Human Interest Stories
Outreach Philippines, Inc.
Sustainable Good
Women’s Place in the Struggle for Land and Life: The 726 Experience
March 9th, 2007
by Felee S. Delfin

726 refers to the homelot number of 18 households in the village of Sitio Sibug located in
barangay Rio Chico, Gen. Tinio, Nueva Ecija. After the sucessful struggle for tenurial security,
the group was consistently called 726 by both its members and residents within and outside
the village.

In early 90s, several families from the crowded Rio Chico proper and Concepcion migrated to
the barren rolling hills area of Sibug, six kilometers east of the barrio proper. There were only
few occupants then, the ranchers who mostly lease their pasture area in the government,
couple of fisherfolks catching fish in the narrow river and surrounding swamps, and other
landless workers or laborers serving the neighboring villages.

Having found the area open for settlements, more and more landless were attracted to build
their makeshift houses in the village. Their only concern then was to earn for a simple living
until such a time that Gil Bernardo, landowner of the 5.6 hectares partially occupied by 18
families, started to ask lease rentals from each family.

“We just paid yearly an amount we can afford to pay. All in all, the lease reached a total of P100,
000 or $2,000, a big slash from our meager income,” told by Marissa Principe, the group leader
who is in her late 30s.”We were pressured to give more but we cannot. We were threatened to
be demolished but we kept on asking for reconsiderations.”

“Despite the burden of leasing, we just stand still, though we often heard of the meetings and
actions that OPI field staffs were facilitating concerning community issues. Some husbands of
726 occupants continued to gather woods in a nearby residual forest to make charcoals that
are to be sold later, while others either engage daily as wage earners in the farm or by catching
biya (a small fish measuring 1 to 2 inches long) which some wives sell to a bit well-off
neighboring villages.”

“On the other hand, most of the women were busy with domestic activities. To us, earning for a
living and children’s education are problems which we are used to. This is our life. We are only
poor, not educated, so how can we have more? I have a strong personality, so I have the
courage to face this kind of life.”

This situation has changed a lot.

According to Marissa, a turning point came when the affected resident realized the absence of
owner-leasees contract. It is because somebody asked for that in a BIKKAS (a formal
organization of different issues, geographical and sectoral groups in the sitio) meeting attended
by some affected residents of the 726.

“So we can still be squatters even to the time that we are fully paid,” the leader said. Another
replied, “we are not really sure if the paid lease will be considered as part of amortizations as
what the government is saying on the agrarian reform program.”

“There were six of the 18 affected who initiated actions, five of whom are women. We
immediately met to discuss the issue and planned our moves. Armed with practice (which OPI
staff facilitated) on how to talk and negotiate with government agencies, coupled with the
motivation that we can do something (other issue groups have already resolved the need for
day care center, primary school teachers and legal access to forestlands) we went to the
provincial office of the Department of the Agrarian reform (DAR). Unfortunately, we were treated
like chicks weaned away from by their mother hen. We were very disappointed. Our transaction
with the landowner is not legal and binding. The government is already the rightful owner of our
homelots. And this has given us a hope, a hope that we can own the homelots because it can
be awarded to the occupants through the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.”
As these 6 pioneers continued with their claim making, participation of other affected residents
gradually increased. “Of course, we encountered problems too. Raising funds for transportation
and payments for needed documents was too difficult. Oftentimes, I used my pocket. Other
male spouse were already complaining, that their wives were just leaving the kids to neighbors,
that work in the house were left undone and many more. We had few males who consistently
participated in series of negotiations and meetings. It is fine, they need to earn for a living but
they need to be informed because what we were discussing is a family concern.”
“I heard skeptical comments too. Other residents said, we cannot be legally secured with our
homelots. To secure titles for the lots will be difficult because of Bernardos good network (the
brother of the landowner used to be the regional director of Agrarian Office) in the government
offices. We are not sure if victory is on the way. These put me down at times but I want to show
them that we can get what should be ours. This was how the other affected viewed the
challenge too .”

“Internal problems and uncooperative reactions of some offices in the struggle made us
stronger. We experienced the nitty-gritty of working like getting the lot number and landowner in
the assessors, using this initial information to get a copy of the title in the registry of deeds,
consultations with agrarian officer to understand the process and requirements to use the
program for homelot titling. We had the tedious process of preparing the requirements in
coordination with agrarian field staff, who is either too busy or too cautious not to offend the
Bernardo family. Submission of documents and series of follow-ups ensued while we
continued our interactions among ourselves.”

On December 5, 2002, the most awaited awarding of Transfer Certificate of Titles (TCT) to 18
families was held. With 7 more extended families benefiting with the homelots, an estimated
total of 160 persons are now enjoying their tenurial security.

“We had a happy celebration during the awarding. We prepared food as our thanksgiving to all.
We applauded a lot. We teased and joke each other and most of all, we were very proud.”
Now, some beneficiaries are fixing their fences, repairing the grass covered roofing and started
preparing the yard for vegetables to be planted when the rainy season sets in.

“As a leader, I am the happiest. I feel the recognition of people who are even outside our group.
When the BIKKAS Chair called a meeting, I was endorsed by the participants to be part of the
Sitio Consultative Body, in-charge of ensuring the peace and development of the village. I am
the only woman in this five-man body. With the success of our action, even other groups with
unresolved homelot issues are getting my assistance. My women-colleagues were excited too
because they also felt the same recognition as mine. Most of all, our husbands are now very
supportive to our community activities”.

“I do not have the reservation now to lead. I had a good start. With Ruben’s (my husband)
openness and recognition to my community role, I am very inspired to move on. After all, he is
very helpful, he is taking over my housework when I am in the meeting or I am doing some of
his concerns while he is attending a community activity.”
“We finally got 726, the women’s place in the struggle for land and continuing life!”