This land is your land, this land is my land
This land is your land. This land is my land
From Camarines Sur and Norte to Masbate Island
From Sorsogon and Catanduanes forest to the Albay waters
This land was made for you and me…
Those familiar with the song may be humming along with me as they follow the lines that I revised to suit Bicol conditions. The song is a 1960s popular ditty that American folksinger, now-dead Woody Guthrie composed, entitled “This Land is Your Land,” one of the most nostalgic all-time folk songs ever written.
Defined in many ways, the land is soil, part of nature, a definite portion of the earth’s surface, the ground on which we stand and live, the home region of a person or people or community, with a territory marked by political boundaries. Viewed in a broad problem setting, the issues related to land are much the same. It is about ownership, possession, and relations in production. But Bicol is also about vulnerability to various hazards that are geologic, hydrometeorological, and volcanic such as flooding, active faults, lahar, rain-induced landslides, among others. Volcanoes, earthquake faults and zones, poor drainage, and irrigation inflict damage on lives and property. This is Bicol - homeland, fatherland, or motherland - divided between the few minorities who have much land and the majority who have no land of their own or are tenants to those who have. According to PSA, more than half of the population lives in rural areas. Forty percent of the land is agriculture, and the rest for residential, commercial, and extractive use like mining.
Every Christmas, Tabang Bikol Movement (TBM) holds its Pagheras Sa Pasko with its communities, partners, and recipients of its HEAL (Health, Environment, and Alternative Livelihood) program. This year, despite the surging COVID, TBM volunteer Trustees were around as Bicolano Santas in ten communities in Camarines Sur and Albay to bring Christmas cheers of gifts and food packs. The families belong to the landless poor who are part of TBM’s citronella distillation facility project in partnership with the Department of Agriculture. They are part of the community dengue warriors against dengue in 2017 after the SuperTyphoon Nina alongside the women candle makers and farm entrepreneurs who also plant and grow food as part of the Gulayan sa Bakuran at Tahanan (GuBaT) quick response to food security. The other families were from Goa, Partido, Garchitorena, Buhi, Iriga, Pili, Magarao, Ocampo and Naga in Camarines Sur, as well as the families in Rawis, Legazpi City, Camalig in Albay, and Masbate, also belong to the same poor landless farming population.
The song that I just revised (again, my public apology to the composer) is meant for them. The issue of land and life that is dependent on the land they till or live is always foremost in their mind. Take the case of the following families: Josie and her family of five are among the 150 landless families squatting on a piece of land that is perennially flooded in Barangay Haring, also in Canaman. The flood has worsened because of the faulty physical fencing set up around their community and the poor barangay drainage system that simply doesn’t work as it should despite efforts for the LGU to address the problem. There is Dindin, an IP chieftain mother and her children called igin of poor landless IP families along the neglected Lake Buhi who were among the gravely affected because of devastating floods that submerged the Rinconada areas in Camarines Sur during Typhoon Rolly (codenamed Goni) in November 2020. Another, Fema, wife to a poor farmer, part time miner, lost a job because two months earlier, a strong earthquake with 6.6 magnitude shook the province of Masbate leaving two dead and more than a hundred injured, not to mention millions of pesos damage to property.
At a Webinar that TBM hosted with the Office of Civil Defense (OCD) and the Regional Development Council (RDC), immediately after the disaster, zoom participants asked, “Is Masbate land prone to the earthquake? Why do earthquakes occur in this province considered the poorest among the six areas in Bicol, alongside Camarines Sur? The answer: Masbate is one of the seismically active regions in the country because of the presence of active faults that include the Masbate segment of the Philippine Fault and potentially active spots that have the Uson Fault and the Southern Masbate Fault. Ironically, Masbate is a gold mine to big business, host to the biggest mining company in the region and a major revenue earner. However, like Camarines Sur and Albay, Masbate is home to some of the contentious land-related problems, including farmer-landowner relations over land tenure and relations in production, not to mention well-entrenched political dynasties.
During the Pandemic, TBM campaigned for support to “Pagheras” (in Bicol, it means “sharing”), which includes providing support for home care management and home-based family learning. With more people staying at home for work and learning, the land outside - owned, leased, or squatted on- has provided meaningful family-inclusive activities like gardening and farming. Psychologically, growing a vegetable garden and collective family activities like painting and the arts for adults and children have proven to be good therapy for boredom, stress and help families gain a sense of security. The Pandemic was also an occasion for land scouting. TBM volunteers struggled to convince enlightened landowners to allow their idle lands for production and temporary shelter for landless families.
One of the gracious benefactors -Archdiocese of Caceres- has permitted a hectare of idle land for the Ilaw ng mga Kababaihan, members of the disaster survivors that TBM organized for its HEAL program. Other enlightened landowners followed suit, and TBM has forged agreements with them for cooperation. The land situation in Bicol reflects the case in other regions: a handful of wealthy land-full of families and powerful corporations on the one hand, and a large majority of landless poor on the other. The history of Bicol is not only about natural disasters. It is also replete with man-made conflicts and contentions involving land, a scarce natural resource. For most Bicolanos in the rural areas who are land-dependent, this resource -- LAND- is an essential requirement for a dignified life. Bicol has a vast, rich, beautiful flatland and agriculture with great potential to build a foundation for its industry, followed by fishing in its rich coastal waters. However, we are in a war situation, a war against the invisible COVID, and most of all, poverty and hunger. This land we need to use for the greater glory and benefit of all.
“This land is your land; this land is my land” is a song of inclusion and longing to belong. We need a national policy of belonging and equality of opportunities, and access for true peace and development to reign. How beautiful to sing the last original lines of the song: “This land was made for you and me.” “ It echoes the Psalm of David, “the earth is the Lord’s, and it contains, the world and those who dwell in it.”