Death comes in many forms. 

For the Filipino farmer, death is a sealed deal when prices of palay hit rock bottom, when legislators ignore calls for genuine land reform, and when they are greeted by starvation within the dehumanizing conditions of agriculture in the country. 

33 years after state forces opened fire on farmers at Mendiola street calling for genuine agrarian reform, the government only continues to drive farmers to the brink of collapse.

When thousands of farmers left their fields and marched to Malacanang on January 22, 1987, they brought with them the fight against landlessness and feudalism which have historically plagued the countryside with a vicious cycle of poverty. 

Yet much like in any uproar, the farmers were quelled through foul play. 

Thirteen farmers were massacred and 19 more were injured in a violent dispersal that characterized former President Cory Aquino’s administration as no better than those who came before her — meeting farmers’ demands with bullets instead of answers, and silence instead of solutions.

Indeed, even the face of the supposed democratic governance needed only a handful of oligarchs in legislation to grab ahold of power and bring to heel the poor and marginalized. 

Bogus agrarian reforms distinguished much of those who ruled the country, that the problem of land reform in the Philippines spanned regimes and decades, just like the hold of Cory Aquino’s family on the 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita. 

Decades of fraudulent land distribution enabled by government officials have allowed farmers to get the sore end of the deal. They are granted agreements under the Certificate of Land Ownership Award of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program which ultimately favors landlords because of the unjust share in the dividends. 

Farmers now have to compete with cheaper foreign imports as the recently passed Rice Tariffication Law has driven the dagger home for the local agricultural sector. 

Irony was abound when Senator Cynthia Villar, senate committee chairperson on agrarian reform, put out false information that palay prices would not go down due to the law, when it has in fact cost the farmers P95 billion in income due to the influx of cheap rice.

But to assume that those in power would base their policies on the rights of peasants would be to lie to ourselves about the reality of governance in this country. 

The reality is the issue of genuine agrarian reform must be met with an overhaul of the system that allows oligarchs to forward their own agenda in Congress — sealing the deadly deal for thousands of farmers across the nation. 

No amount of negotiation will steer landlords away from amassing more wealth, or their allies from protecting them under the rule of law. Greed can’t be fought with more legislation, when it is the same system that feeds from it. 

For every blood spilled and for every farmer’s life taken in the fight for their rights, there is more reason to wield their calls. Every farmer’s death must be a reminder that victory over systemic oppression will not be simply handed down by the state. 

Only when we take this battle to the streets can we put an end to this endless cycle of poverty and violence among those who till the land.

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