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Campaigning for agrarian reform in the Bondoc Peninsula

Date added: September 30, 2016

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A new generation of strategies for government accountability is needed, one that fully considers entrenched, institutional obstacles to change. Vertical integration of coordinated civil society policy monitoring and advocacy is one such strategy. Engaging each stage and level of public sector actions in an integrated way can locate the causes of accountability failures, show their interconnected nature, and leverage the local, national and transnational power shifts necessary to produce sustainable institutional change.

This case study summary is one of seven that reflect on civil society monitoring and advocacy initiatives in the Philippines – all of which aim to improve government accountability in different sectors – through the lens of vertical integration.

Bondoc Peninsula is a narrow strip of land located in the southern portion of Quezon province, approximately eight hours away from Manila. It is composed of twelve low-income municipalities. Largely dependent on the production of coconut, Bondoc Peninsula has a skewed system of land tenure under which ownership of large tracts is concentrated in the hands of a few elite families.

The story of the agrarian reform campaign in the Bondoc Peninsula concerns the role of CSOs in enabling poor farmers to gain control of land. The campaign utilised various actions at different levels that enabled the rural poor to gain control of land. Over a span of thirteen years, from 1996 to 2009, more than 10,000 hectares of land were placed under the effective control of more than 3,800 farmers. Some was re-distributed by government and some controlled through peasant initiatives. These efforts took the form of consistent social pressure from below and initiatives to build alliances with reformists in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and agrarian reform advocates.

Lessons for vertically integrated campaigning:

  • Coalition-building was scaled up from the grassroots as organised peasant groups, reacting to the strength of landlord power, first established relationships with other groups in their municipality, then formed provincial, regional and eventually national federations
  • Many CSOs involved in the coalition also engaged in cross-sectoral coalition-building, establishing strong relationships – especially with the church and media – that delivered important gains for the campaign
  • The peasant movement’s engagement with the state has mostly taken the form of protest actions and pressure politics at multiple levels, and it has had only limited engagement in spaces where the government has invited people to participate.

See also "Going vertical: citizen-led reform campaigns in the Philippines", with all case studies here

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