Phu Pha Daeng Wildlife Sanctury, Jessica Infante
During our second unit, CIEE students had the opportunity to explore land rights from the perspective of both villagers and government officials. By the end of the unit, it became clear that there is a large disparity in communication between villagers and government bodies. For example, one clear illustration occurred during the 1990’s; the military forcefully removed individuals from forest reserve areas after purposefully advocating for settlement of the area as an anti-communist measure in the 1970’s.
The exchange with the PhuPhaDaeng Wildlife Sanctuary, a forest protection unit, is also a strong portrayal of the communication gap between villagers and the government. Tremendous controversy surrounds PhuPhaDaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. The government has claimed ownership of land that has been used by villagers for the purposes of their livelihood. The government states that villagers are not able to prove legal ownership of the land on which they reside. As result, villagers are displaced and experience negative impacts with regard to their farming land and source of income. The head of the Wildlife Sanctuary argued that the way in which villagers choose to express themselves follows a more aggressive approach. In that, the government believes that villagers are taking an accusatory tone towards the government as oppose to communicating their concerns calmly. Additionally, villagers are orally demanding land as oppose to scientifically proving that they have ownership to land.
Conversely, villagers argue that there is not sufficient opportunity or platforms to express their thoughts on current land right practices. There is very little transparency in the dialogue between the government and villagers. It is not clear among villagers how land ownership should be proven to the government. There have been many situations in which villagers hand their documentation of land ownership to government officials with the intention of proving ownership. Unfortunately, the documentation is either never returned or deemed invalid.
According to the Wildlife Sanctuary official, villagers must use satellite photos to demonstrate that they own land. However, the satellite photo initiative began in 1977, and therefore, there is no other accepted method of proving that a villager resided on the land prior to that year. Villagers from HuoyRahong, a village that has struggled with land ownership due to preservation initiatives by the government, express that no one receives notifications from the district office regarding land ownership. Furthermore, the current head does not demonstrate interest in collaborating with villagers to tackle land right issues. The head of the Wildlife Sanctuary even admitted that no conclusion was reached between the government and villagers regarding the use of satellite photos.
There are many sources of frustration among the villagers, but at the core is partly insufficient communication. The government should be explicit as a way to improve transparency but also to create validity. The disparity in communication brings to light the question of who is held accountable. If villagers express that they are not properly informed and government bodies argue that villagers are resistant to government law, where can the gap in communication be identified? The gap in communication can also be viewed in the framework of unethical practices. In that, the villagers are held liable for not acting according to the law due to discrepancies, but government officials are not always penalized for their practices that differ from the law.
While the PhuPhaDaeng Wildlife Sanctuary is presented as a preservation unit for the welfare of Thailand, it is also another representation of the scarce dialogue between government bodies and villagers.