press statement, the BCDA said financial assistance packages of P300,000 per hectare, or P30 per square meter, are made available to those who need to be relocated.
“This is the highest compensation package provided by government to project-affected people,” it said, stressing relocation is within New Clark City.
Elvie Sicat, a relative of the Nogoys who also fears eventual eviction from her house in Aranguren proper, says the money is not enough to tide a family over while they build a new house and try to rebuild their disrupted lives.
The fear is more palpable in Sitio Bagingan, a little further up the mountain, where an Aeta community displaced by the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, now lives.
Although the residents agreed to talk to Philstar.com, they asked to not be recorded on video, saying they did not want to get in trouble.
“Elsa,” a young Aeta woman, said that most of the residents of Bagingan make a living from planting and harvesting crops in the mountains and gathering banana blossoms and “lunas”—medicinal plants—to sell in town.
“If we have to move, it will feel different. Where will we get our livelihood? Where will we get the products we sell?” she said.
She acknowledged that development in Capas will mean better lives for the people there, “but only for those who have an education.”
“What about those who didn’t get to finish school? You will not even get a job in construction… Almost everyone in Bagingan didn’t get to finish,” she said, adding that most would prefer to live the way they are used to.
At a joint press conference with the Capas local government, Joshua Bingcang, an engineer and senior vice president for Business Development and Operations Group for BCDA, said that part of its effort to make development inclusive is putting up an educational program for communities, which business locators in New Clark City will be obligated to contribute to.
Capas Mayor Reynaldo Catacutan said at the same press conference that only 12 Aetas have been affected by New Clark City, disputing reports of displacement by the thousands.
“They are ‘genuine and pure’ indigenous people,” he said. “IPs have been compensated accordingly and are actively being consulted to ensure that they are included in the development projects.”
“There are a lot of IPs also, working... they are now working in New Clark City,” he also said, adding he does not know where the people from the University of the Philippines and the University of Glasgow, with which UP’s Department of Geography collaborated for the counter-mapping project, got their information.
The BCDA did not respond to a query in June on the relocation program for affected residents, but said as early as August 2018 that claims New Clark City would displace Aeta communities were “completely false and misleading.”
In the same press conference, Antonio Sumilang, a former chieftain of the Aetas in Sitio Kalangitan, said his people do not have issues with the development project.
“I do not know of any complaints. Nobody has been displaced,” he said.
Reynaldo Medrano, chieftain of Kalangitan said that there are no more idle youths in their sitio because “all of those above 18 now work in BCDA.”
BCDA said more than 300 workers at the National Government Administrative Center site are from Aeta families, with Bingcang pointing out that construction at the project is expected to continue for years to come, so their employment is not for the short term.
The government does consider the effects that infrastructure projects have on residents, Director Jeffrey Manalo of the Policy Formulation, Project Evaluation and Monitoring Service of the Public-Private Partnership Center told Philstar.com in an email.
He said that “the extent of physical and economic displacement shall be considered in deciding on project location alternatives,” and that “whenever possible, forced displacement shall be avoided by considering all viable alternative actions or design options.”
According to a 2016 resolution by the PPP Governing Board, implementing agencies are supposed to engage with and consult stakeholders, which include local government units and residents in coming up with a Resettlement Action Plan.
Bingcang said that this was done in coordination with the Capas municipal government, adding around 500 land claimants were given compensation even though they were on government land since they were not “builders in bad faith.”
He added that no Aeta homes were affected, saying “if there was anyone who was displaced, they were not totally displaced, we just asked them to move.”
For the Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange, Manalo said, informal settler families were given financial assistance to leave the area and “return to their respective provinces or original residence.”
Those affected by the construction of the Metro Rail Transit 7 line that will run from Quezon City to Bocaue in Bulacan, will also get relocation assistance and eligible families will be offered National Housing Authority units.
“We did not disadvantage anyone and we are with them now in development,” Bingcang said.
Building a new house is just a small part of being displaced and the cost is measured in more than pesos.
According to a 2016 paper by Reazul Ahsan of the Malaysia Sustainable Cities Program, “displacement due to physical development encompasses more than the loss of land: displaced communities also lose their social structure, control over their lives, traditional living patterns and economic activities, and control over natural resources.”
Ahsan, who looked into the displacement and resettlement of indigenous people affected by the Bakun Dam project in Sarawak, found that relocatees had to contend with landlessness and food insecurity. Although they had land, it was too small to support their needs that they were forced to seek other sources of income.
Even the loss of, or a change to, their way of life led to marginalization for some. “Since displacement took place, the elderly people—who are used to rowing boats on the river, fishing, farming, and socializing—can’t cope with modern technologies such as mobile phones and cars,” Ahsan wrote.
Elsa in Bagingan voiced a parallel concern, saying that, in their sitio, “we are comfortable, we feel we can handle life.”
“If we go somewhere else, we might end up begging because we will lose [access] to the products we sell. That’s what we know, to plant crops and sell them in town.”
BCDA’s Bingcang, speaking at the joint conference, said that those relocated would only have to move a short distance from their original homes.
Dolores Koenig, a specialist in international development and professor emerita at the American University in Washington DC, wrote in the Forced Migration Review in 2002 that “resettlement impoverishes people by taking away their political power, notably to decide how and where to live.”
She said transplanting people from their community and environment increases their marginalization since “people lose resources because they lack the cultural, economic, political and social capital to make their claims and rights heard effectively.”
She said that “exclusively economic value orientations” do not take “that complexity” into account.
Ahsan writes that “for many mega-developments, cost-benefit analysis has proven to be more important than the study of the social implications of development.” This is especially true in Asia “where rapid physical infrastructure development is considered integral to economic growth and stability.”
In the case of New Clark City, and in other infrastructure and development projects in the Philippines, the cost of displacement—at least 20,000 people, according to local estimates that the mayor disputes—cannot outweigh the benefits of regional growth and the decongestion of Metro Manila, which itself has been relocating its informal settlers.
Although New Clark City is among the most high-profile of the Duterte administration’s big ticket development projects, the weighing of costs and benefits is happening on varying scales across the Philippines.
Indigenous peoples communities in the Sierra Madres and Cordilleras face displacement for dam and irrigation projects that are projected to boost agricultural productivity and provide a new water source for Metro Manila.
In Bulacan, fisherfolk and coastal families face displacement for an airport project that would also mean destruction of traditional fishing areas.
Fisherfolk along Manila Bay warn against planned reclamation projects that they say could displace thousands dependent on gathering mussels and catching small amounts of fish along the coastline.
The Sampaloc People's Alliance in the city of Manila says 108,000 families could lose their homes to make way for rail and road projects that the government says will shorten travel time across and from the capital.
In Quezon City, residents of Sitio San Roque in the city's North Triangle are resisting attempts to clear the area for a years-delayed QC Central Business District.
According to a Bulatlat report in June, the Save San Roque Alliance will propose a community development plan that "aims to incorporate the development of the area along with the welfare of the residents of [the sitio]."
QC Mayor Joy Belmonte said during the campaign for the May elections that her administration would implement in-city relocation for informal settler families, saying in April that "just because they are poor, they are deprived of the right to stay where they have been residing for years."
Residents are hopeful that the campaign promise will be fulfilled.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in its guiding principles for internal displacement, holds that all people have a right against the displacement from their home or place of habitual residence, but recognizes that this can be done if the process is not arbitrary and it is justified by a “compelling and overriding public interest.”
Bjorn Pettersson, training and protection coordinator of the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global IDP Project at the time, asks in a separate paper in the Forced Migration Review however: “But what is meant by the ambiguous concept of 'compelling and overriding public interests'? Who has authority to adjudicate that 'compelling and overriding public interest' can justify forcing people off their lands?”
Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch's Asia division said that "while the government – particularly the government – has the right to expropriate land and develop it to benefit a larger segment of society, that still has to be done in accordance with standards of human rights and international law."
Citing the UN Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons, he said that "just because a project is designed to address the 'interest of society' does not mean the right of those affected can be violated just like that."
"The perspective 'the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few' can be prone to abuse or misuse, particularly in the Philippines where laws and regulations on property tend to favor the rich and developers," he also said.
Although development and higher revenues can be argued to be in the public interest, the gains from the big-ticket infrastructure projects ought to also improve the lives disrupted to make them happen.
Otherwise, Pettersson warns: “If the displaced are not properly resettled and their capacity to earn a living is not restored to them, it becomes irrelevant if the project forcing them off their land is of overriding public interest—it is still the reality that their rights have been violated.”
NewsX, short for "News Exclusive," is a one-off multimedia cover story of Philstar.com.