Editorial Cartoon by Christonette Nuevo

Blood flows from the rice hulls to the soil, with bullets replacing seeds and with landlords and bureaucrat capitalists standing above farmers’ burial grounds. There is one root cause: the government’s subservience to the United States’ imperialist and feudal order.

Two-faced Rodrigo Duterte champions his “iron fist” in giving empty threats to big landowners, claiming that his interests are aligned with the agricultural sector. But his words are mere chaff in the wind — they bear no weight.

The Rice Liberalization Law alone is traitorous to the plight of farmers. Signed in February 2019 as Republic Act 11203, the law has only buried farmers  deeper into debt. With the law allowing unrestricted rice importation, the peasant sector lost at least P75 billion in income after one year, according to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

The price of palay has dropped to P10 to P12 per kilo in 2020, previously priced at P19 to P21. Local rice production has also dwindled with the COVID-19 pandemic and lack of government subsidy. The agricultural sector is left to fend for themselves as only 150,000 farmers received support despite the P60-billion budget of the Department of Agriculture’s ALPAS COVID-19 program. 

As if the peasant sector has not struggled enough, the Duterte regime has paired the sounds of rumbling stomachs with an orchestra of gunfire, a deadly combination fit for a bloodthirsty dictator.

Under Duterte, 202 peasant killings were documented from July 2016 until August 2020 by rights group Karapatan. This is part of the government’s ongoing witch hunt for communists in the countryside, marking in red any farmer who fights for their rights.

Two years after the Sagay Massacre in Negros Occidental, justice has yet to be served for the nine sugarcane farmers ambushed and gunned down while resting inside their tents. Armed men also reportedly set three of the bodies on fire. This occurred amid intensified militarization and counterinsurgency operations in communities.

Truly, the fascist military respects only their masters and no one else — not even the hands that feed them. Not even the corpses of their victims. 

Fifty-year-old farmer Bernardo Guillen, believed to have been kidnapped by military forces, was found lifeless and decapitated in a ravine last Sept. 26. Soldiers reportedly amputated the legs of 24-year-old farmer Reken Remasog before they shot him on Aug. 14. Peasant leaders are also not spared from the murderous lust of state forces, with the likes of Randy Echanis, advocating for land reform, tortured and killed.

It is clear that Duterte’s vow to help farmers and speed up land redistribution is purely lip service ?— but he is not the first one to offer such empty promises.

No Philippine president has ever implemented genuine land reforms, as their policies only deceive farmers and favor landlords. 

Ramon Magsaysay’s title as the “Champion of the Masses” was only a result of the United States’ propaganda to package their next puppet as an ally of the people. His land reform policies, legislated by a landlord-dominated Congress, were solely rooted in improving landowner and tenant relations on production, instead of transferring ownership to the tillers. 

In response to the Mendiola Massacre in 1987 which killed 13 farmers, then-President Cory Aquino signed the spineless Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) a year later. The bogus program only created loopholes to constrain land redistribution. 

Over the decades of Philippine “democracy,” government officials have mostly been a part of, or at least allied with, the landlord class for their vested interests. 

From local to the national government, landlords have institutionalized their power to maintain the rotten feudal operations in the country. The landlords who are in office themselves create laws to further marginalize the rural sector and corner them into subservience. The mercenary tradition of the military prevails largely when they serve as mere attack dogs of the ruling class, killing on command whenever their masters feel threatened. 

To whom do the farmers run to when the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture is one of the most aggressive land grabbers in the country? How will farmers expect the state to grant them their lands when once its Head is a direct benefactor of the largest Hacienda in Tarlac? Policies and bureaucratic justice systems have long been rendered inutile to address the demands of the farmers, ever since the government sided with the agenda of the feudal lords and imperial masters decades ago. 

Middle-class disillusions of our country being under a ‘backwards capitalism’ do the farmers’ plight even greater disservice. It is convenient for intellectuals lounging in their ivory towers to classify the economy as moving past feudalism, having been neutered by their blinding privilege and detachment from reality.

But the relentless attack on the rights of the farmers is a stark testament to the persistence of our country’s semi-feudal character. Moreover, never has this reactionary government implemented genuine land reform and national industrialization in any juncture of our history. The so-called ‘land reform programs’ are just facades by the government to seem progressive, but have been exposed as bogus due to its many loopholes and inefficiency for landlords to evade expropriation.

Perhaps these middle-class fantasies come from their obtuse hostility towards the militant campaign of the Left in actively collating the struggles of marginalized sectors. In thinking this, they fail to consider the agency of these peasants to act on their own. They ignore the reality that it is precisely these politicians’ failure to address decades-long landlessness that have pushed farmers to demand their comeuppance. They underestimate the historical resistance of the farmers rooted in their firsthand experiences of land grabbing, shootouts and massacres. 

Farmers have every right to resist the numerous state-sponsored injustices that plague their communities. They have the right to assert their long-overdue ownership of the lands they till. Their anger and impatience are rightfully theirs to express.

Besides, should the government really expect that farmers applaud them despite their measly wage and inhumane working conditions? Should farmers mindlessly till lands not theirs for the enrichment of landlords? Should they stay mum about their struggles amid blatant state-sponsored massacres?

The radical ways by which the farmers dismantle this systemic and structural suppression are thus justified. As centuries-long calls of their basic rights are left unheeded, even quelled in its slightest manifestation, the farmers themselves will enact justice and change on their own, in whichever means they deem fit.

The feudal exploitation prompted by colonial aggressors centuries ago has produced hundreds of nationalists that radically struggled for their rights. Thus, the fascist regime of Duterte, which has shown unswayed subservience to its imperialist masters and landlord oligarchs, will merely impel peasants to wage even greater resistance.

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