Tungkong Mangga: From farmers’ paradise to stove of violence

By Raymund B. Villanueva

A fact-finding mission on the demolition of four farmers’ houses last Wednesday in Barangay Tungkong Mangga, San Jose del Monte City (SJDM), Bulacan was underway at 11 AM yesterday when guards armed with high-powered guns arrived and fired indiscriminately. The firing lasted for 10 minutes and forced the victims and members of the mission to run for their lives. When it finally stopped after what seemed an eternity to the mission participants, two were injured. Several had their bags, wallets, mobile phones and other equipment seized by the guards. The armed men are under the employ of Gregorio Maria “Greggy” Araneta III, husband of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s daughter Irene and brother-in-law to presidential aspirant Marcos Jr.

Friday’s shooting had been the third of a series of harassment against farmers of the community in a year, mission co-organizer Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported. Last year, more cases of harassment were also reported, causing the residents to fear for their lives and livelihood.

READ: Araneta guards fire guns at farmers in SJDM

Where and what is Tungkong Mangga? Why are its farmers being harassed and evicted? Who is Greggy and what is his company Araneta Properties, Inc. (API) doing there? Who rightfully owns the land disputed by poor farmers and a powerful interest that tries to impose its will with guns and threats of death?

Land of sweet bananas

Tungkong Mangga is not a remote and wild place that yesterday’s incident may suggest. It is a community located just north of Quezon and Caloocan cities where Metro Manila’s sprawl is seen atop its rolling hills. It boasts of a huge shopping mall, many restaurants and other establishments, even high-end residential subdivisions developed by the Ayala, Villar, Sta. Lucia and Araneta business groups. Its undulating roads are favorites to weekend bikers who catch their breaths in the area’s many summits, drinking coffee and other refreshments from guerilla cafes put up by enterprising residents. The barangay is called such because of the many mango trees dotting the stove-shaped area.

The view from one of the bikers’ stops near where Friday’s shooting happened. On the background are farms that produce many produce supplied to Metro Manila residents. (R. Villanueva/Kodao)

A large portion of Tungkong Mangga remains agricultural however. From many vantage points, one sees many hectares of farms planted with bananas and other fruit and vegetable crops. It is a major supplier of food to several major markets of Quezon City such as those located in Novaliches and along Commonwealth Avenue. Of particular pride to its farmers is a variety of saba banana that are smaller yet much sweeter than the more common ones we have as turon and banana Qs.

Increasing violence and terror are happening where these farms and the houses of the farmers who till them are located however. The once idyllic place is increasingly ringed by barbed wire fences and guarded by armed personnel of SECURICOR Security and Investigation Services, Inc. While residents freely moved about in the past, they now have to seek permission from the guards for ingress and egress to their communities and farms. They often could not take and sell their produce to the markets anymore.

Terror against food producers

News of Friday’s shooting first reached Kodao through a Facebook Live video of farmer and Alyansa ng Magbubukid ng Bulacan (AMB) member Lea Jordan. She was screaming for help as she was running away from the API guards who shot at them at a clearing where the mission gathered.

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Lea’s family was from Samar who migrated to SJDM more than three decades back when she was but a child in the early 1990s. In an interview with Kodao last November, Lea said Tungkong Mangga was still forested and known as public land when they arrived. Many families have already settled in the area before them and, like her family, poor and landless from other parts of the country. Over time, more than a hundred families developed about the same number of hectares in the area into productive farms.

Lea was actually on her way to an AMB meeting to have themselves registered with the Department of Agriculture (DA) to be officially recognized by the government as farmers when interviewed by Kodao. She said that, if successful, they will be qualified for support and grants from the DA and it will be helpful for their struggle against the exemption of their land from the government’s agrarian reform program.

On the first month of this year, however, a crying, fleeing and terrorized Lea is what we hear of her first.


Farmlands to financial center

Lea and her neighbors’ troubles began when the DAR has exempted their farms from the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1997. Government said parts of the area have over 18-degree slopes that supposedly render these “non-viable for agricultural use.” The land’s regular yield of produce, however, proves the reasoning faulty. The farmers of Tungkong Mangga have in fact regularly participated in agricultural fairs in Metro Manila over the years that showcase their organically-raised fruit and vegetables.

Since CARP’s exemption of the productive farms, Greggy had started claiming ownership of the area. There is no online source proving the Araneta clan’s previous ownership of the land it says it owns. They clan were descendants of a Basque family who participated and obviously benefited from Spanish conquest of the archipelago.

The earliest citation available of the family’s presence in the area was the establishment of the Araneta Institute of Agriculture in 1946 that has since transferred to Malabon City and is now known as the De La Salle Araneta University (also formerly known as the Gregorio Araneta University Foundation before its integration into the De La Salle system in 1987). In 2017 newspaper interviews, Greggy claimed that about 2,000 hectares in the area were owned by his grandfather and Malolos Convention participant Gregorio. “Most of the land is owned by my family,” Greggy told the Inquirer, adding that this was where his grandfather used to enjoy horseback riding.

There were stories of a certain Hacienda Araneta near the area but was known to be mainly located in adjacent Rodriguez (Montalban), Rizal. Incidentally, long-time residents of Barangay Mascap in Rodriguez also complain of similar violent eviction tactics by the Aranetas.

With the government approval of the MRT-7 project in 2012 (when Greggy’s cousin Manuel “Mar” Araneta Roxas was transportation and communications and, immediately after, interior and local government secretary) Greggy was reported to have intensified his claims over 140 hectares in the area. The place happens to be where the ongoing MRT-7 rail project shall have its first station and train depot. This is where Greggy said he will build “the best township” beside the La Mesa Dam Reservoir, much bigger and potentially much more lucrative for his clan than their famed Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City.

But the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) pointed out that Greggy’s API was only incorporated as a legal entity, long after many of the farmers have settled and developed the area. The peasant group also accused the DAR of exempting Tungkong Mangga from CARP coverage to accommodate Greggy’s takeover.

“The peasant families of San Jose Del Monte had been tilling the farmlands of Tungkong Mangga even before [API] would be incorporated in 1988,” explained UMA chairperson Antonio Flores. “DAR’s facilitation of Araneta’s landgrab is unconscionable, and nothing short of criminal,” he added.

UMA said that since August last year, Greggy and API have been sending personnel from SECURICOR to threaten and intimidate the residents. Security personnel had even set up control gates along farm-to-market roads in the area to make the passage of agricultural produce difficult. In 2020, a unit of the Philippine Army has even encamped right in the midst of a residential area to intimidate the farmers. A month prior to the latest onset of the latest round of harassment, UMA reported than an API legal representative told residents of Tungkong Mangga’s Sitio Dalandanan to vacate their farms and let Greggy take over the disputed land.

Who should own the land?

UMA said yesterday’s incident was to prevent the fact-finding mission from looking into the ongoing demolition of houses in the area to make way for another private subdivision that would be part of Greggy’s future township. The group opposes the conversion of productive farm lands into more commercial projects.

“It is one thing for a company to grab land from the farmers who have been making it productive for decades,” said Flores. “But to steal land with the intention of converting its use to non-agricultural purposes? This is the height of criminality. On top of displacing peasants, this landgrab curtails the country ability to produce food,” Flores added.

Some of the armed security guards employed by Greggy Araneta who fired their guns and terrorized the participants of yesterday’s fact-finding mission. (UMA photo)

In Kodao’s November interview with Lea, she made clear that they settled and tilled the land in the full belief it was public. She also said that they are willing to pay for the land they now occupy at just prices and friendly schemes. “Dito na kami lumaki. Dito na ako nagka-asawa at nagka-anak. Ito ang aming buhay. Ito ang pinili naming buhay,” she added. (This is where we grew up, married and had children. This is our life. This is the life we choose.)

UMA urges electoral candidates to look into the ongoing violence in Tungkong Mangga and consider it a symptom of the larger problem of peasant landlessness. “Until a program for genuine agrarian reform could be put in place, companies like API would continue to grab land, seize sovereignty over food production away from peasants, and endanger not only peasant lives but the entire country’s food security,” the group said. #

Araneta guards fire guns at farmers in SJDM

Farmers group to Bongbong Marcos: ‘Kausapin mo ang bayaw mo!’

Armed security personnel employed by the powerful Araneta family fired guns at a group of farmers and supporters conducting a fact-finding mission in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan on Friday morning.

In a statement, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said several guards armed with high-powered rifles fired at a team of eight paralegals and 20 farmers conducting an investigation on the reported illegal demolition of four houses last January 26.

The group reportedly included seven minors.

The shooting lasted for at least 10 minutes, injuring two, KMP said.

The KMP added that mobile phones, bags, wallets as well as relief goods were forcibly taken by the guards from the victims.

The January 26 demolition was the third within a year, following similar incidents in 2021.

Araneta’s guards have also closed farm roads in the area, further constricting the farmers’ livelihood, the KMP said.

Some of the armed guards who reportedly shot at the farmers and their supporters on Friday in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan. (Supplied photo by the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura)

Araneta Properties, Inc., a company owned by Gregorio Araneta III and brother-in-law to presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., has been evicting farmers in Barangay Tungkong Mangga since 2013.

The site is being earmarked for the construction of a train station, a train depot and residential and commercial establishments similar to the family’s sprawling Araneta Center in Cubao, Quezon City.

The area however has been farmed and planted with many fruit and vegetable crops for at least three decades by hundreds peasant families who are land reform beneficiaries of the government.

“Grabeng kahayupan ng mga Araneta. Wala silang kinikilalang batas, puro pandarahas!” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos said. (The Aranetas are very cruel. They do not respect laws; they only know violence.)

“We challenge 2022 candidates who have constantly pronounced themselves as pro-farmers to speak and act. Especially Marcos Jr. – kausapin mo ang bayaw mo (Talk to your brother-in-law)!” Ramos added.

The Unyon ng mga Mangggawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a group along with the KMP and its provincial chapter Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan that was conducting the fact-finding mission, called on local government officials to intervene.

Tinatawagan namin ang atensyon ng lokal na pamahalaan at pulisya ng CSJDM na aksyunan ang kaganapang ito dahil ito ay lantarang paglabag sa [Commission on Elections] gun ban,” UMA said. (We call the attention of the local government and the police to take action on this incident because this is a brazen violation of COMELEC’s gun ban.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Bulacan LGU destroys crops and trees

A local government unit destroyed a 2.7-hectare farmland planted with vegetables and mature fruit-bearing trees last January 16 in Bulacan province, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) reported.

Hundreds of crop-bearing trees were destroyed and flattened by members of the San Jose Del Monte City Public Order and Safety Office (SJDM-POSO) last Saturday, reportedly upon the instructions of a relative of Mayor Arthur Robes.  

The relative was identified as a certain Obet Robes.

The farmland tilled by the Ajose family in Sitio Dalandanan, Barangay Tungkong Mangga in the said city was bulldozed, destroying crops including banana trees, pineapples, root crops, and eggplants, the KMP said.

According to the Samahan ng mga Magsasaka sa Dalandanan (SAMAGDA), a local affiliate of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan-KMP, the SJDM City Hall POSO employees went to the farmland presenting a canceled Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) and insisted that the farmers vacate the land.

SJDM City Hall POSO employees at the Ajose home asking the family to vacate the land. (Photo by Jhulian Ajose through the KMP)

The Ajose family said the POSO employees did not present a writ of execution or a court order for the bulldozing of their farmland, the farmers’ group said.

The destruction of the crops was said to be permitted by Mayor Arthur Robes, invoking his rights as the Mayor based on RA 8797 that converted SJDM as a component city, the group added.

Jhulian Ajose, whose parents started tilling the parcel of land in the 1990s, lamented the destruction of their crops.

“Bakit niyo kami pinaalis sa tinataniman naming lupa? Dito lang kami kumukuha ng kinabubuhay at pagkain namin, ng pang-paaral. Sa lupa na ito, dito kami umaasa. Ektaryang pananim ang sinira nyo!,” Ajose said. (Why are you driving us away from the land we are tilling. This is our source of livelihood, food and education expenses. We rely on this land. You have destroyed hectares of crops!)

“Hindi ninyo alam kung gaano ang hirap ng mga magulang namin. Sa bawat pagpapagal, sa bawat patak ng dugo at pawis, sa bawat sugat na tinatamo sa pagbubungkal at pagtatanim sa lupa na ito. Wala kayong awa sa mga katulad namin,” he added. (You have no idea of the hardships our parents have undergone, their efforts, their every drop of blood and sweat, their every injury for tilling this land. You have no pity for the likes of us.)

A San Jose del Monte City backhoe destroying banana crops at the Ajose farm. (Photo by Jhulian Ajose through the KMP)

The KMP said that the farmers of Barangay Tungkong Mangga, one of the few remaining agricultural villages in SJDM, had been suffering development aggression and intensifised landgrabbing since the MRT-7 depot and train station projects started.

“Land grabbing and land-use conversion are prevalent in SJDM, among the prime targets of land developers and real estate corporations such as the Villar family-owned Vista Land and Landscapes Inc. The city is being developed by the local government as a ‘New Super City’ and Metro Manila’s gateway to Central Luzon,” the KMP said.

More than a thousand farming families are threatened once the MRT-7 project is completed, wiping out 588 hectares of agricultural lands in Tungkong Mangga,” the group added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)