Various controversies plagued the agricultural sector in 2005 and peasants do not see an end in the immediate future. In fact, they are bracing for the worst in 2006.
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
Past surveys showed hardship among the poor in 2004 and signs of desperation in 2005. No less than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, after all, admitted that the country is in a state of fiscal crisis.
Danilo Ramos, secretary-general of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), said that those hardly hit by the crisis are peasants in the countryside who remain landless and oppressed. KMP data showed that more than 35 percent of the total workforce of the country is with the agricultural sector, excluding those working in agriculture-based industries and services.
Last Christmas season, Ramos said that very few people in the provinces decorated their homes with Christmas lanterns. There were fewer people who spent for the traditional feasts of noche buena (December 24) and media noche (December 31).
In 2005, various controversies plagued the agricultural sector.
The anomalies surrounding the controversial P728-million fertilizer funds were uncovered in 2005. It may be recalled that the Department of Agriculture (DA) released the funds in February 2004.
The KMP believes that the fertilizer funds were used for Arroyo’s presidential campaign. KMP members submitted sworn statements to the Senate and the Citizen’s Congress for Truth and Accountability confirming that they have not received any fertilizers or money from the said allocation. The Citizen’s Congress put the President on trial in November where Ramos participated as an “expert witness” to testify on the issue. For its part, the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food conducted public hearings in October 2005.
The Commission on Audit (COA) reported that the DA’s list of recipients included 105 legislators, 53 governors and 23 municipal mayors. According to COA, however, 104 legislators, 46 governors and 34 mayors were the actual recipients.
During the Senate hearings, four of the eight non-government organizations listed as beneficiaries of the fertilizer funds were found to be not registered with the Securities and Exchange Commissions (SEC) and the Cooperative Development Authority (CDA).
Killings and harassment
As in the past, the year 2005 saw peasants being killed and harassed for fighting for their rights.
Among those killed in 2005 was Victor Concepcion. He was a peasant leader of the Aguman da reng Maglalautang Capampangan (AMC or Alliance of Kapampangan Farmers), the local chapter of KMP in Pampanga. Concepcion was gunned down in his daughter’s house in Angeles City (83 kms north of Manila) on March 17.
In Eastern Visayas alone, there were at least 23 peasants killed and 16 abducted.
The most recent was the so-called November 21 dawn massacre in Barangay (village) San Agustin, Palo, Leyte (located in the Visayas). Seven farmers died, including a seven-month old pregnant woman, when soldiers of the 19th Infantry Battalion and the 8th Infantry Division fired at them. The soldiers were armed with M-16 rifles and grenade launchers.
According to Ramos, peasants are unfazed by the attacks launched against them. The agricultural workers of Hacienda Luisita best exemplified such unwavering resolve to fight for their rights.
In spite of the massacre at the picket line on Nov. 16, 2004 that killed seven strikers and injured several others, workers of the Central Azucarera De Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) and United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) cultivated portions of idle land in the Hacienda Luisita plantation in June 2005 to produce food crops and stave off hunger during the rainy season. Around 300 hectares have been made productive by both the plantation and sugar mill workers.
Another victory was the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council’s (PARC) decision last Dec. 13 revoking the “stock distribution option” (SDO) in Hacienda Luisita. While the KMP sees this as a positive development, the group is planning to appeal that other parts of the hacienda be included like the 577 hectares converted and sold by the Cojuangcos and the 77 hectares allocated for the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway Project.
Ramos said that these lands were included in the petition that they submitted in 2003, as well as with the total coverage of the SDO.
Still no land
The issue of landlessness remains the primary concern in the countryside.
Based on KMP data, 60 percent of agricultural lands are owned by only 13 percent of total land owners. Big landlords like the families of Cojuangco, Ayala, Floreindo, Zobel, Yulo and Roxas own more than 20 percent of the total agricultural lands.
Despite this, the President has declared in her 2004 state of the nation address that around one to two hectares would be allotted for agri-business purposes. Partners to this project are Nestle Philippines, Inc. (for coffee), Dole Philippines, Inc. (for pineapple) and San Miguel Corporation (for cassava crops).
Ramos said that according to DA officials, 10 percent of the targeted 457,000 hectares have already been cultivated for this purpose. Southern Tagalog, Cordillera, Cagayan Valley, and some parts of Mindanao were the identified areas for this project. He stressed that farmers will be displaced if the government’s plan pushes through.
While economic crisis has affected the peasant in 2005, Ramos said that the KMP expects the worst in 2006.
However, with the “unstable and weakening political foundation” of the current administration and “the growing discontent of the people,” Ramos still sees hope to finally succeed in ousting the highest official of the land whom he described as “anti-people.” Bulatlat.com