Here are some of the greatest ironies about the Philippines: Farmers who till lands from daybreak to noon are mired in decades-long landlessness. Peasants who grace our tables with food are dying from hunger. Rural workers who partake in back-breaking labor remain the poorest population despite their rich production.
October was set as the Peasant Month, with farmers and fisherfolk, led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), conducting a series of protest actions and forums nationwide to call attention to the plight of the peasant sector.
Last month culminated in carnage, however, when sugar workers demanding land in Negros Occidental were brutally shot to death on October 20.
The victims of the recent massacre in Hacienda Nene, Sagay City were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), who were staging their “bungkalan” campaign when some 40 unidentified assailants gunned them down. All nine bore shots to the head. Three of the bodies were doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Under the Duterte administration, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and peasant network Tanggol Magsasaka have documented 172 peasant killings, 27 of which were women, while eight were minors. The majority of victims were peasant leaders and farmer activists.
Aside from killings, peasants also face other human rights abuses in the form of harassment, surveillance, illegal detention, and illegal arrests.
The land being defended by the peasants is fortified with years of bloodshed of past peasant movements. From the massacres at Hacienda Escalante and Luisita to the merciless slaughter in Sagay, the state has always sought to hush farmers from asserting their rights.
Bogus land reforms
Prominent clans and foreign corporations still retain monopoly of lands forty-six years after Marcos’ implementation of Presidential Decree 27, along with other agrarian reform programs of succeeding administrations, including the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) enacted by the Aquino government in 1988.
Seven out of ten farmers still till lands they do not own, according to KMP. The 70-30 division of revenue in favor of the landlords is still pervasive in many haciendas.
“The Duterte government has no agrarian reform agenda,” National Federation of Peasant Women (AMIHAN) Chairperson Zenaida Soriano said.
Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary John Castriciones admitted that an approximate 500,000 hectares covered by CARP have not been distributed. Moreover, no law has taken effect in replacement of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program since its expiration in 2014.
In response to government inaction, farm workers initiate bungkalan, or collective cultivation of idle lands for their survival during ‘Tiempo Muerte’ or ‘dead’ seasons.
Peasant groups have also been strengthening campaigns to pass House Bill 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), which renders total distribution of land to farmers. First endorsed in 2007, GARB has been filed multiple times in Congress.
Divergent to the interests of pro-landlord legislators, the farthest the bill has reached is only at committee level.
Rice crisis and poverty
If not killed by bullets, Filipino farmers die out of sheer poverty and hunger.
Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) data in 2017 reveal that farmers and fisherfolk still posted the highest poverty incidence in the country. Additionally, sugar workers are only paid P10 per day, according to the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
“The soaring prices of agricultural facilities such as diesel, fertilizer, and pesticides, in contrast to the low prices of agricultural products and high usury, exacerbate the brunt carried by farmworkers,” Soriano said.
Marlon Gueta, chairperson of National Network of Agrarian Reform (NNARA) Youth, also said that the Philippines’ entry to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA) made the country even more import-dependent.
“The WTO-AoA surrenders the rice industry to private foreign rice traders who may dictate the rice supply and distribution in the country,” Gueta said.
Under the WTO-AoA, RA 8178 or Agricultural Tariffication Law shall be implemented, espousing the lifting of restrictions on rice importation. This law encourages unlimited importation of rice despite reports that only a total of .001% of the 19 million metric tons of rice produced by local farmers were procured by the National Food Authority.
Rice farmers are subject to wage cuts because of the expected four-peso increase in the price of palay. They are also forced to sell their rice products to private traders for steeper prices.
This burden is doubled among women peasants as gender discrimination persists in the countryside.
“Despite the contribution of peasant women in land preparation and harvesting, their wages are inferior to men’s. They receive an approximate P150 compared to the P170 men receive, forcing them to resort to desperate jobs such as prostitution and housemaid work,” AMIHAN Spokesperson Cathy Estabillo said.
With the persistence of landlessness, hunger, and state violence despite decades of legal struggle, a rapidly growing peasant movement is no longer surprising. Powerless in the face of the parliament and defenseless from the attacks of landlords and the military, the farmers take it upon themselves to reap revolt. TNP
This article is from Tinig ng Plaridel’s November 2018 print issue. Read the rest of the print articles now on Issuu! https://buff.ly/2zCrx2g
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