In the once tranquil Casiguran municipality of the Philippines, a special economic zone has been initiated by a powerful local political dynasty. There are plans for a deep water shipping port, and plans to develop the tourism industry in the area, while an air strip is already under construction. And it’s justified in the name of bringing economic progress to one of the 20 poorest provinces in the Philippines. Sound good?

But the project has been embroiled in controversy ever since it began.

Thousands of farmers, fishermen and indigenous people have been challenging the project (known as APECO, the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone and Freeport) since 2007. Research indicates that APECO has violated these marginalised groups’ basic rights: stripping them from the land, livelihoods and ancestral ties that they have cultivated for generations, and threatening massive environmental damage.

Several hundred fishing families have already been forced from their homes by the construction of the air strip close to the Casiguran Sound, a vital fishing ground.

Take Manny. He lives with his wife, children and grandchildren. He’s a farmer. He has been a tenant on his land since the 1970s. He and his father, along with other farmers in the area, cleared the forest and developed the land for agricultural use, where previously it had been dense forest. Despite having a Leasehold Agreement with the owners of the land he lives on, Manny was shocked to find out that the land had been sold to APECO last year. The deed of sale made no mention of his tenancy, so according to APECO he is not a recognised tenant and doesn’t have any right to
complain. He fears that he will be moved off his land at any minute, leaving his family with nowhere to go.

“This is how we earn our money. This is how we send our kids to school,” says Manny. “If you take this away from us, you’re taking away our source of income and our source of life. If I am forced to leave, in effect it’s like APECO has killed us already.”

What’s happening to Manny is a reminder of why we need to fight for better global rules around big land deals – urgently. Every six days, banks and private investors buy an area the size of London!

Oxfam is calling on the World Bank, an international standard setter that funds many big land deals and influences how land is bought and sold around the world, to step in and play a vital role in stopping land injustice. The Bank has finally acknowledged it has a part to play in tackling land grabs. Now, just before their Spring meetings, we need you to encourage the World Bank to take action. Let them know the world is watching.

Names have been changed.

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