Bulacan Aerotropolis threatens fishing livelihoods

Approval of plans for Bulacan Aerotropolis in Manila Bay, one of the biggest megaprojects in the Philippines, threatens 700 families with displacement and loss of their fishing livelihoods. Thousands more fisherfolk would be affected by land reclamation for the 2,500 hectare airport and ‘airport city’ complex.

On 25th April the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) of the Philippines approved plans for a new airport and metropolis, i.e. an aerotropolis, in Bulacan province, Manila Bay. Residents of the village of Taliptip and seven other areas will be affected by the project and at least 700 families face displacement. They make their living from selling their fishing catch in a nearby town and from making fishing nets. Their income is low but life is good and they do not want to leave. A woman who has lived in Taliptip for 43 years is worried for the future of her children and grandchildren. They were not informed about the airport plans and have been told they will be relocated, but not where, or how they might make an alternative livelihood.

Local communities resisting loss of their homes and incomes for the airport project are being supported by environmental and church groups and people can follow the local people’s struggle on the Save Taliptip Facebook page. Leon Dulce, national coordinator of the Kalikasan-People’s Network for the Environment, writes that the Bulacan aerotropolis plan is being pursued aggressively and was kept hidden from Taliptip residents until news broke of President Duterte’s approval of the project. The seas surrounding Taliptip support the livelihoods of about 5,000 fisherfolk and salt-makers, who face being displaced for the project.

Living in hardship has made Taliptip’s people resourceful, they live off the grid using solar power and batteries for their modest electricity needs. The fishing catch has dwindled but they are determined to remain in their homes maintain their established communities. A fisherman from Sitio Kinse, an island community in the midst of the mangroves along the shoreline said: “So long as the sea is here, there is hope … What will we fish if all this were turned into cement?” Fisherfolk take care of mangroves, a vital habitat for many bird species including egrets, terns, kingfishers and swallows, along with shellfish living among its roots. At the beginning of May there was a ‘massive mangrove cutting spree’ in Taliptap, reportedly undertaken by SMC, possibly without the required environmental clearance and thought to be connected with Bulacan aerotropolis. On 12th May Pinoy Weekly posted a photo of Taliptip mangroves that had been cut.

National fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya also opposes the new airport. Chairperson Fernanado Hicap said the project will cause environmental disaster in Manila Bay; destruction of marine ecosystems would threaten the livelihoods of more than 20,000 fisherfolk in Bulacan and neighbouring towns. Hicap also lambasted the broader Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure development programme that the new airport is part of, for selling coastal waters and public lands to large developers and foreign investors. Constructing an airport in Manila Bay would require extensive land reclamation works, creating new land from the sea and wreaking destruction on fishing grounds.

Developers and governments often opt for land reclamation, as an alternative to building on farmland and obviating the loss of productive agricultural land and displacement of rural communities. But dredging up vast volumes of sediment from the ocean bed exacts a terrible ecological toll; ecosystems including mangroves, coral reefs and coastal flats are eradicated when sediment is dumped on top them. The new airport is just one of five land reclamation projects Duterte’s administration has approved in Manila Bay, described by Hicap as disregarding the “socio-economic rights of hundreds of thousands of fisherfolk and coastal settlers”. Land reclamation for the Bulacan airport project is likely to impact not just on the town of Balakan but on the neighbouring towns of Hagonoy and Paombong and the city of Malolos.

A mega-airport and a new metropolis

A mega-airport is planned, with six parallel runways and initial capacity for 100 million passengers annually, more than double the passenger throughput at the existing main Manila airport, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the busiest in the Philippines. With a budget of P735.63 billion (US$14.2 billion) the new airport in Bulacan is the country’s most expensive transport project to date, by far the most costly of eight infrastructure projects approved as part of the Build, Build, Build (BBB) programme on 25th April by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, chaired by President Rodrigo Duterte.

San Miguel Corp (SMC), the Philippines’ biggest company by revenue – a conglomerate with interests spanning infrastructure, real estate, mining, petroleum, power and food & beverages – is set to build, operate and maintain Bulacan airport and aerotropolis. The plan spans 2,500 hectares, comprising 1,168 hectares allocated for the airport and 1,332 hectares for an adjoining ‘airport city’. The video below includes a graphic showing the basic layout.

SMC’s unsolicited proposal to build Bulacan Airport, revealed after scrutiny by the Department of Transportation in November 2017, featured additional SMC projects, in the form of the obligatory surface transportation network that is inherent to the aerotropolis development model. An SMC-built expressway linking the airport to the North Luzon Expressway is planned, which would in turn link to SMC-backed Metro Rail Transit Line-7. By the time NEDA approved the Bulacan airport proposal in April 2018 the expressway project specified a revenue stream for SMC, an 8.4 kilometre airport toll road. NEDA gave SMC’s proposal for Bulacan airport the green light in spite of Department of Finance concerns that the project is to be implemented by SMC subsidiary San Miguel Holdings Corp, whose capitalization is smaller than the airport project.

Clark Airport – another aerotropolis, another new metropolis

Some potential Bulacan Airport investors were cautious about the project because expansion of Clark Airport could serve similar markets. NEDA has approved US$241 million expansion of Clark Airport as another priority under Build, Build, Build. Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez highlighted Clark Airport growth at an Asian Development Bank briefing saying “Clark will will soon be the showcase of the Duterte administration’s economic strategy”. In December  2017 the government awarded the GMR-Megawide consortium the construction contract for trebling Clark Airport’s capacity from current 4 million passengers annually to 12 million by 2020. President and CEO of Clark Airport, Alexander Cauguiran, has stated larger-scale expansion plans, for increasing capacity to 80 million passengers annually upon completion of a fourth phase of development.

A former US military base which is already an economic hub, Clark Airport is also being developed as an aerotropolis, encompassed within a wider area already primed with surface transportation infrastructure and lavish incentives for investors. Clark Airport is part of Clark Freeport, a 4,400 hectare tax and duty incentivized area. Further development of Clark Freeport is prioritized in NEDA supported infrastructure projects; the US$957 million Subic-Clark railway, connecting to the Philippines other freeport zone, has been approved. Clark Freeport adjoins a larger area, the 27,600 hectare Clark Special Economic Zone, where firms can avail themselves of a generous suite of tax breaks including income tax and corporate income tax holidays of up to eight years and exemptions from local government taxes.

In April 2015, as the government infused P1.2 billion (US$27 million) for a low cost passenger terminal, it was reported that the government was ‘pouring investments into Clark aerotropolis’ development’. Nearly three years later, in March 2018, the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA) pitched Clark Airport to global investors as an ‘airport city’ and ‘growth center’. BCDA senior vice president John Bingcang said “Clark is on its way to becoming Asia’s next aerotropolis with the development not only of the airport, but the Clark Freeport as well” and invited investment in construction of a US$67 million access road to another airport city component, the “smart, green, and resilient” New Clark City. At completion covering an area of 93 square kilometres, planners envisage that New Clark City will be larger than Manhattan, housing 2 million people. Claims that the new metropolis will be sustainable, reduce carbon emissions and ‘pollution-free’, are undermined by aviation dependence. New Clark City is regarded by BCDA as complementing expansion of the airport.

Land disputes and displacement

Development of Clark Airport within Clark Freeport, in the 2,367 hectare Clark Civil Aviation Complex (CCAC), has triggered land disputes. In July 2016 117 farmers cultivating about 200 hectares of CCAC land appealed to President Duterte, drawing attention to their request to Clark International Airport Corporation (CIAC) to grant them ‘Disturbance Compensation‘. The president of a farmers’ cooperative said construction of factories and an industrial complex had begun without prior consultation. Farmers protested at the construction site, stating that they were willing to surrender farmlands but demanding just compensation plus reimbursement for loss of farm buildings and crops. Almost a year later, in June 2017, cultivation of grains, vegetables and spices in the CCAC appeared to be attracting birds. A Commission on Audit (COA) report blamed farming activities of people it referred to as ‘illegal settlers’ on 647 hectares of land for an increase in bird strikes, collisions with aircraft that can pose a safety risk.

GMR-Megawide is keen on bidding for the operation and management contract of Clark Airport, and already operates Mactan-Cebu Airport, the second busiest in the Philippines. A second terminal is scheduled to open within a few weeks and GMR-Megawide Cebu Airport Corp (GMCAC) plans for further expansion, a third terminal and second runway that would increase airport capacity from the current level of approximately 10 million passengers per year to 28 million passengers by 2039. The project entails reclaiming 300 hectares of Magellan Bay. This option, chosen in a proposal supported by some Cebu congressmen, was seen as preferable to expanding over land as that would have impacts upon between 10,000 and 12,000 households.

SMC, through its subsidiary Trans Aire Development Holdings Corp (TADHC) holds the concession to operate Boracay Airport, the main gateway to the Philippines’ most well-known tourist island. On 16th September 2015 residents facing land expropriation for expansion of the airport protested against plans to purchase their land at a fraction of its market value. The president of Caticlan Land Owners Association said the market rate for real estate in the area was between five and ten times higher per square metre than residents were being offered. Yet some residents had already received court orders instructing them to vacate their homes. Demonstrators gathered outside the airport terminal with placards reading: ‘No To Expansion Caticlan/Boracay Airport’, ‘Stop Harrassment’, ‘Airport Expansion is Killing us’, ‘Expropriation is Oppression’, ‘No to Expropriation, Yes to Fair Negotiation’, ‘CAAP / San Miguel Have Mercy ON US’ and ‘Government for the People, Not Government for San Miguel Corp’. About 200 families were affected by expansion of the airport and in November 2015 the Commission in Human Rights (CHR) in Western Visayas took cognizance of the complaints raised by landowners.

Some residents had no choice but to accept the low compensation offer. By April 2016 a number of families had been evicted to make way for airport expansion and become squatters. Local residents asked TADHC and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) for clarification of the scope of Boracay Airport expansion plans, estimated to affect about 8,000 people. By October 2017 SMC was building a new terminal at Boracay Airport and, separate from airport development, expanding the footprint of its tourism related development on 130 hectares of land. Groundbreaking for a 400 room Marriott Hotel was imminent and plans included more hotels, an entertainment complex and an ocean park.

 

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Solidarity with residents resisting eviction for New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA)

GAAM has sent a letter in solidarity with residents resisting eviction for New Yogyakarta International Airport (NYIA) and their supporters, urging an end to state repression, intimidation and violence. Road access to the area was cut off in March making it difficult for residents to maintain their economic activities and there were many reports of police brutality injuring several people including elderly women. Land acquisition contravenes residents’ land rights and they have been sent warning letters pressurizing them to leave. Most recently, there was a disproportionate police response to violence by a small number of individuals at a MayDay protest. Many of the 69 people arrested were holding peaceful actions, and were denied their right to legal representation. GAAM sent letters to: President of Indonesia – Joko Widodo, Chief of National Police of Indonesia – Tito Karnavian, Governor of Yogyakarta – Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X, Kulon Progo Regent – Hasto Wardodo, President Director of state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura Airports – Faik Fahmi, Founder and Chairman of GVK, the main investor – Dr. GVK Reddy and a number of Indonesian embassies.

For further information about NYIA see the report Solidarity Calls for Kulon Progo Farmers against Airport and Airport City by People’s Alliance Against Airport and Aerotropolis. An ‘airport city’ is planned around the airport, comprising hotels, shops and other facilities, which would increase the land acquisition and displacement of people. Currently, about 300 residents are holding out in rejecting eviction from their homes and farmland for NYIA, now under construction near the south coast of Java. But there have been many evictions; resistance to land acquisition for NYIA, dates back to 2011 and has been marked by many instances of state repression and intimidation. The most serious occurrence was on 16th February 2016 when police and army overseeing boundary-making subjected residents who gathered to object to the exercise with a ‘violent and brutal attack’. The Asian Human Rights Commission condemned the excessive use of force; people were punched and kicked and some fainted after being choked.

More recently, support for the people resisting eviction for NYIA has come from Indonesia’s National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM). The Commission has accused the government, along with state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura 1 and the Yogyakarta police, of violating human rights in clearing land for the airport. In a letter the Commission says it suspects that land clearing that took place on 27th and 28th November 2017, marred with destruction of trees and art projects, and disruption of the electricity supply, violated people’s rights to ownership and prosperity. Komnas HAM called on Angkasa Pura 1 and the Kulon Progo police to avoid repressive action and intimidation, urging the airport operator to conduct open dialogue with all the affected residents and accommodate their complaints. There has also been practical support for the residents. After the electricity supply was cut off during the attempted forced eviction for NYIA in November, supporters donated solar panels.

About 300 residents are holding out in rejecting eviction from their homes and farmland for NYIA, now under construction near the south coast of Java. But there have been many evictions; resistance to land acquisition for NYIA, dates back to 2011 and has been marked by many instances of state repression and intimidation. An ‘airport city’ is planned around the airport, comprising hotels, shops and other facilities, which would increase the land acquisition and displacement. For further information see the report Solidarity Calls for Kulon Progo Farmers against Airport and Airport City by People’s Alliance Against Airport and Aerotropolis. Photos of the May 1st protest by farmers’ solidarity organization Jogja Darurat Agraria were posted on Facebook.

Solidarity photos from around the world have been sent to the NYIA affected people, by supporters of the campaign against New Mexico City Airport (NAICM) and a gathering of aviation campaigners, a new network called ‘Stay Grounded‘, held in London.

NYIA, NAICM
Translation of the banner: STOP NYIA, New Mexico City Airport (NAICM) and other destructive megaprojects. STOP THE MEGAPROJECTS OF DEATH
SOLIDARITY between MEXICO and INDONESIA
Greetings to our sisters and brothers farmers in Kulon Progo (Yogyakarta, Indonesia) 
In solidarity,
Frente Amplio No Partidista en contra del Nuevo Aeropuerto y otros Megaproyectos en la Cuenca del Valle de México
La Casa de la Chinampa Photo: La Casa de la Chinampa
Stop NYIA, London April 2018
Campaigners from the UK, Austria, Belgium and The Netherlands at Stay Grounded aviation network meeting in London, 28-29th April 2018. Photo: Stay Grounded

 

Fisherfolk says no to Bulacan international airport

A major aerotropolis has been approved in Bulacan, Manila Bay, the Philippines. The project area spans 2,500 hectares with the airport covering 1,168 hectares and an adjoining airport city. Land reclamation would destroy marine ecosystems and the megaproject threatens the livelihoods of more than 20,000 fisherfolk. Pamalakaya, the national progressive fisherfolk group, vows to oppose the aerotropolis and other infrastructure projects under President Duterte’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program.

Pamalakaya-Pilipinas

Fisherfolk says no to Bulacan international airport

san-miguel-airport.jpg Proposed airport in Bulacan | Photo by San Miguel Corp.

Manila, Philippines – The national fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMALAKAYA-Pilipinas) opposes the international airport project in Bulacan that has been approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

With NEDA’s approval, Ramong Ang’s San Miguel Corporation (SMC) is set to build, operate, and maintain the P700-billion international “aerotropolis” which involves an airport covering 1,168 hectares and a city complex to be built at a 2,500-hectare area along Manila Bay in Bulacan, Bulacan.

For its part, PAMALAKAYA Chairperson and former Anakpawis Partylist solon Fernando Hicap said the project will lead to environmental disaster in Manila Bay threatening the livelihood of more than 20,000 fisherfolk in the municipality of Bulacan, Bulacan and other neighboring towns.

This project will not only destroy marine ecosystem, but also the livelihood of…

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Farmers resist land-grabbing for cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria

5,000 farmers from 20 villages are being displaced for a cargo airport in Ogun State, Nigeria. Residents of Igbin-Ojo and seven other communities have protested over land-grabbing. Crops have been bulldozed and they fear forcible eviction.

A major cargo airport is planned in the Wasimi area (also referred to as Wasinmi) of Ewekoro Local Government Area of Ogun State, near Nigeria’s southeast coast. On 18th December 2017 hundreds of farmers from the village of Igbin Ojo and seven other communities in Ogun State protested against land-grabbing for the airport. Appealing to the Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun to intervene community leader Ademola Tiwalade Adisa stated that, on three occasions, groups of people came onto their land. Adisa reported that, on 17th November a group of people with a bulldozer invaded their land, then, on 24th November and 8th December a larger group of people encroached onto their land and began mapping portions of it. Below are photos of the 18th December protest published by The Sun Newspaper.

Narrating their ordeal of 8th December 2017 Adisa said that heavily armed men of the Rapid Response Squad (RRS) had forcefully arrested a number of people and, at gunpoint, forced him and his elder brother to sign an undertaking stating that they would not disturb work on their land. Villagers claim that the land trespassing and mapping was led by former chair of the Ewekoro Local Government Area, Mr. Dele Soluade, but he has repeatedly denied all the allegations, dismissing the claims he had illegally invaded the land as “unfounded” and insisting that he was acting under the instructions of Governor Amosun.

Affected villagers had undertaken a survey before the trespassing and mapping exercise began, clarifying the status of their land with the state government. They had obtained a land information certificate dated 13th December 2017 which confirmed that the land in question is completely free of all known acquisitions. The land information certificate was published in the The Sun Newspaper. Farmers’ land rights claims were fortified by this document and Abisa said: “We, therefore, appeal to Governor Ibikunle Amosun to come to our aid before he wipes our communities out in his desperation to grab our lands.”

Farmers dispossessed and crops destroyed

A 4th February an article in The Guardian Sunday Magazine painted an alarming picture of the plight of residents of Igbin Ojo, ‘fighting the battle of their lives’ to resist displacement from their ancestral land. Over the course of a few weeks crops worth millions of Naira, including cassava and pineapple plantations, had been destroyed by bulldozers and caterpillars. Farmland measuring nearly 164 hectares serving as their providing main source of income had been leveled and forcibly taken away. Fear had enveloped other farmers, including people who had invested heavily in poultry facilities which they feared losing. Farmers were distraught, dispossessed of their land and anticipating being evicted from their homes, desperately worried about their own survival and the future for their children. One woman said that that the entire community was living in fear and hunger and that children were unable to attend school because parents were unable to afford the fees.

One of the community elders, Pa Emmanuel Olukunle Opeagbe, said that the community had enjoyed ownership of the land from time immemorial up until 17th November 2017 when the first land invasion took place. He confirmed community leader Abisa’s account of land invasions by a group of people, which he described as “fierce-looking thugs”, and a bulldozer. He backed up community leader Adisa’s allegations of Soluade leading the land invasions and resorting to abuse, harassment, intimidation and threats to bulldoze people along with the crops. Opeagbe reported that Soluade had told villagers that their community would cease to exist. Along with Adisa, Opeagbe had been arrested and forced at gunpoint to sign an undertaking not to interfere with trespassing on the land.

Residents appealed to the Federal Government, Amnesty International and human rights activists for support. On 16th February the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) responded, petitioning Governor Amosun over the unlawful acquisition of land and threat to their lives. State chair of CLO, Joseph Enitan, said intervention of the governor is urgently needed because Soluade is acting under his instructions to trespass and grab lands. Farmland was being invaded and destroyed, in the name of constructing a cargo airport. Community members including council chairman Kehinde Adepegba were shocked by recent developments. New areas of land had been claimed for the airport project and encroached upon, even though the land required for the airport was allocated to the project many years previously.

A large portion of land had already been acquired for the proposed Ogun cargo airport, which was first conceived in 2005. Yet, shortly before the reports of land grabbing, in May 2017, the project languished abandoned; the only physical infrastructure that had materialized was a perimeter fence around an area of land measuring 5 x 5 kilometers. Farmers from about 35 communities, who had grown crops like rice and high-yield cassava had been displaced for the project, but they had not received compensation for the loss of their land and livelihoods. Opeagbe said the large portions of land that were “compulsorily taken for the project years back are yet to be compensated for” and that people had not protested against the airport because they believed it would bring development to their area and they would benefit from it.

Farmland is being destroyed, and farmers displaced, for an airport project which aims to export farm produce; the Ogun airport project has been described as an ‘agro-cargo airport‘. It appears that the primary purpose of the airport is envisaged as ‘transportation of agricultural products to other parts of the world’, also referred to as export of perishable (temperature controlled) goods. Only cursory mention has been made of other potential functions for the airport such as import of consumer goods, machinery and industrial raw products, pilot training school, aircraft maintenance facility, helicopter and air taxi services.

Compensation and a possible court case

At the end of February Governor Amosun announced that 500 million Naira (nearly US$1.4 million) had been allocated for payment of compensation to farmers losing their land for the airport, saying that the money would be disbursed to 20 villages directly affected by the airport project. He also said that affected farmers would be relocated to an appropriate location where they could continue their farm business, making assurances that his administration would not bring hardship to the people. It was then reported that 1,000 farmers had been compensated for loss of their agricultural land and crops and the remaining 4,000 would receive compensation within the next few weeks. If it is indeed the case that US1.4 million has been earmarked for compensation of 5,000 farmers, then assuming the same amount is to be allocated per farmer this adds up to a mere US$280 each. Igbin Ojo is one of the villages listed as beneficiaries of the first phase of compensation, along with Pataleri, Igbagba, Mosan, Igbin Orola, Igbin Arowosegbe, Idele and Balagbe.

Since this announcement GAAM has not found any reports of affected villagers’ response to the compensation offer, aside from a single resident of Igbagba village reportedly appreciative of prompt payment. There have been newspaper reports of officials making statements urging people to support the project, and exhorting its supposed benefits of employment for local people, economic development and attracting foreign investors. But it is evident that land acquisition for the airport is not supporting development, it is destroying communities. As officials proclaim potential positive impacts of the airport GAAM has not found any information on such vital matters as how the project will be funded and which firms and/or government bodies will be responsible for constructing, operating and managing the facility. But it is evident that a truly gargantuan megaproject is in the works. As he again implored residents to support the cargo airport Governor Amonsun said that ‘thousands of hectares‘ would be required for the project.

Communities resisting loss of their land for Ogun cargo airport are dragging Soluade to court in an attempt to bring the land grabbing to a halt. Their struggle has parallels with farmers’ resistance to the Ekiti airport project, north of Ogun state. In October 2015 the state government of Ekiti sent in bulldozers to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland for an airport, without even discussing the project with affected farm owners in five villages. Farmers succeeded in stalling the land clearance and suspending the airport project. Opponents from within the state government supported the farmers, arguing that the project had begun illegally without adhering to due process and criticized the high level of state funding. The farmers protested and filed a suit seeking damages for unlawful land acquisition, and in March 2016 were vindicated with a court victory upholding their claims. But in the interim ten Ekiti farmers died. Community members attributed their deaths to the terrible trauma of the injustice perpetrated by the state.

New mega-airport and ‘Airport City’ in Cambodia triggers land disputes

A plan for a new airport, one of the largest in the world on a 2,600 hectare site in the Kandal District of Cambodia, with an accompanying ‘Airport City’, has reignited one of the country’s fiercest land disputes.

In January the Cambodian government approved a plan for a new airport, one of the largest in the world by land area, on farmland in the Kandal Province, about 30 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. Construction of the new airport is anticipated to commence in 2019 and a 21st December 2017 document from the Council of Ministers approved an investment proposal from Cambodia Airport Investment, a joint venture between the State Secretariat of Aviation (SSCA) and Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC). OCIC is a private firm, one of the largest finance, infrastructure and real estate companies in Cambodia, owned by tycoon Pung Khiev Se, with a track record of financing major development projects.

The land area earmarked for the airport project, 2,600 hectares, is more than six times larger than the existing Phnom Penh Airport’s 400 hectares and considerably larger than Beijing Capital Airport, the world’s second busiest passenger airport, with a 1,480 hectare site and handling over 94 million passengers in 2016. Predominantly low-lying agricultural land, the proposed site is on the northwestern shore of a large lake, Boueng Cheung Loung. Preparing the lakeside area of the proposed site for airport construction would require land reclamation and it is thought that there is some overlap with the lake itself.

Proposed site of new Phnom Penh airport and Airporrot City

A map produced by GAAM shows the proposed airport site, based on a modified satellite image published in the Phnom Penh Post. The authors of the article were not certain whether the proposed airport site is state-owned or part of OCIC’s vast land bank. The rectangular area outlined in red is the approximately 700 hectare area allocated for the airport, the adjoining shaded area, approximately 1,900 hectares, is earmarked for development of an ‘Airport City’, described by SSCA spokesman Sinn Chanserey Vutha as a mixed-use development including a commercial centre and residential housing. Chanserey Vutha explained that investors will not be able to generate a profit from the airport itself, so the land for the Airport City is being offered to investors for generating profits from commercial centres and other amenities.

Land rights protests as villagers fear eviction

Announcement of the new airport and associated development sent land prices soaring upwards and within days land for sale signs were hastily erected. Rice fields and lakeside properties in the area that had been valued at between US$20,000 – 50,000 per hectare before announcement of the new airport began selling for as much as US$100,000 or even US$200,000 per hectare. Kandal District villagers were shocked by sudden news of the airport project, along with publication of maps appearing to show the new airport and a massive multi-use development on land they have resided on and near for more than two decades. Their land ownership is disputed by a local ‘oknha’ or tycoon, Seang Chanheng, who has long laid claim to it. A government-aligned media outlet, Fresh News, released documents purporting to show that the land had belonged to Seang Chenheng all along, but even provincial authorities profess uncertainty regarding rights to the land. Regardless of this uncertainty, a large area of disputed land was recently purchased for the airport project, by OCIC in partnership with the SSCA.

Several communes in the Kandal Stung district are wracked by long-running land disputes; the airport project has raked up old tensions and new potential conflicts are looming. Already, there are indications that the authorities are siding with Chanheng’s company and criminalizing protest by villagers residing near the land earmarked for the new development. At the beginning of February over 100 villagers blocked bulldozers from digging a dam on disputed land adjacent to the proposed airport site. Subsequently, Kandal Military Police summoned six villagers to appear for questioning after Chanheng accused them of “incitement” and obstructing her machinery. Oeung Sary, one of the villagers called in for questioning, was undeterred by the order, saying “We will go to meet with the Military Police whether they arrest us or not, because we are fighting for our land…We have no guns or power to fight them with. If they want to jail us, let them jail us.”

On 19th February affected villagers staged a major protest. Over 200 people from four communes gathered at Kandal Provincial Hall to voice their complaints regarding land earmarked for the new airport and seek resolution of the dispute with Seang Chanheng. Oeung Sary remained defiant and determined to stay on the land. Refusing to appear before the military police she said “We will not go to answer. If they want to arrest us, let it be” and accused the government of “bias” in favour of Chanheng’s company. Another villager, Sorn An, said she was one of several villagers who had sold land, in her case belonging to her grandmother, to Chanheng’s company but been underpaid, selling it for $250 per hectare but receiving a fraction this amount, just $25 or $50. She said they had been intimidated during negotiation over the land, that representatives of the company had slammed the table in front of them, threatened them, locked the door and called the police.

Reigniting one of Cambodia’s fiercest land disputes

One of the fiercest and lengthiest land disputes in Cambodia has been reignited by the new airport project. Nearly 300 families living in three villages in the Kandal District, still bearing their Pol Pot era names of Point 92, Point 93 and Point 94, have resided in the area for more than twenty years. Before the residents settled upon it the land was uncultivated. Their ownership of it appears to be legitimate on the basis of a 2001 law that people living peacefully on uncontested land for five years can lay claim to it.

But in 2005 Chenheng’s men began bulldozing the land in order to claim ownership of it. The villagers achieved a rare legal victory in 2006-7 when the Kandal Provincial Court upheld their claim to the land. Some families were issued with temporary land titles, but the official land titles that they were assured of were not issued. Chanheng’s company began clearing the land again in 2009, bulldozing villagers’ farms and a much loved local temple. Company security guards and Military Police fired on villagers who came to protest, wounding three of them. Prime Minister Hun Sen did not respond to a protest outside his house. In 2010 ten villagers attempting to block bulldozers from destroying their ripening rice crops were arrested and charged with land grabbing and incitement in connection with the protests, a move decried as harassment by human rights organizations.

Suddenly, in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that the disputed land belongs to Min You Cultural Foundation, a company which appeared to be unregistered with no trace of it to be found in Ministry of Commerce records. The Court made this ruling even though it acknowledged “many irregularities” in the sale of the land to this company. Villagers had not heard of the company or the court case or the hearing and were not even called to testify at the hearing.

As land disputes erupt again in the wake of the planned new airport, with villagers fearing they will be stripped of their land and evicted, human rights groups argue that development on the land should cease until land disputes are resolved. Vann Sopathi, business and human rights coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that government and developers should conduct a social and environmental impact assessment of the airport project, and that it should not be permitted to proceed until a mutually acceptable solution is agreed between the company and the affected people.

Villagers are not the only people embroiled in land disputes relating to the new airport; several high-ranking officials own land in the Kandork commune which overlaps with the northernmost portion of the proposed site and a group of them complained of encroachment by an un-named Chinese company. Villagers were hired to guard their plots and one woman said she had climbed onto a bulldozer to prevent men digging her employer’s land.

Cambodia is beset with a multitude of land disputes due to ambiguities over, and  haphazard implementation of, land rights laws. The dispute over the land that is now announced as the site for a new airport is a typical example of tensions between elites with legal claims and villagers who have lived on the land for long periods and whose informal claims are backed by local authorities. Such land disputes are usually settled in favour of people with power and money, as they have the necessary influence and social connections to produce the requisite documentation.

Airport project financing

The projected cost of the new airport is $1.5 billion. Of this sum, OCIC will invest US$280 million and US$120 million will come from public funds, but the bulk of the funding, $1.1 billion, will come from “foreign banks” that at the time of the announcement remained unspecified. But it is clear that at least a significant proportion of the foreign investment will be from China. OCIC signed a “co-operation framework agreement” for the new airport with the state-run China Development Bank. Chinese financing of the new airport is one of 19 agreements to develop Cambodia’s infrastructure, agriculture and health system, signed on 11th January during a visit by Premier Li Keqiang. The deals were signed by various representatives of the Cambodian and Chinese governments in a ceremony lasting less than 10 minutes. Officials did not ask any questions and few details were given about the agreements, even though they are likely to impact heavily on Cambodia’s future development.

At this juncture it is unclear whether the new airport is intended supplement or replace the established Phnom Penh Airport. SSCA spokesman Chanserey Vutha declined to comment on whether the existing airport will be dismantled once the new airport becomes operational. Closing down the existing airport would render the considerable amount of investment in the facility in recent years wasteful and short-sighted. A US$100 million expansion of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports commenced in 2014, extending the passenger terminals and parking lots and enlarging the commercial space with more shops and food and beverage outlets. In December 2017, as plans for the new airport were announced, a new US$26 million arrivals hall was inaugurated at Phnom Penh Airport, incorporating extension of the boarding concourse.

China has also confirmed financing for a new airport in Siem Reap, a resort town most renowned for Cambodia’s most famous tourist attraction, the Angkor Wat temple complex. The new airport is to be constructed on a 700 hectare site in the Sotr Nikom district 50 kilometres outside Siem Reap city. Groundbreaking, marking the beginning of construction of the new airport, is imminent. The US$880 million agreement with China’s Yunnan Investment Holding Ltd (YIHL) allowing the state-owned company to manage the new Siem Reap airport under a 55-year build-operate-transfer (BOT) concession was actually announced in August 2017, with YIHL reportedly having already commenced land clearance. Double the capacity of the existing Siem Reap Airport the new airport will be able to handle 10 million passengers per year.

Road projects

Number 13 in the list of 19 China-Cambodia development deals is an expressway linking two hotspots for Chinese investment: Sihanoukville and the existing Phnom Penh Airport. Sihanoukville, a resort city on the Gulf of Thailand, is a major destination for Chinese property investment, construction boom in recent years, hotels, casinos and thousands of apartments. China has also invested heavily in Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, promoted as Cambodian equivalent of the Shenzhen tech hub, with about 100 Chinese firms already operational.

The Sen Sok district surrounding Phnom Penh Airport is also a magnet for Chinese residential development and investment. The 190 kilometre highway, 4 lanes wide for most of its length, is expected to cost nearly US$2 billion. It could lead to evictions. Ministry of Public Works and Transport spokesman, Va Sim Sorya, said that the expressway would likely infringe upon people’s homes and land, but that it would be the responsibility of China’s state-owned China Communication Construction Co. to provide fair compensation for affected people, with the assistance of the ministry.

The planned new Phnom Penh airport appears to be linked with another road project. An article on the Construction & Property website, which includes a map of the new airport site and a video of the joint Cambodia and China signing ceremony, shows Ringroad Number 3 running through the north of the site. The Cambodian government is building three ring roads around the outskirts of Phnom Penh; construction of the third outer ring road, part of an expressway development masterplan US$9 billion expenditure on 850 kilometres of roads by 2020, is expected to commence in 2018.

Evictions for OCIC ‘satellite city’

By land area, the airport and ‘Airport City’ project is an even bigger project for OCIC than its 387 hectare, Chroy Changvar satellite city. The airport project’s US$1.5 billion budget is comparable with US$1.6 billion for Chroy Changvar, which is now under construction and the largest property development in Phnom Penh. A protracted land dispute with residents from six communities, living on and depending upon the land for years, dates back to 1994 when the government banned construction of homes on the land, designating it for development two years later. In 1998 Prime Minister Hun Sen reassured landowners who had lived on the site for a minimum of five years that they would not be evicted, reiterating this in a 2002 speech. A number of residences were duly excluded from the project site. But 200 families were not so fortunate, in spite of being in possession of official documentation proving their land ownership, and in 2016 were informed they would have to accept the compensation offer.

In February 2016 100 people representing 359 affected families facing eviction for Chroy Changvar petitioned Phnom Penh City Hall in a bid to resolve the land dispute with OCIC. They urged the government to halt alleged housing rights violations, calling either for higher compensation of US$400 per square metre as opposed to OCIC’s offer of just US$15, or to be given back half of their land, not merely 10 per cent of it as was proposed. In April 2016, in spite of the ongoing land dispute, OCIC, protected by 50 security guards, resumed bulldozing to make way for a new road and drainage system to serve the planned city, in spite of two families laying claim to the land being cleared and one resident stating that she had not been compensated. High security echoed 2014 when security guards stopped an attempt by 40 villagers to stop machinery pumping sand onto wetlands, causing water to rush back into the river, destabilizing their homes and putting them at risk of flooding. Protest continued into 2017, in February 40 villagers gathered to demand compensation for land taken for the new city.

Cambodia’s crackdown on democracy and human rights

China is, by far, Cambodia’s biggest trading partner and and its biggest source of foreign aid, investment and tourists. Backing from China has bolstered the Hun Sen government, the world’s longest serving Prime Minister, since 1985, and its investment increases in the face of a crackdown on democracy, freedom of expression and human rights. Cambodia is regressing to its authoritarian past as a political crackdown silences opposition figures, civil society groups and independent media. Critics are slammed with accusations of treason, defamation, collusion with foreign governments and being a threat to national security. Democracy is in a death spiral. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been dissolved, its leader Kem Sokha is in jail awaiting trial on charges of ‘treason’ and 118 senior party members have been banned from political activity for five years. CNRP is the only real opposition party, so Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CCP) will effectively run unchallenged in the upcoming national elections in July. Human Rights Watch warned of the “death of democracy”.

In November 2017 two former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists were charged with espionage; still in custody, they could face a 15 year jail sentence if found guilty. They were arrested on the basis of a vaguely worded provision in the penal code criminalizing passing information to a foreign state that could damage national security. Their defence lawyer says the charges against them are baseless and a petition for their release is currently before the Supreme Court. Under the same provision, an Australian film-maker was jailed for flying a drone at an opposition rally. Two former Cambodia Daily reporters were charged with incitement after asking questions during the lead-up to the June 2017 local elections. Both RFA and Cambodia Daily closed down their Cambodia newsrooms after being suddenly issued with enormous tax bills, US$6.3 million with one month to pay in the case of Cambodia Daily, a 24-year old independent newspaper which published its final edition with the damning headline “Descent Into Outright Dictatorship”. A representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists said that the Cambodian government’s arrests and threats against journalists are a “clear and present danger to press freedom”.

The tightening grip of repression is also restricting activists. Amnesty International called for convictions against two environmental activists who filmed large vessels off Cambodia’s coast suspected of illegally carrying sand for export. Hun Vannak and Doem Kundy, from the NGO Mother Nature, were sentenced to one year in prison plus fines for this exposé aiming to galvanize action to curb the illicit trade on 26th January 2018. Foreign NGOs have been targeted, for example staff of US-based National Democratic Institute were ordered to leave the country, accused of receiving assistance from foreign governments.

As the Cambodian government persecutes citizens and NGOs for collaboration with foreign governments it is bending over backwards to enable China to increase its economic and geopolitical influence. As the 19 agreements for billions of dollars worth of Chinese investment in Cambodia’s infrastructure, including the new airport, were signed Cambodia pledged its support for China’s international goals. Specifically, Cambodia agreed to support China’s claims to disputed territory in the South China Sea, where jurisdictional disputes and construction of ports, military installations and airstrips are straining its relationships with several countries in Southeast Asia. China also gains increased access to Cambodian resources, such as oil, gas and timber, and can take advantage of low tax rates and cheap labour. Critics argue that Cambodia is selling itself short and will pay a price for China’s financial support, warning of ending up in its giant ally’s pocket and already losing its voice on regional issues.

Kulon Progo airport struggle in New Internationalist magazine

Eviction of Kulon Progo villagers from their homes and farmland for New Yogyakarta International Airport and a surrounding ‘aero city’, and the resistance struggle, a key land rights struggle in Indonesia, garnered global publicity in this article for New Internationalist magazine, published in September 2017. NewInt Kulon Progo

 

Global network against aviation expansion

GAAM is pleased that our work is featured in this video by Reel News about a new global network coordinating action against aviation industry expansion plans, which need to be radically constrained in order to prevent runaway climate change. There is growing resistance everywhere from a coalition of local residents, NGO’s and trade unionists, determined to stop the plans while protecting the futures of the workers who work in the industry.

The video features resistance to aerotropolis projects in India, Sydney in Australia and Jeju Island in South Korea, plus construction of a new airport destroying mangroves on Kulhuduffushi island in The Maldives. GAAM’s research on the the pivotal role of aviation in fossil fuel extraction and processing, such as the proposed Adani coal mine in Queensland Australia and Rampal coal plant in Bangladesh, is also included.

It is wonderful to be part of this global network working alongside many other organizations featured in the video: Finance & Trade Watch a small Vienna-based NGO which has done a lot of brilliant work initiating and coordinating ths new global network against aviation expansion. System Change Not Climate Change Austria is at the centre of the campaign against the expansion of Vienna airport. HACAN which brings together people living under Heathrow Airport flightpaths and is heavily involved in the campaign against a third runway. Coordinadora Ote Edomex is a coalition fighting a new mega-airport with six runways and surrounded by commercial and industrial development at Lake Texcoco, just outside Mexico City.  Transport & Environment conducts research and campaigning to expose the real impact of transport on our climate, environment and health. Kuzey Ormanlari Savunmasi (Northern Forest Defence) are taking action in Turkey to protect an important ecological area between the residential areas of Istanbul and the Black Sea coast, including a third Istanbul airport which is destroying a vast area of forest, lakes, farmland and coastline. Global Forest Coalition is an international coalition of NGOs and Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations defending the rights of forest peoples. PCS – the Public and Commercial Services Union – is a British trade union  working on strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of aviation while protecting their members’ terms and conditions. Back on Track supports improved European cross-border passenger train traffic and campaigns to maintain night train services. Biofuelwatch provides information, advocacy and campaigning in relation to the climate, environmental, human rights and public health impacts of large-scale industrial bioenergy. Zone A Défendre is the driving force behind the spectacular resistance against an airport on farmland in Notre Dame-des-Landes, near Nantes in south west France, cancelled in January 2018 after years of struggle, mass demonstrations and occupation of the land.