Lakbay Magsasaka: Tales of a thousand oppressed tillers

(Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

By RUTH LUMIBAO
Bulatlat

MANILA — Over 4,000 farmers, workers, and members of progressive organizations from all over the Philippines marched to Mendiola yesterday, Oct. 25, to show their disappointment with the Duterte administration and to demand accountability for its unfulfilled promises.

The rally was the culmination of the national peasant caravan, Lakbay Magsasaka, which saw thousands of farmers gathering in the capital, and in Cebu City in the Visayas. Simultaneous protests were also held yesterday in the cities of Iloilo, Butuan, Davao, Cebu, Cagayan De Oro.

The mass action also commemorated the centennial of the October Russian Revolution, dated Oct. 25 on the Julian calendar (Nov. 7 on the Gregorian calendar). Progressives underscored the need for the unity of the working class – the peasants and workers – who spurred revolutionary change and established a proletarian government in Russia.

As they comprise majority of the Filipino population, the Duterte administration would do well to give attention to the progressive peasantry’s frustration with government, and the initiatives they are pushing for change in the countryside.

“Today, the Filipino peasant masses vow to further our struggle for genuine land reform through more vigorous land occupation and collective cultivation. Our campaign to dismantle land monopoly, haciendas and plantations will continue and expand on a nationwide scale,” KMP Secretary General Antonio Flores said in a statement.

PEASANT-WORKERS ALLIANCE. Rallyists join symbolic mock hammers and sickles to symbolize the unity of the working class.
(Photo by Ruth Lumibao)

Two weeks ago, farmers from the BUFFALO-TAMARAW-LIMUS (BTL) Federation of Bukidnon arrived in Manila and were the first to camp outside the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City. They were followed by the agrarian reform beneficiaries of the Tagum Development Corporation (TADECO) in Davao Del Norte.

Two days ago, Bicolano farmers arrived in 28 buses to demand for the return of the coco levy fund. Farmers from Eastern Visayas, Southern Tagalog, Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, Central Luzon, and Western Mindanao followed suit.

At 7 a.m. yesterday, the farmers held a short program in front of DAR, then marched to Welcome Rotonda to meet with members of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), where they formed a symbolic union of the hammer and sickle, in line with the October Russian Revolution theme.

In front of University of Sto. Tomas (UST), the farmers, workers, and other progressive organizations were joined by the religious and other convenors of the Coalition for Land, Against Martial Law and Oppression (CLAMOR) and representatives of the Makabayan bloc for a simple solidarity lunch. Present were Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, former DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano, Bayan Muna Representative Carlos Zarate, GABRIELA Partylist Representatives Arlene Brosas and Emmy De Jesus, and Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao.

Convenors of CLAMOR, including Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez and former DAR Secretary Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, await the arrival of farmers in front of UST. ?(Photo by Ruth Lumibao)

In a three-hour program held in Mendiola, farmers from different regions shared their stories and expressed their dismay with Duterte’s “anti-people and pro-imperialist policies.” Their problems are multiplied three-fold: they cultivate land for landlords, they work the hardest but earn the least, and they are targeted by state agents because of their steadfast campaign for genuine agrarian reform.

Genuine agrarian reform still remote

“No fundamental social and economic change will happen if we cannot address the roots of the economic, political, and social crises of the country. This is why it is important to implement genuine agrarian reform and to have national industrialization,” Mariano said in Filipino.

From Luzon to Mindanao, the call of the farmers is clear and resounding: genuine agrarian reform, essentially, free distribution of land and government subsidy to the agricultural economy through services such as free irrigation, agricultural tools, and seeds.

Duterte’s appointment of Mariano to DAR showed a token commitment to genuine agrarian reform, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Antonio Flores mentioned. Just a little after a year in office, however, Mariano was rejected by Duterte’s allies in the Commission on Appointments who alleged that he supports activities of the New People’s Army (NPA) – a line commonly touted by the military against progressive leaders.

But more than the challenge of finding an equally competent and empathetic DAR secretary is the persisting problem of feudalism in the country. For more than 20 years, the farmers of Hacienda Luisita have been deceived by the Cojuangco family through the stock distribution option (SDO). Despite favorable judgments from the Supreme Court, land distribution remains a frustrated effort.

Similarly, farmers from Bukidnon and Davao Del Norte have been burdened by bureaucratic processes of the government. Instead of being immediately distributing the lands, DAR has preferred to order reinvestigations of their decades-long requests to declare the lands agricultural.

Farmers from Lupang Kapdula in Cavite are the most recent victims of the loopholes of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), which allows the reclassification of land to commercial use despite previous declarations of administrative and judicial institutions allowing its distribution.

Systematic corruption

Farmers are also victims of deceitful schemes of government. With funds allegedly to be used to advance the agricultural economy, different administrations have extorted money from them only to be used for private gain.

Bert Autor, chairperson of KMP-Bicol, recalled how government imposed the coco levy under Marcos’s martial law, through Presidential Decree No. 6260. Initially, coconut farmers were required to pay P0.50 per kilo of copra, until it increased up to P100 per 100 kilos of copra.

The Marcos dictatorship wanted to develop the coconut industry, and promised that the fund would be used to benefit coconut planters. The coco levy fund is now worth P85-million ($1.6 billion). Despite all of the good intentions for its creation, the funds have been used for investments in the United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) and San Miguel Corporation (SMC), formerly controlled by Marcos’s crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco. At present, there is also a move to use the remaining assets to fund other projects of government, instead of the very purpose it was primarily created.

Coconut farmers from Bicol and Visayas have tried to approach different government agencies to claim the fund. All efforts, as of today, have been in vain.

In Negros Oriental, sakadas were promised to receive benefits through the Sugar Amelioration Program (SAP). Billions of funds were allocated for sugar workers, considering the hardships they experience during tiempo muerto (dead season). Despite this program, a lot of sugar workers are not aware of their benefits, and even less have received any benefit from the program at all.

Foreign and capitalist interests preferred

Peasants bear the brunt of government’s bogus development projects. In order to usher in investments in the country, government has disregarded adverse effects on the environment, leading even to the destruction of the livelihood of farmers and fisherfolk alike.

(Photo by Ruth Lumibao)

In Cagayan Valley and Cordillera, mountains are being flattened to give way to open-pit mining. With the limited agricultural land in these areas due to its mountainous terrains, open-pit mining is a death sentence to their livelihood. Chemicals used in mining and excess gravel used will most definitely affect nearby agricultural lands and bodies of water.

In Mindanao, the number of plantations has increased, planted to crops that serve the export economy of the Philippines instead of its local economy. Bananas, palm oil, pineapples, rubber, and other export products are planted instead of rice and other vegetables that can ensure the country’s food security. Plantations are owned by wealthy landlords and others are controlled by foreign corporations.

In Southern Tagalog, the Yulo King Ranch, a vast agricultural land covering 39,238 hectares in Coron, Palawan remains undistributed to the farmers. Instead of being used for agricultural purposes, it has been transformed into a grazing field for cows. Because of the planting of grass for consumption of cows, the soil became more acidic. Farmers who have tried to retain a certain parcels of land for planting rice and other crops have been threatened and intimidated by state forces, especially officials of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

Related story: Peasants of Yulo King Ranch face landlessness, eviction

In different areas such as Rizal, dams are also constructed, with the help of foreign funding, without any due consideration to its effects to nearby farming communities.

Killings persist

While the peasants were on their way to Mendiola, Bicolano farmers received urgent news about the killing of two activists from Sorsogon. KMP identified the victims as Edwin “Kiko” Pura, former BAYAN and transport leader, and his companion Willy Broño, who were shot dead at 1 a.m., Oct. 25 in Gubat town.

BURN. Pamantik’s effigy depicting President Duterte as a bird of prey with US flags for wings is burned at the end of the program in Mendiola (Photo by Ruth Lumibao/Bulatlat)

The continuous killings of activists and peasants are evidence of how the Duterte administration mocks their struggle, with least 91 peasant activists killed – the state’s common knee-jerk reaction to silence dissent.

Related story: 91 peasants killed in Duterte’s first 14 months

For all its worth, the farmers have fought for more than 50 years for genuine agrarian reform despite all the obstacles and risks.

The peasants’ struggle is far from over and there is no illusion that one major mobilization will be sufficient to attain victory in genuine agrarian reform. Even with DAR’s previous assurances in its dialogues with BTL and TADECO, the farmers doubt the government’s sincerity in resolving the current issues of the peasant sector.

Related story: Lakbay Magsasaka | ‘Duterte failed farmers’

Progressive group KMP enjoins the peasantry to assert the right to land, as it cited its collective cultivation campaign called bungkalan.

“A DAR-sponsored land reform would never work for us. We must assert our own genuine agrarian reform program,” said KMP’s Flores.

Farmers have begun collectively tilling chunks of agricultural estates, such as in Lupang Kapdula, Lupang Ramos, Hacienda Roxas, Hacienda Luisita, Hacienda Peralta, Hacienda Larrazabal, Hacienda Manubay, Hacienda Uy, Hacienda Dolores, Hacienda Gancayco, Hacienda Yulo and other medium to big landholdings across the country.

“We will continue to assert genuine land reform, one hectare at a time. We will persevere in our bungkalans or land cultivation activities to achieve a self-sustaining agricultural production that will lay the foundations for genuine rural development,” Flores added.

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