ECC Platform Library


Land Grabbing in the Philippines

Type of conflict main
Intensity 1.5
South Eastern Asia
Time 2007 ‐ ongoing
Countries Philippines
Resources Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Conflict Summary Since 2007, the Philippine authorities have increasingly been offering large swathes of land to foreign companies and governments. To clear the way for...
Land Grabbing in the Philippines
Since 2007, the Philippine authorities have increasingly been offering large swathes of land to foreign companies and governments. To clear the way for investors, farmers are often harassed and violently evicted from the land they occupy. This has fuelled tensions and, in some cases, led to violent conflicts.
Conceptual Model

Intermediary Mechanisms

Large-scale land leases supporting the interests of foreign investors are facilitating forceful evictions of farmers and local communities. The situation is severely impacting the poorest populations in the Philippines.

Fragility and Conflict Risks

Multiple violent confrontations between local populations, and investors supported by authorities have erupted, resulting in several killings, unjustified detentions and human rights violations.

Climate ChangeEnvironmental ChangeIntermediary MechanismsFragility and Conflict RisksSocial and Economic DriversDemographic changes increase pressures on available land resources.Economic developments lead to changes in land use.Changes in land use lead to migration/displacements.Changes in land use reduce available/usable land.Land scarcity undermines the livelihoods of agricultural producers.Migration leads to conflicts between migrants and residents.Problems related to migration/displacements lead to growing discontent with the state.Livelihood insecurity fuels grievances between groups.Livelihood insecurity leads to growing discontent with the state.Change in population density, age structure, or ethnic makeup.Demographic ChangeReduced availability of/ access to land.Increased Land ScarcityA broad concept to cover economic growth in general but also specific economic changes or changes of incentives.Economic DevelopmentA change in the usage of environmentally relevant land.Land Use Change(In)voluntary long and short-term movements of people within or across state boundaries.Displacements / MigrationA threat or destruction of livelihoods dependent on the availability of environmental resources / goods.Livelihood InsecurityNon-violent or violent tensions and conflicts between different societal groups.Grievances between Societal GroupsChallenge to the state's legitimacy, ranging from peaceful protest to violent attempts at overthrowing the government.Anti-State Grievances
Context Factors
  • Elite Exploitation
  • Unequal Land Distribution
Conflict History

In the Philippines, the poorest populations are severely impacted by land leases to local and foreign investors. Land deals are facilitated by attractive investment policies led by the Philippine authorities. Although several agrarian reforms supporting land redistribution in favour of landless farmers have been issued, they are not well implemented and Philippine farmers do not benefit from secure land tenure (De la Cruz, 2011; Cervantes, 2014). This context is facilitating forceful evictions to clear land for foreign investors, with frequent cases of harassment and violence being reported (Padilla, 2011; Saludes, 2015).

Since 2007, this dynamic has accelerated due to increasing land investments. Multiple violent confrontations between local populations, sometimes rebel groups, and investors supported by authorities have erupted in different parts of the country, resulting in several killings, unjustified detentions and human rights violations (Focusweb, 2015).

International rush for Philippine land
In the Pacific, competition over land is intensifying as populations grow and land becomes scarcer. Since the Philippines offer attractive conditions to investors, numerous Asian governments and companies have acquired large swathes of Philippine land. These investments serve three main purposes: touristic and economic zones (mainly ecotourism and real estate), heavy industry like mining, and agriculture, especially biofuels and food production for export (Focusweb, 2015). Many of the investment projects have underlying ecological intentions, for example, the creation of natural protected reserves, ecotourism sites and biofuel production (Uson, 2015). The British company NRG Chemicals, for instance, has acquired 700,000 hectares of Philippine land to grow Jatropha – one of the biggest land leases dedicated to biofuels in the world (GRAIN, 2013). The global food prices shock in 2007 has also been followed by increased land investments in the Philippines from countries like India, Kuwait and Singapore (Asian Peasant Coalition, 2012).

The Philippine government has advertised the leasing of agricultural land to foreign investors by promising new jobs and a more efficient use of agricultural land (De la Cruz, 2011). Yet, local communities, albeit directly impacted, rarely benefit from large agricultural investments (Uson, 2015).

Growing inequalities in access to farmland
Matters are further complicated by the fact that the Philippines suffer from a highly skewed distribution of land. Wealthy landlords and the state own the land and provide farmers with rights to land plots, a system facilitating evictions and making access to land titles difficult for farmers (Vargas, 2003). This inequality creates tensions between societal groups and elites. Although there have been efforts since 1988 to redistribute arable surfaces via the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme (CARP), these have had limited success, partly because of considerable power asymmetries between farmers and landed elites (USAID, 2011). In this context, large-scale land leases supporting the interests of foreign investors further add to the pressures endured by local communities and thus fuel resentments (Saludes, 2015; Focusweb, 2015; Uson, 2015).

Protests and violent repression
In opposition to large-scale land acquisitions, peaceful demonstrations have been organised on a regular basis. In 2012, for instance, several agrarian organisations protested in Manila against land grabbing, specifically calling on Asian governments to stop alleviating food insecurity in other countries at the expenses of their own people (Asian Peasant Coalition, 2012). Peasants also gathered in January 2015 for a 'Pilgrimage for land, social justice and peace' (Saludes, 2015). In addition, some rebel groups, such as the New People's Army, have adopted brutal responses, notably by damaging projects’ facilities (Farm Land Grab, 2014; Gomez, 2011).

Investing companies and landlords have called on increasingly violent intimidation methods to evict farmers, including destruction of crops, house burnings, physical assaults and arrests (Uson, 2015; Focusweb, 2015). In some cases, farmers refusing to leave and loud opponents to large land leasing projects have even been murdered, acts allegedly perpetrated by order of investors and local authorities (Mongabay, 2015; Via Campesina, 2014). 

Resolution Efforts

Improving access to land tenure
Efforts have been made at different levels to improve access to land rights for Philippine citizens. The legal framework has been strengthened several times to tackle this issue, in particular via the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme. Since 1988, it has aimed to fairly redistribute land to farmers but was not completed in the planned ten-year period. The programme had to be extended twice to come close to projected results by 2014. Farmers, however, showed strong discontent with the CARP management and contested the efficiency of the land administration system, which keeps facilitating large-scale land leases (Palladium, 2014; USAID, 2011; Uson, 2015; Focusweb, 2015).

Apart from the state, international initiatives, such as the Land Administration and Management Projects co-financed by Australia and the World Bank, have aimed to improve land titling, providing computerised land records and more transparency (FAO, 2013; World Bank, 2015). Locally, activists and organisations have also been fighting to facilitate access to land titles (Focusweb, 2015). A group of lawyers, for instance, managed to draft a bill that was passed in the Congress in 2010 and allows 60,000 more title issuances yearly (ODI, 2015).

A legal framework supporting land tenure rights already exists, but its limited success so far hinges on greater implementation efforts. Experience has shown that partnerships between all concerned actors are essential and that involving local administrations in titling makes the process more efficient (World Bank, 2015).

Mobilising influential actors around abusive land leases
Many protests against investment projects have taken place in the Philippines. Some strongly mobilised communities backed by legal arguments and influential allies have already succeeded in deterring investors. Advised by a network of social justice advocates, local protesters in Sicogon, for instance, built their arguments on state law and fought large landowners through several court cases, which they won, and abuse reports to police authorities (Uson, 2015). In the case of a large-scale Chinese investment project by Jilin Fuhua Corporation, public outrage, supported by a supreme court case and congressional inquiries, forced governmental authorities to suspend the lease (De la Cruz, 2011). Similarly, many initiatives across the country try to call on decision-makers to reconsider large-scale projects. In Palawan for example, the Coalition against Land Grabbing, a local NGO, gathered signatures to call on the Vice-Governor to prevent palm-oil expansion on their island (Mongabay, 2015).

Raising awareness among local populations
Advocacy groups also ask for the right of communities to transparent information, not only about their rights but also about planned investment projects affecting them (Focusweb, 2015; Via Campesina, 2014). Since farmers are directly concerned by these land leases, better communication means as well as consultation and participatory tools are essential to handle the investments in a transparent and inclusive manner as recommended by the UN’s Committee on World Food Security in its Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (FAO, 2012; Focusweb, 2015). 

Intensities & Influences
conflict intensity scale
International / Geopolitical Intensity
Human Suffering

Environmental Influences
Societal Influences

Manifest Crisis
Violent Conflict Yes
Salience within nation National
Agricultural / Pastoral Land
Resolution Success
Reduction in geographical scope There has been no reduction in geographical scope.
Increased capacity to address grievance in the future There is no increased capacity to address grievances in the future.
Grievance Resolution Grievances have been partially addressed.
Causal Attribution of Decrease in Conflict Intensity There has been no reduction in intensity
General opencollapse
Country Data in Comparison
ConflictNoData Created with Sketch.
Fault Lines Defining Conflict Parties
Purely Environmental | Cultural   ♦   Occupational   ♦   Economic   ♦   Urban / Rural   ♦   National / International conflict   ♦   Sub-national political

Participation Conflict Party     Conflict Resolution Facilitator
Government of the Philippines
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Farmers (Philippines)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
New People’s Army (NPA)
Functional GroupNon-State Violent Actor
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Landlords (Philippines)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleInternal International
World Bank
Functional GroupCommercial
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Government of Australia
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
Philippine Congress
Functional GroupPublic
Geographical ScaleInternal National
The Coalition against Land Grabbing (NGO)
Functional GroupCivil Society
Geographical ScaleInternal Grassroots
Entry Points for Resilience and Peace Building
1 Social inclusion & empowerment The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Programme was launched by the state in 1988 and aims to fairly redistribute land to farmer. However, farmers continue to express strong discontent with the efficiency of the land administration system, which keeps facilitating large-scale land leases. Advocacy groups are also defending the right to transparent information, as well as prior consultation about planned investment projects affecting communities.
2 Strengthening legislation and law enforcement A group of lawyers drafted a bill to facilitate access to land titles. The bill was passed in the Congress in 2010 and allows 60,000 more title issuances yearly.
2 Improving actionable information International initiatives, such as the Land Administration and Management Projects co-financed by Australia and the World Bank, have aimed to improve land titling by providing computerised land records and more transparency.
2 Promoting social change In some cases, strongly mobilised communities backed by legal arguments and influential allies have succeeded in deterring investors.
Further Details opencollapse
Conflict Characterization
Character of the contested good Common-pool resource: No one can be excluded from use but the good is depleted.
Structure of decision-making power / interdependence Asymmetric: The power to affect the environmental resource is unequal.
Data of involved Countries
Resources and Materials opencollapse
References with URL


Adaptation & Resilience

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Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Environment & Migration

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Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.


The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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