When the Spanish conquistadores landed at the southern end of Luzon island in 1576 they set about colonising. Their haciendas and encomiendas marked the beginning of landlessness for millions of Philippine people.

More than 400 years later a Philippine farmer called Pablito Dante set in train a series of events which would finally see agrarian reform – attempted first following the People’s Power Revolution which ousted the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos– take real effect in this part of Luzon, one of the three major islands of the country.

Pablito was a founder of the Pecuaria Development Cooperative, Inc. which took back 800 hectares of agricultural land voluntarily sold by the landowner under the agrarian reform program. Pablito stood firm in the lengthy negotiations for the cooperative of farmers to take ownership legally of the piece of land as the manager of Pecuaria. It cost him his life. Illegal farmer-entrants murdered Dante in a violent land grab.

But it was Dante’s death which propelled his fellow members to continue the struggle for ownership with rival farmers and government red tape for another three years. In 1993 their struggle was realised. Miller, the new cooperative’s manager, continued the push to ensure complete security of their landholding. Houses for the members were built inside the land even though there was no water, electricity or even a road into the farming land.

For the next decade Miller and his brother would strive to find the best organic rice seed. This in turn would lead to building a bio-organic fertilizer processing plant and a rice-mill. In turn this would lead to a greater market share. Pecuaria-produced red and brown rice went on to become one of the best selling rice in the Philippines with nearly half the market share of the nation.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: https://ica.coop/en/iycbook