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Clark Green City: Sustainable Development & its Irresolvable Contradictions

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Large-scale land-grabbing in Clark Green City, Pampanga

There are two competing claims for the land surrounding the hills in the hinterlands of Central Philippines. For the indigenous Aetas who have lived in the area prior to the arrival of colonial powers as well as the landless farmers tilling the farmlands for generations, these lands symbolize life. They depend on these lands for their livelihood but their cultural identity and historical heritage are likewise rooted in these lands. For the economic planners based in Metro Manila, these lands are barren wastelands that can only be made productive through infrastructural investments that can generate economic development. But development for whom? the Aetas ask. Will we benefit from these developments? The farmers ask. Why do we feel that we are all left out? They collectively ask. Who benefits from the Clark Green City project?

The Clark Green City Project: A City for the Future?

The Clark Green City is a project initiated by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority that aims to convert more than 35,000 hectares of agricultural and forest land within the Clark Freeport Zone in towns of Capas and Bamban, Tarlac and parts of Mabalacat, Pampanga into a mixed urban use land that aims to create a modern, sustainable city. The master development plan of the Clark Green City proposal has indicated that the core infrastructures of the city will be comprised of 9,450 hectares within the 35,000 hectare free port zone. This area corresponds to a size that is half of Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region, emphasizing the massive scale of this project. The Clark Green City is expected to cost around P200 billion and will be developed over a 50-year span through the Public-Private Partnership Scheme (Rappler, 2012). Phase 1 of the project will have five districts — the government district, the central business district, an academic district, agri-forestry research and development district and the wellness and eco-tourism district. The first phase of the project aims to develop 1,321 hectares of farmland and will begin this year. In order to attract business investors and tenants to the Clark Green City, the BCDA will provide fiscal and non-fiscal incentives including tax exemptions for interested parties.

According to BCDA President and Chief Executive Officer Arnel Casanova, the aim of the project is to create a “modern” and city that will be “environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive, economically competitive, culturally relevant and technologically integrated” (website). The project is expected to attract billions of pesos worth of investments. The projected economic returns are staggering. At full capacity, the Clark Green City project is expected to provide an estimated P1.57 trillion per year to the national economy and generate 925,000 jobs in the area (Rappler, 2014). Casanova expects that the project will catalyze regional economic development in the area. Eco-cities are also seen technological innovations that attempt to fix the problems of unsustainable urbanization based on dirty technologies. The creation of the Clark Green City is expected to address problems of overpopulation and congestion in Metro Manila. According to National Economic Development Agency Director General Arsenio Balisacan, the project is equivalent to building a new Metro Manila but this time “it’s going to be a city without the problems of Metro Manila.”

One of the selling points of the Clark Green City project is its emphasis on the utilization of “green technologies” within the area through adopting a Green Building System (Garcia, 2014a). Residential, commercial and industrial buildings are expected to comply with this building standard. According to its website, Clark Green City will be powered by renewable energy derived from “sustainable” sources. Furthermore, the city promises to be the first “disaster-resilient” city in the country through its adoption of “disaster-mitigation” technologies designed to address the natural hazards that plague the country (Garcia, 2014b).

The Clark Green City project envisions itself as a “green” and “sustainable” development premised on lofty promises of using renewable sources of energy and green urban planning to rectify the negative consequences of urban growth in Metro Manila.

The Clark Green City project envisions itself as a “green” and “sustainable” development premised on lofty promises of using renewable sources of energy and green urban planning to rectify the negative consequences of urban growth in Metro Manila. By pandering to its supposed “sustainability”, the project has received unanimous praise from the private sector as well as mainstream media. However, like every massive infrastructural development project, there will be losers in the proposal. These are the invisible, the voiceless and the powerless of Pampanga and Tarlac who stand to lose their homes, their livelihoods and entire cultures from the Clark Green City project.       

Right(less) in the City? The dark side of development

The indigenous Aetas consider the territory as their ancestral domain. However, historical injustice was perpetuated against the Aetas when the US imperialist forces grabbed these lands from them and other local farmers in 1947 as part of their efforts to construct the Clark Air Base. The construction of this base was legitimated under the 1947 Mutual Defense Treaty signed between the United States and the Philippines wherein the United States was granted permission to construct military bases and support facilities all over the Philippines. These bases and facilities were independently by the Americans, undermining the sovereignty of the Philippines. A total of 23 military bases were constructed all over the Philippines, located in 20 strategic locations and covering a land area of almost 200,000 hectares (Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson, 2013). When the US military bases were expelled from the Philippines in 1991, these lands were transferred to the Philippine government. However, under the deceptive Bases and Conversion Development Act of 1992, these lands are constituted as part of the military reservation of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and were exempted from land redistribution. Rather, the Bases Conversion Development Act of 1992 envisions real estate development in these lands, in order to bolster the financial revenues of the government. Instead of rectifying the historical injustice committed against the indigenous Aetas and Filipino small farmers in the area, the Philippine government has decided to open up the land for real estate development, privatizing the use of the land under the framework of neoliberal economic development. Furthermore, through the Bases Conversion Development Act, the Philippine state perpetuates the historical process of monopolization of the ownership of the land under the hands of the elite. This process of monopolization constitutes an act of injustice against the millions of indigenous peoples and local small farmers that have been denied the right to own their land by the Philippine state.

The dark side of the Clark Green City project is the impending eviction of almost 20,000 Indigenous Aeta families and local farmers who are currently residing in the area (Ayroso, 2014). Contrary to the claims made by BCDA President and CEO Arnel Casanova who stated that the lands where the Clark Green City project will rise is currently a “idle” (Bases Conversion and Development Authority, 2013), thousands of indigenous Aetas and farmers have developed agricultural systems in the land. These local inhabitants engage in sustainable economic activities such as planting rice, sugar, root crops and fruit-bearing trees. They trade excess agricultural and forest products in for additional income in order to cope with the increase in the daily cost of living (Ayroso, 2014). Ironically, under the BCDA considers the indigenous Aetas as well as the local small farmers as squatters since the area is considered as a military reservation. This constitutes a continuation of the historical process of the marginalization of indigenous peoples from their right to self-determination regarding their ancestral domain.

Life inside a military reservation area severely restricts the right of indigenous peoples and farmers to their livelihood and safety. The Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bases Conversion Development authority imposes strict limits on the allowable land for cultivation as well as restricting the allowable area for hunting animals. The authorities also impose a strict curfew in the area, limiting the time for locals to trade their products as well as in freely moving around in the area. As a military reservation area, the territory serves as a training ground for massive military exercises between US and Philippine troops. However, the safety of the residents are compromised as some of the areas that are inhabited by the Aetas and small local farmers, such as the Crow Valley Watershed lie within the danger zone for these military exercises, thereby exposing them to gunshots or to bomb explosions.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has a huge interest in the commercial development of these contested military reservation areas. Under the BCDA law, they are entitled to a portion of the revenue generated from the sales, lease and/or joint venture developments of these land assets. According to the website of the BCDA, a total of P65.348 billion has been generated from the commercial development of these military reservations. The AFP has received P27.6 billion or 42.2% of the total revenue, channeled towards the AFP modernization program and other military-related expenses (Bases Conversion and Development Authority, n.d.).

The military control of the area has also intensified repression, intimidation and deception of residents in order to quell resistance against the Clark Green City project. Philippine military personnel as well as American troops visiting the area as part of military training exercises brandish their high powered fire arms in front of the residents, creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in the community. Individuals and organizations that speak out against the project are marked as subversives by the military, rendering them as targets for physical harassments, intimidation and even killings.

Extrajudicial killings of individuals who lead community opposition against development projects are rampant in the Philippines. According to the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment and the Task Force – Justice for Environmental Defenders, 74 environmental advocates were killed in the Philippines since 2001, with 70 percent of these victims being anti-mining advocates (InterAksyon.com, 2014). This shows that opposition to “development projects” in the Philippines comes with a bloody price.

Neoliberal Development and Displacement: An unsustainable pathway

The Clark Green City project is a product of the neoliberal policies that were pushed during the term of President Fidel V. Ramos from 1992-1998. During his presidency, Ramos embarked on a massive campaign of privatization of government assets as well as retreat of the Philippine state from provisioning of services to the Filipino citizens. Specifically, the Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992 privatizes what is supposed to be public land by selling portions of the military reservation to private corporations in order to push real estate development in the area. The Special Economic Zone Act of 1995 covers the Clark Special Economic Zone where the Clark Green City will be located. This law promotes liberalization of domestic industries as it offers up to 100% foreign equity within these economic zones. Freeport zones are also notorious for anti-labor practices such as contractualization as a mechanism for attracting foreign investment. These laws push neoliberal policies in the implementation of the Clark Green City project.

In order to facilitate the construction of infrastructures and other support facilities within the Clark Green City project, the BCDA intends to adopt the Public-Private partnership model (PPP). Under this approach, the private sector will undertake the building, maintenance, and operation of costly infrastructure, thereby alleviating the state of the financial burden of undertaking these functions. However, in order to entice private sector investments in infrastructure, the contracts are loaded with lopsided investments in favor of these corporations. Some of these incentives include: guaranteed return on investment, guaranteed market and sales, fiscal incentives, full cost recovery including on inflation and currency fluctuation, and subsidies for production input.

Proponents of neoliberal policies argue that while corporations and banks profit from these partnerships, they provide needed infrastructure and other services which cash-strapped governments cannot provide/supply. (IBON Foundation, n.d.) Progressive think-tank IBON Foundation however notes that the shift towards the PPP model entails a corporate takeover of public service functions. Under the PPP model, the role of the private sector in stimulating economic growth and in the provision of infrastructure and services needed for development is severely diminished. These functions are now outsourced towards the private sector, undermining the responsibility of the state in providing equitable economic opportunities for its citizens as well as in guaranteeing social protection for the marginalized and vulnerable sectors of the population (IBON Foundation, n.d.).

It is no secret that the private sector does not act out of altruism, rather, its engagement in service delivery is guided by its motivation in prospecting opportunities for profit accumulation and corporate growth. Unfortunately, the withdrawal of the state also guarantees that weak regulatory frameworks will be instituted to hold corporations accountable for negative development outcomes of their activities. Under a neoliberal framework, regulatory mechanisms serve as impediments for corporate profits, hence these must be diminished.

Conclusion: People’s Resistance 

The unfortunate reality in the Philippines is that the indigenous peoples as well as landless farmers remain invisible to state bureaucrats in charge of development project. When asked about the plans of the BCDA regarding the indigenous peoples that will be displaced, BCDA President and CEO Arnel Casanova stated that “I am not aware of 60,000 people being displaced. For more than 20 years, no development has happened in that area. It is time for all of us to unite to bring inclusive development to Tarlac and the entire region” (Orejas, 2014). The statement clearly a continuity of how development aggression projects all over the world over the past half century have resulted in the displacement of indigenous and rural, sacrificing them in the altar of development.

But even as state neglect of the plight of indigenous communities and landless farmers continues to be the policy, the people and the communities targeted by the Clark Green City project refuse to remain victims of this project. These communities have taken the lead in the struggle against a vicious development project that aims to render thousands of families dispossessed from their livelihoods and cultural heritage. Last September 2014, during the commemoration of Martial Law, 200 members of the Aeta Tribal Association marched under the sweltering heat of the sun to condemn the Clark Green City project. Participants underscored the continuity of how development aggression projects during the time of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos up to the current presidency of Benigno Aquino III have always resulted in the eviction of indigenous peoples from their livelihoods and ancestral domains. Things have remained the same even as electoral democracy has been restored (Endriga, 2014). In November 2014, an International Fact-Finding Mission led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the Alyansa ng mga Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon and the Asian Peasant Coalition was conducted in order to investigate and document the cases of land grabbing conducted against the indigenous communities and landless farmers. This is an important step in scaling up the struggles of the local communities to a global level (Ayroso, 2014). Early this year, farmers under the Capas Green City and Proclamation No. 163 Affected Farmers Association Inc. formed human barricades in Aranguren village, Capas to prevent the entry of heavy equipment which will be used for construction of the Clark Green City project (Orejas, 2015).

The resistance of the local communities affected by the Clark Green City project is filled with perseverance and resolve. In the face of repression and deception conducted by the nexus of state-capital alliance, these communities, with what little the indigenous Aetas have remained firm in their demand for their rights to their ancestral domain. Likewise, organizations of landless and small farmers have not buckled down from the pressure of state and business groups, explicitly demanding their right to own land. These struggles give us renewed vitality in the campaign to resist the imposition of neoliberal policies – in our communities, our national states and in the international arena.

In the spirit of international solidarity, we can contribute towards the amplification of the struggle against the Clark Green City through the following: 1.) pressuring the Philippine government to desist from pursuing the project by launching protests at various embassies; 2.) financial contributions to organizations and alliances that are engaged in the struggle against the Clark Green City project; 3.) Helping build the capacities of these organizations through training programs and lastly, building international coalitions that highlight the campaign against eco-cities and the damage that these projects have on local environment and communities.

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