The government tries to paint a superb picture of the current realities of Filipino farmers. Tagging them as heroes for being the nation’s food producer, the government proclaims what it is allegedly doing to support the sector. But the farmers of Musuan, Maramag, Bukidnon tell a different story: of fighting for their land, for higher wages and farm gate prices, and fighting for their lives and their livelihood as they confront daily harassments and threats from the military, and the security guards of the Central Mindanao University.
BY KHAREN JOY ZUASOLA
Secretary-General, National Union of Students of the Philippines- Bukidnon
Posted by Bulatlat
MUSUAN, Maramag, Bukidnon – The intensified operations of several units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) here, purportedly to crush communist rebels, have not stopped farmers from fighting for their livelihood.
As one of the chief target areas for the counter-insurgency campaign, Bukidnon has been suffering from extensive military deployments and operations. The 4th Infantry Division of the AFP has focused its operations in the province especially in the municipalities of San Fernando, Quezon, Pangantucan, Valencia and Malaybalay.
Components from the Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and some troops of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA) also augment the AFP’s operations. The RPA is a splinter group of the New People’s Army, which has signed a peace agreement with the government.
Also, the Philippine National Police coordinates with the AFP in its operations.
Death threats, harassment
But state security forces are not only operating against the NPA. The Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus Farmers’ Association (BTL) said that civilians, including their members, have become targets of military harassment.
Around a hundred military forces have been deployed at Central Mindanao University (CMU) since September 2008. Dr. Rodrigo Malunhao, the OIC president of the university, is believed to have allowed the encampment and cooperated with the military.
In an interview, Florentino Macote, chairperson of BTL, disclosed that their organization is affected by the militarization. He said the military has issued death threats to their community leaders. “Some of our members fear for their safety since we are labeled as NPA sympathizers,” Macote said in Hiligaynon.
The BTL is an association of three farmers’ organizations. With a membership of over 800 individuals, the organization stands firm in their more than two-decade old land struggle in CMU.
Last Sept.24, Macote said, five soldiers entered their community claiming to be staff of a non-government organization. The day after, while the community was celebrating its fiesta, the soldiers played basketball with the residents, introducing themselves as students of CMU. The group even interviewed the farmers.
The military finally disclosed their identity last Oct.2 when they unwarrantedly joined the meeting of the organization. They declared that they are conducting a census in the area.
For more than a month now, the military has continued to roam around the campus. They conduct “census” during the daytime while they patrol at night armed with M16 and M203 rifles. Usually, they conduct these operations with five to 14 soldiers. They claim that their patrols have been ordered by the university OIC-president himself.
During their “census”, the military goes house-to-house. They grill the farmers, including their children, with questions regarding their work, length of stay in the area, what organizations they belong to, their leaders, if there are members of progressive partylists such as Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakpawis, and if there are recruitment activities by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) or the New People’s Army (NPA) in the area.
Macote and his family have been harassed several times. Last Oct. 16, two military men barged into their house looking for Macote. During that night only his wife and children were in their house. ”Nahadlok ko nga mapareha sa ubang lider-mag-uuma nga gipangpatay o kaha ginadagit sa mga gituohang mga elemento sa sundalo,” (I am afraid I might be killed like the other peasant leaders who were killed or abducted by the military) Macote said. Soldiers also barge into the houses of other farmers.
Though the BTL’s struggle is a legal one, the military insists that they are members of the NPA. Macote said it does not matter whether they deny or admit the accusations against them since the soldiers have made up their minds.
Struggle for livelihood
BTL maintained that the upsurge in the number of troops operating in their area has greatly affected the economic life of the farmers. Many farmer leaders could no longer work in the fields.
But Macote said their organization is not totally paralyzed. “The military cannot claim that it has successfully crushed our organization. Our strength has been built and proven in practice,” said Macote.
Their campaign for genuine land reform continues, Macote said. While they are fighting for their land, they likewise campaign for the increase in farm gate prices of corn, palay (unhusked rice) and other agri-products and for the increase in the salary of agri-workers.
He said that the farm workers’ salary in the province remains low, ranging from P80 to P100 a day ($1.60 to $2 at the November 24, 2008 exchange rate of $1=P49.82). It is far below the minimum wage and the daily cost of living in the region. They also do not receive any benefits.
Macote related that they are also campaigning for a shift to organic farming. Chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides are expensive. He said that they pay P2,000 to P2,500 ($40.14 to $50.18) for every sack of fertilizer.
BTL continues to link arms with other peasant and farm worker’s organizations in the province. The group is hopeful that their struggles would be successful through the unity of the toiling classes.
Macote said that their tactical gains such as the establishment of associations or negotiations with landlords and compradors, while minimal, mean a lot to farmers.
He said they still have so much work to do to alleviate the plight of farmers. Landlessness, he said, remains the number one problem as seven out of 10 farmers in the country still have no lands to till.
Foreign economic interests
BTL condemns in strong terms the entry and expansion of plantations and corporations of mining and other multi-national corporations in the province. Not only are the operations of mining and agri-business corporations hazardous to the environment, BTL said. The economy and the country’s natural resources are being made to serve foreign interests instead of the welfare of the Filipino people.
According to Bryan Magadan, Deputy Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance)-Bukidnon, the government has a grand plan that favors capitalist nations like US, Japan and China. In December, the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), RP-China and RP-US Free Trade Agreement are expected to be approved by Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. With this, another 2 million hectares would be allotted for plantation and mining operations.
”This means extensive land grabbing, land-use and crop conversion,” said Magadan. The rice crisis will further worsen since, according to Magadan, the current 4 million hectares of rice fields (from 6 million previously) will further be converted into plantations.
Bayan believes that foreign monopoly corporations are eying Mindanao, especially Bukidnon. They are interested in setting up plantations for pineapple, palm oil, trees, banana, sugar cane and jathropa which are needed by their industries. They, Magadan said, are also interested in extracting the minerals in province such as gold.
According to Bayan, the militarization in CMU is not an isolated case. It is meant to pursue and protect foreign interests in the province. The AFP, Bayan said, is an effective instrument in defending capitalist greed.
Over 120,000 hectares of agricultural land in the province are already owned by foreign corporations, according to Bayan.
Mining companies such as Bonaventure, Assissi Mining and St. Ignatius Mining are already operating in over 200,000 hectares of the Pantaron mountain range at the boundary of Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur.
At CMU, more than 10 hectares are initially planted with jathropa or tuba-tuba for alternative fuel. Other areas being targeted for for tuba-tuba plantations, covering 80,000 hectares are in Wao and Talakag.
”The displacement of the BTL from their occupied land in CMU, like the widespread dislocation of farmers and lumads in the province, is a necessary collateral damage for capitalist acquisition of super profits,” said Magadan.
Macote said they have no other option but to fight in order to live. While they have the option not to contest the land and to just accept payment from CMU and leave the area, they would still confront the same problem wherever they go: landlessness.
He said that by facing the battle collectively, they could overcome current and future problems. “Walay atrasay!” (No retreat!), said Macote smiling. Posted by Bulatlat.com