Coveting Paradise: Fisherfolk stand ground vs. Viratas, Henry Sy

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It was dawn of February 21, 2014 when three battalions of the combined forces of the police, air force and special weapons and tactics team entered the quiet community of Patungan. They were in search of community leaders who were struggling for their right to land and livelihood in Brgy. Patungan (now Sta. Mercedes), Maragondon, Cavite.

The Virata family’s M.T.V. Properties and Holdings Corporation is claiming the scenic portion of Patungan Cove where the fishing community has settled for more than a century. Allegedly in connivance with Henry Sy—who owns the Pico de Loro Beach Resort in the adjacent Hamilo Coast—it is bent on driving the community away.

That night in 2014, two of the leaders, William Castillano and Lorenzo Obrado, were arrested and charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives. In jail for more than two years now, they are among the hundreds of political prisoners facing trumped-up criminal cases.

Susan Agner, secretary general of Save Patungan Now Movement, thankfully evaded arrest, or what she called “a desperate move by the real estate developers” coveting their small paradise.

But today, she and 353 families in Patungan are facing the struggle of their lives as as a Writ of Demolition has been issued against the community. With July 12 as its “deadline,” the community has organized a “Tanggulan” to defend their homes, despite heavy military and police presence in the area since last week.

The entrance to the main campsite in Patungan, one of the four campsites the community put up to guard from impending threat and harassment by the police, military and security guards of the M.T.V. Corporation and MSDC of Henry Sy. Photo by Selina Gabriel.
The entrance to the main campsite in Patungan, one of the four campsites the community put up to guard from impending threat and harassment by the police, military and security guards of the M.T.V. Corporation and MSDC of Henry Sy. Photo by Selina Gabriel.

Displaced for tourism

Who wouldn’t covet a paradise like Patungan? Patungan faces the famous Corregidor and Carabao Islands of Bataan. It is one of the many coves found along the shores of Maragondon, Cavite and Nasugbu, Batangas.

On the southeast portion of the community lies the famous Pico de Loro National Park frequented by tourists. Along the National Tourism Road are the various resorts owned by the Panlilios (Puerto Azul), the Viratas with Malaysian-Kuok Properties (Caylabne). Adjacent to Patungan is the Hamilo Coast Pico de Loro Beach Resort developed by Henry Sy’s Manila Southcoast Development Corporation (MSDC) under its Harbor Town Project—which up to now has not been completed because of the continuing struggle of farmers and fishermen.

“Our struggle goes back to the late 1990s, together with the farmers and fishermen in the adjacent Hacienda Looc, Nasugbu, Batangas,” shared Susan.

Her fellow leader, Castillano, is one of the farmer beneficiaries granted a collective Certificate of Land Ownership Award in Hacienda Looc under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In 1994, however, the government’s privatization arm Asset Privatization Trust (APT) sold Hacienda Looc to Henry Sy’s MSDC and the Sobrepeñas family’s Fil-Estate Corporation, including land already awarded to farmer beneficiaries.

The Save Patungan Now Movement alleges that the Virata family had original claim over 13.5 hectares, but that it did not include the community’s dwelling areas fronting the now famous Patungan Cove. The Viratas meanwhile allege that the community is part of its 602-hectare land title.

Local tourists frequent Patungan Cove, every summer and on weekends. Local families maximize the opportunity to earn extra for their living from rentals of cottages, selling fish to the tourists and collecting boat fares to and from Patungan Cove and the National Tourism Road. Photo by Jen Guste.
Local tourists frequent Patungan Cove, every summer and on weekends. Local families maximize the opportunity to earn extra for their living from rentals of cottages, selling fish to the tourists and collecting boat fares to and from Patungan Cove and the National Tourism Road. Photo by Jen Guste.

Since 2012, the Viratas have more aggressively asserted their claim. After the construction of the National Tourism Highway and the 300 meter-Kaybiang Tunnel connecting Ternate and Maragondon towns of Cavite and Nasugbu, Batangas to Manila, the fisherfolk can no longer move freely in their village. M.T.V. Corp. security guards were stationed by the Viratas in 2013. A police checkpoint was also put up.

Through these checkpoints, residents are not allowed to bring in construction materials to improve their dwellings or build boats. The farmers are also afraid to go up their kaingin farms along the boundary of Maragondon and Nasugbu, for fear that the security guards of Henry Sy’s MSDC will harass or shoot at them.

“Our forefathers have long been here, 150 years ago. They were the ones who cleared the area to be suitable for residential purposes. Now a giant ‘developer’ and Henry Sy suddenly came and want us to leave the land where we grew up to pave way for their money-making ventures,” Susan said.

‘We were happy then’

Majority or about 90% of the residents in Patungan are full-time fishermen. Fish such as bangus and tilapia are aplenty especially during the rainy season, when the seas are rough and the waves are high.

The rest are farmers. The farmers produced rice, mangoes, root crops, vegetables, and coconut.

Community members also earn from the local tourists who frequent the cove during summer and on weekends during good weather.

“We were happy then. We had food on the table. We were earning modestly and can send our children to school. We lived without fear and anxiety,” said Basilio Agner, Susan’s husband and also a leader.

One of the houses demolished in Brgy. Sta Mercedes, Maragondon, Cavite. Each household are paid P5,000 to move out of the community and transfer to the relocation site constructed by M.T.V. Corporation for the residents. Photo by Selina Gabriel.
One of the houses demolished in Brgy. Sta Mercedes, Maragondon, Cavite. Each household is paid P5,000 to move out of the community and transfer to the relocation site constructed by M.T.V. Corporation for the residents. Photo by Selina Gabriel.

There used to be around 600 households here in Patungan. Now, there are just a little more than 300 households, since demolitions started in 2012. “People were paid P5,000 each to move out and transfer to a relocation site provided by M.T.V. called Bagong Patungan. The relocation however was far from the peoples’ source of livelihood and they are not able to pay the P500 monthly amortization,” said Basilio.

In 2013, the community organized themselves and established the Save Patungan Now Movement to collectively assert their rights to keep their dwelling place and source of livelihood.

However, the M.T.V. Corporation charged many of the fisherfolk with multiple cases in its effort to drive them away—these cases include trespassing with malicious mischief in 2013, unlawful detainer in September 2014, and malicious mischief with serious physical injury in March 2016.

The cases are currently under litigation. “We contribute for the hearings, for our lawyer. It is hard. We cannot go about our usual way of life especially among us leaders as we are extra careful of our movements,” shared Susan.

Guarding the village

The community set up several campsites in strategic locations within the village to guard the village from harassment from the security guards, police and the military. According to Susan, community members voluntarily man each campsite every day by rotation especially during the night. Every time there is perceived danger, they ring the bells (they call batingting) to alert the other members of the community.

“Once we hear the bells ringing, we all gather together to derail any impending harassment to our community,” she said.

They also conducted several dialogues with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, with the agency conducting an ocular inspection and declaring that Patungan within the marine reservation area and cannot be issued a title.

Still, a notice to vacate and a writ of execution was issued by the Naic Regional Trial Court, and in May 31, 2016, the sheriff, accompanied by the police, issued a Writ of Demolition.

Nanay Suzy Agner and her husband Tatay Burog, who are leaders of Save Patungan Now share their community's struggle as they guard the main campsite in Bgy Sta Mercedes, Maragondon, Cavite. Photo by Selina Gabriel.
Susan and Basilio Agner, leaders of Save Patungan Now, share their community’s struggle as they guard the main campsite in Patungan. Photo by Selina Gabriel.

Challenge to Duterte

Wilmalyn, the daughter of arrested leader William Castillano, hopes for two things: that President Duterte will be true to his word in granting amnesty to all political prisoners; and that their struggle for land and livelihood will be realized.

“We just want our lives back, living simply and back to our old happy times harvesting together the fruits of tatay’s toil and labor,” she said. At 20 years old, she just got laid off after her five-month contract expired at, ironically, the Henry Sy-owned SM Supermarket.

She is glad that peasant leader Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano is now heading the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). But she also knows that their struggle depends primarily on how the community will resist the impending demolition.

“We are happy that President Duterte offered strategic government positions to progressive leaders for a chance to work towards the meaningful change we want. But we shall continue to rely on the strength of our unity in order to assert our right to land and decent living,” Wilmalyn said.

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