By Leonard Fong Roka & PNG Studies Year 3 Students of DWU
It should have being a shudder for Divine Word University’s (DWU) Year 3 Papua New Guinea & International Relations (PG & IR) students (pictured below with villagers) to hear the experiences of the Kananam villagers with the Pacific Maritime Industrial Zone (PMIZ) outside Madang town if they had known that their country’s Constitution under Section 53 (5) (a) (d) protects every Papua New Guineans rights of inheritance of their land based on the customary laws that applies to their respective clans.
The national constitution protects and defends the people’s rights to their land across Papua New Guinea but the same constitution is eroding the rights of the Kananam villagers of Madang by neglecting the old PMIZ, RD Tuna Company, Madang Provincial Government’s ambiguous activities outside Madang town.
On the 15 of May, a group of students left Madang town for a 1 hour bus ride up the Madang’s North Coast Highway to investigate landowner-investor relationship over the lucrative Pilipino fish canary in reference to: Indigenous Rights Act and the Customary Land Act. The excursion was solely to collect the views of the villagers of Kananam.
The moment the school bus came to an abrupt halt at Kananam, there loomed a world of disparity; an iron curtain secludes the First World of the PMIZ wharf facilities where tons of tuna are delivered by fishing vessels nearly every day. Then outside the iron curtain, the Kananam villagers sit and sleep in the uncivilized world of their ancestors waiting for the moment when, the investor will give another order for relocation.
The community that had relied for ages for their sustenance on the sea of the bay now has lost their fish to the fishing vessels; the sea is now tainted with minor oil spills and along their once beautiful shores there now litters of idle fishing boats and other debris.
According to a story, ‘A Major Project in the Madang Area has Caught the People in Confusion and the Land they called maybe lost forever…Where is our Future from here?’ by a Patrick Matbob on Post Courier of 24 July 2009, the story goes that:
‘The people had been fighting to reclaim this land for more than 20 years from the Catholic Mission. The 860 hectares of Maiwara and Vidar land was owned by the Church which established its headquarters across the bay at Alexishafen in 1905. The land was purchased by Fr Eberhard Limbrock, a pioneer German SVD missionary who set up the mission headquarters and planted 284 hectares with 28,650 coconut palms and 67 hectares with 28,550 rubber trees. Madang was then under the German colonial administration which had approved the church's acquisition of the land. The manner in which this and other land areas in Madang had been acquired is now a major issue amongst the local landowners who want portions of the land returned to them. People need the land because of pressures of population growth and need for economic development.
In the 80s local people began asking for the return of the land from the mission. When they did not get a positive answer, they resorted to sabotaging the mission properties which had led to the mission eventually deciding to return the land. They did not have the money to develop the land for the people, so instead decided to hand over the land to the provincial government. Br Theo Becker, former procurator of Madang Archdiocese, said that the Vidar and Maiwara land were under freehold title, which the archdiocese handed over to Madang provincial government in 1996.
"The reason the land was given to the provincial government was that the provincial government wanted to do some projects in that area, for the benefit of the people," he said. "The archdiocese was not able to do development on this place for the people and we already had problems with the land before. So we sold our properties which our brothers had developed, and gave the land to the provincial government, to help give the people the opportunity for further development on this property," Br Becker explained.
He did this interview in 2000 and believed that there was an understanding between Catholic Archdiocese and the provincial government about the use of the land.
"The provincial government did not follow the deal that the land should have gone back to the people, for their benefit," Br Becker said’.
Thus on a conflicted land, the PMIZ and the RD Tuna canary had established themselves since 1996. It is obvious the mission handed the land back to the provincial government for a good cause, however, the government handed the land to the RD Group thus creating the RD Tuna Caners that actually started its operations in 1997.
An article from The National, RD Tuna exports hits US$23.42m dating September 22, 2003 (pg20) by a Alfredo Hernandez said that ‘RDTC, a subsidiary of Philippine based RD Group, is comprised of 18 corporations with interests ranging from tuna fish canning and fishing, prawn farms, to banking and pawnshop operations’. The people also said this very company has interest in rice farming within the PMIZ area.
With the massive land area they now seemingly own in PNG the landowners shall be more and more marginalized on their own land. The trail of protest by the people has failed to make changes in their favor since more decisions are made by others without their consent. And worst of all, as a Trevor Collins’ article, PNG PMIZ Boondoggle in for Tough Times, written for the RD Tuna PNG webpage, puts it: ‘In recent years as the government of PNG has pushed large scale economic development the landowners have, as is always the case, been left out’. In PNG, the state and few persons mastering the core prosper whilst the majority of the people at the periphery head for the ruins!
The DWU students were led to a derelict house of low standards made of bush materials next to the main PMIZ fence that according to the locals cover some 200 ha apart from inset much smaller boundary where the RD Tuna is currently operating a fish off-loading facility.
Attached to a multi-million kina industry, the Kananam village was a forgotten world. No electricity; proper water supply; proper housing, sealed feeder road which are what the company should look into to addressing them in order for the people to at least respect it. The Philippine company and the PNG government both knew not that they were operating on a land that was life for ages to the Kananam-Vidar area’s people. The people were being marginalize and denied their rights day-by-day.
Such a negative outcome could be against the auspices of the laws in the Indigenous Rights Act. The website, Philippine Indigenous Peoples Link (PIPLINKS) claims in line with UN acts that the act is the ‘most enlightened laws dealing with Indigenous Peoples, recognizing the free prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples, and asserting that in the absence of such a clear level of consent, a project cannot proceed’. This has not being the case for the Kananam people. The rightful owners of the land have being ignored to be partners in development as the colonizers and later, the government of PNG did to Bougainvilleans over their wealth in Panguna leading to conflict that the politicians were not able to sort out.
But the PNG government and the investor had not respected the UN backed rights of the indigenous peoples ignorantly exploiting them and depriving them of their future. As mentioned in the web-site, intercontinentalcry.org that, the Indigenous Landowners of Papua New Guinea have been stripped of their Constitutionally-protected land rights by the government of Papua New Guinea. Without any warning or consultation, on May 2010, the government of PNG introduced emergency legislation that dissolves the Constitutional rights of all the landowners in PNG, including the rights of Indigenous People to own land, challenge resource project in court and receive any form compensation for environmental damage. That legislation was passed by the Parliament without anybody being allowed to see the Bill before it was presented and nobody was allowed to read or comment on the text’.
The plight of the Vidar-Kananam into marginalization is also against the dictates of the Customary Land Act. Yet though, the laws of the country clearly states that land is owned by the people; as should be reiterated by the png-wealth-creation website, that ‘Land is owned by Clans and individuals have rights to use it depending on their position within the clan. Their position is determined by customary land law. So they might have a primary right or a secondary right. Nevertheless it is a right or interest in the land which cannot be terminated by any law as it is protected by Section 53(5)(a), (c) and (d) of the Constitution’.
But one has to ask why the Kananam-Vidar people are being deprived of their livelihood by the state that should be upholding the laws it creates. The problem here is that PNG is all Eurocentric in its will to develop with impact projects thus becoming resistant to adopt a welfare concept of development that would go well with indigenous world views.
According to the villagers, Germany gave the Catholic Archdiocese Vidar and Maiwara as freehold title. In the 1980s, landowners demanded the Catholic Church to return their land. The mission responded in 1996 by handing the plantation over to Madang Provincial government instead. The local people anticipated that the government would give their land back. Without consultation, the government gave the land to a fishing company, ZZZ. However due to ZZZ company bankrupted, the RD Tuna bought the land with the National Government owning 216 hectares within the perimeter of the land which proposed for SEZ project. All these transactions were made without consultation with the local population
In the 1970s a local challenge was handled by Chief Justice Minogue when the Rempi people took to the court the collision of Vidar and Maiwara over landownership rights and benefits. A low level sabotage campaign on church properties also occurred.
Much later, Kananam’s outspoken leader, Mr. Max Musas (pictured below), further torched church buildings in the area out of frustration of the tight-lip service the RD Tuna and the church was giving them. Mr. Musas said, ‘The two rascals never made any attempt to give us the light of what actually happened regarding our land. We do not know whether today who owns this land: the church, the provincial government, the national government or some other persons, that we do not know’.
Another youth leader, Mr. Camillus Manat who works with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), added that, ‘We despite the fact that we are the indigenous people of this land are today, no bodies on our progenitor’s land. Today, the Philippines people are the owners of this land. If tomorrow they want more land, they force us out; and we do not even know where our next place to move to if the Asians comes with the police to evict us’.
The community said that their politicians come to stand with them during election periods but the moment they get into office, they forget them and support the RD Tuna and the PMIZ to exploit them more and more.
Over the years, the church had claimed that only 3ha of the land in Kananam was customary land. The rest, some 200ha falls into the land the Catholic Church had purchased from a certain German individual and this land covers the plantations of Seg, Vidar and Maiwara. But it does not provide the information on who actually was that German person despite the fact that most of these people are Catholics. But it claims that evidence of deals were lost over the years or burned with mission building in the area and corrupted by government officials.
The people also claim that most people have being blinded by money. They said some NGOs and even RD Tuna come to make their money out of our problem and walk away rich. And to them, the trip to the Philippines was not good for us but it was for their personal gains.
To the locals, such illicit acts of opportunists, exposes their land to marauders that look for easy places to make money and the state is also on the risk alert that the struggle of the Kananam people should show.
How painful the journey of the Kananam-Vidar are, the greatest impediment to a common voice for the people is that, despite standing to defend the same land area, the clans and these are seg, matanan, gamarmatu, panufon and genunen within the PMIZ are so often in conflict over the land areas within themselves.