Coffee in the time of impunity

Jul 27, 2020

Coffee is being touted as the next ‘big thing’ in the Philippines. Yet blood has already been shed over this seemingly innocuous drink, as coffee-growing companies attempt to grab fertile ancestral lands from indigenous peoples.

Brewing Tensions

The Philippines is an ideal location for growing coffee, and there are plans to turn the country back into a net coffee exporter by 2022. A five-year coffee industry roadmap spells out the industry’s plans, which include an expectation that 213,788 hectares of land will be made available for coffee farming. The main areas for coffee production are in Mindanao, particularly in the regions of SOCCSKSARGEN and Davao.

Land Grabbing for Coffee Production

TAMASCO chief Datu Victor Danyan signs the resolution of non-consent to the entry of Daguma Agro-Minerals Inc (DAMI)

The village of Datal Bonlangon in Barangay Ned, in the Lake Sebu municipality in Mindanao, used to be home to 67 indigenous families (some 300 people). Their land was grabbed for coffee production by the Dawang Coffee Plantation, by means of Integrated Forest Management Agreement (IFMA). The community has since been locked in a bitter struggle to reclaim their land. They have applied for a Certificate of Ancestral Domain Title (CADT) and formally organised themselves with others as the T’boli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organizations (TAMASCO).

The Integrated Forest Management Agreement

In 2016, the original IFMA agreement was scheduled to expire. TAMASCO Chief  Datu Victor cut down coffee trees in TAMASCO’s ancestral domain, and demanded the departure of the company’s guards in person. However, unbeknownst to the TAMASCO, by a bureaucratic sleight of hand, the IFMA had been renewed in 2015. This enabled the plantation to continue its operations, just as before. Datu Victor and several other community members were issued with arrest warrants.

Murder and Lies

On 3 December 2017, one day before a planned meeting between TAMASCO and DENR, the military opened fire on the community, killing Datu Victor Danyan and seven other members of TAMASCO, forcing the community to evacuate. The military said it was conducting a military operation against rebels, but the community members are not rebels or insurgents, and no known members of such groups were found amongst the dead and injured. The community was simply defending its rights. Nevertheless, Datu Victor probably knew that cutting the coffee trees down would make himself a target for attack. He told current TAMASCO chief Datu Dande Dinyan, “I will die, so you can reclaim our land.” His family and community are determined that his sacrifice will not have been in vain.

“I had to put part of my husband’s brains back inside his skull so he was fit for burial. I tried to change the clothes of my dead brothers, but their wounds were too bad…The land is ours and that of our children. We live by it. We know no other place to call home. It is home.”

Marivic Danyan, daughter of Datu Victor Danyan.

Legal and Community Support

Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center (LRC-KsK)/Friends of the Earth Philippines filed a petition on behalf of TAMASCO, demanding the immediate cancellation of the IFMA. In July 2019, DENR responded that it will look into the matter, although whether this actually happens remains to be seen – in the year and a half since the incident, nothing has been investigated. LRC-KsK also supported TAMASCO in high profile hearings with the Philippines National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), insisting the Commission uphold its mandate to protect indigenous communities. Other non-governmental organisations belonging to the coalition Task Force TAMASCO have contributed with trauma debriefings, emergency humanitarian response and lobbying support. In December 2017, a resolution was filed in the Philippine Congress to inquire into the massacre of the eight TAMASCO members (Res.No.1550, 17thCongress, 2nd Regular Session). It awaits determination

Violating Human and Territorial Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Under President Duterte, indigenous people are being progressively criminalised and their lands militarised, even as national law recognises their rights. This case clearly demonstrates the need for a binding UN Treaty on Business and Human Rights that requires countries to commit to monitoring and penalising corporations that violate human rights. Furthermore, contracts facilitating illegal encroachment need to be terminated, and the military pulled out of these territories. Existing laws and principles need to be put into practice, respecting the individual and collective human rights of indigenous communities, starting with the Bryg. Ned T’boli Manobo community.

“We will stand by the land as our elders have. Justice has to be served soon, how many more of us need die.”

Datu Dante Dinyan.

Community Resistance

The T’boli Manobo people’s resistance is punished with false accusations of crimes, threats, harassment and raids on their communities and homes. The massacre of the eight TAMASCO leaders is a tragic reminder of the risk and sacrifice that Defenders of Territories have to face. Nevertheless, their determination to protect their lands and communities continues. With respect to TAMASCO, Datu Victor’s successor, Datu Dande Dinyan, has continued the fight to regain control and full enjoyment of TAMASCO’s ancestral domain. Despite the continued threats against his life and security, he has been instrumental in building up a case to finally cancel the current IFMA. Datu Victor’s daughter, Marivic, also threatened, has taken up a leadership role for the community. All of their contributions are part of the continued struggle for their ancestral domain rights. 

In the last few years, Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific’s member groups’ staff, activists and supporters have been beaten, kidnapped, jailed and even murdered while fighting for environmental justice. Our report exposes these injustices and highlights the ongoing struggle for those on the frontlines.

Find out more in our report
Defending territories, Defending our lives: Protecting human rights and the environment in Asia Pacific through system change.

Watch the interview
Rizwana Hasan (FoE Bangladesh), Vitaly Servetnik (FoE Russia) Abeer Butmeh (FoE Palestine) on the repressions against EHRDs .

Listen to our special report on Real World Radio
“International human rights day: cases of serious violations across Asia”

Find out more about coffee production and it’s impacts in the Legal Rights and Natural Resources Center’s Brewing Tension Report.

For more information contact:
Emma Harvey
FoE Asia Pacific Communications Coordinator