Nueva Ecija bungkalan | ‘Our struggle put food on our table’

FILE PHOTO: A Damma-ka-Baloc farmer clears the land to prepare for tilling during the May 17, 2017 bungkalan in the Sanggalang estate, Baloc, Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat

MANILA – Peasant couple Ando and Lourdes Galapon ate their lunch inside a jeepney during Lakbay Magsasaka, the national peasant protest in Mendiola on Oct. 25. It was a simple meal of rice and vegetables, but nothing could be more satisfying, for it was food grown on land as part of a nationwide peasant campaign for collective cultivation: the bungkalan.

The Galapons are from Baloc village, Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija, where 50 families recently harvested rice from a 45-hectare farmland which they reclaimed through bungkalan. The assertion was led by the group Damayan ng Mamamayan laban sa Kaapihan at Kahirapan or Damma-ka-Baloc, the expression of the unity of small farmers who, for decades, have been asserting their right to the 63-hectare Sanggalang estate.

On May 17, Damma-ka-Baloc members entered the farm and began their collective cultivation, planting mostly palay (rice), and some vegetables. By September, they began their harvest which lasted up to mid-October. When they went to Manila for the Mendiola protest, the Baloc farmers proudly brought with them newly-harvested rice, the fruit of their struggle which they shared with other peasant-activists.

“Meron na kaming bigas, meron nang kinakain ang pamilya namin, (We now have rice; our family have food to eat)” Galapon proudly said in Filipino, in an interview with Bulatlat.

The Nueva Ecija farmers are just few of the scores of rural poor asserting their right to land against big landlords and agribusiness corporations, who control the land for profit at the expense of landless farm workers. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) leads the nationwide campaign of “vigorous land occupation and collective cultivation,” as part of the struggle for genuine agrarian reform.

“At this point, our collective cultivation campaign has already covered thousands of hectares outside of the government’s bogus land reform program…Our campaign to dismantle land monopoly, haciendas and plantations will continue and expand on a nationwide scale,” said the KMP statement on Oct. 25.

Feudal exploitation

For 10 years, 13 farmer-beneficiaries of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) have been locked out of the 45-hectare land in Baloc village that was awarded to them through Emancipation Patents (EPs) in 2006.

FILE PHOTO. Members of the peasant group Damma-ka-Baloc at their camp on the Sanggalang estate during the bungkalan on May 17, 2017 (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

Sixty-three year-old Galapon told Bulatlat that his parents have been longtime tenants of Sanggalang estate, tilling a hectare of land and paying a rent of 14 cavans of palay. He himself started working in the farm in 1972.

In 1982, the Sanggalangs reverted the rent arrangement to “50-50,” in which the landlord shouldered the cost of farm production, then split the net income with the tenant. With the average harvest of 60 cavans of palay per hectare, tenants usually only get a share of 10 cavans per harvest.

“Me pamura pa noon (They would even cuss at you),” another Damma-ka-Baloc member, Pilo Araña, described to Bulatlat the despotic character of the landlord clan.

The Sanggalangs would soon be embroiled in a legal dispute, after they mortgaged the land to a certain Carlos Gonzales. The tenants were forced out of the land, which stood idle until 1995, when the court issued a decision in favor of the Sanggalangs.

The land, however, remained fenced and off-limits to the former tenants and their heirs. Those who attempted to enter were shot at by private guards.

In 2000, the listless Baloc farmers started organizing, with the help of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija chapter (AMGL-NE). In a mass action in 2001, the farmers mustered their collective courage, removed the fence, cultivated the land and benefited from its fruits.

In 2006, government awarded them EPs under CARP.

10 years of broken dreams

Although the land was already covered by CARP, in 2007, the Sanggalangs again forced a foothold on the land, with the help of their private security guards, police, and military who put up a fence around the land.

“Pinagbabaril kami,” Galapon recalled guards shot at them when they tried to enter their farms.

The Sanggalangs then leased out the land to traders. Galapon said this was doubly insulting to them whose parents have been long time tenants and were willing to work on the land, but were instead kept out.

“’Yun ang masaklap. Manong kami na lang sana kinuhang tenant (They should have gotten us as tenants)” he said. Those who are already wealthy get wealthier as they profit from the land, Galapon said in Filipino.

“Bawal kami tumuntong d’yan, binabatas kami (We were not allowed to work on the land; they used the law against us),” said Araña. Instead, farm workers favored by the landlord clan were the only ones hired to work on the land.

Damma-ka members were forced to work mostly as pahinante or hired hand to rice traders, drying palay on the road. They were paid P5 per cavan of dried palay, and earned an average of P150 ($3) a day, which was not even half of what a family needs for daily subsistence.

In Nueva Ecija, palay-drying on the road is common practice among small farmers and big traders. This is, however, banned on national and provincial roads. Every day, the farmers have to always be on the lookout for a trader’s truck that will need a hired hand to dry palay.

“Pag nagkape ka, dapat sa tabing kalsada. Alisto ka pag me humintong trak,” (We took our morning coffee by the road. We had to be alert when a truck stopped.) said Araña.

The women took laundry or worked as house help.

“Kaya karamihan sa pamilya namin di nakatapos ng pag-aaral… Gawa nang inagawan kami ng lupa,” said Galapon. (Most of our children did not finish school…Because they took our land from us.)

“Mga anak sana namin naging duktor, engineer…ngayon, pahinante rin (Our children could have been doctors, engineers…but they also became hired hand),” Araña said.

FILE PHOTO: “Recognize the agrarian reform beneficiaries,” was the call by Damma-ka-Baloc and AMGL on a sign made from sack. (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

In May, the families of the 13 original tenants were joined in the bungkalan by other landless farmworkers. A total of 50 families participated in the cultivation, the same ones who benefited from the fruits of the land.

A time to reap

After 10 years of landlessness, irregular income, and lack of food, harvest time finally came for the Damma-ka members. From Sept. 10 to Oct. 15, they wielded their lingkaw (sickle) in their farms. “Inayunan naman kami ng panahon,” (The weather cooperated) said Galapon.

They had a good crop yield, with 100 to 115 cavans of palay per hectare. This was enough to cover the full cost of production, and to have rice supply for the next months.

“Masaya naman kami at kumita kami kahit utang lahat. Hanggang sa ngayon, meron kami kinakain na di binibili araw-araw,” (We are happy to have earned a little, although we started on loans. Up to now, we still have food that we don’t have to buy every day) said Araña.

“Sampung taon kaming nagkikilo-kilo…ang pinakamasarap na ulam namin tuyo” (For 10 years, we had to buy rice by the kilo…our best meal was dried fish) Galapon said.

Now they eat fresh vegetables which they grew with their own hands. With this year’ harvest of rice came vegetables: okra, squash, winged beans, string beans and turnip.

Aside from the regular food supply, they now have time to rest, unlike before when they faced the daily worry and uncertainty of finding a source of income.

Deafeating feudalism, fascism

They have time to relax, but the farmers remain vigilant. The landlord clan continues to threaten to take the farm again.

“Sabi habambuhay di kami patatahimikin,” (The landlord clan threatened us that we would never have peace all our lives.) Araña said.

They felt this through continued surveillance by suspected state intelligence forces, regularly making their rounds in their community. Damma-ka members notice various kinds of vehicles pass by and park near the farm. During the day, all sorts of ambulant vendors are at their front door, selling jewelries, accessories and household items which they can pay through installment.

“Sa gabi, matahol ang aso,” (Dogs bark restlessly at night), said Araña.

When they reclaimed the land in May, Damma-ka has sought the assistance of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), then with Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano at the helm as secretary. At the time, DAR issued an order asserting CARP coverage and the farmers’ right to the estate, as it did with other CARP-covered areas all over the country. But since Mariano was rejected by the Commission on Appointments and removed as DAR secretary, many landlords have threatened to retaliate and take back agrarian reform-covered lands.

Since last year, peasant groups under KMP have made strides in reclaiming lands from the hands of landlords and agribusiness companies. The attacks on the progressive peasantry, however, also continued under President Duterte, with at least 91 peasant-activists killed.

FILE PHOTO: Nueva Ecija farmers march to Mendiola during the Lakbay Magsasaka protest on Oct. 25 (Photo by Arrem Alcaraz/Radyo Natin Guimba)

“Feudal exploitation in rural areas perpetuate through fascism and terror. Landlords have private armies, goons and security guards. The state has the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines which also serve as multiplier force of landlords and oligarchs to protect their interests. Farmers only have our collective strength,” said Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general, in a statement.

He said landlords may have the state machinery and arms, but farmers have their united ranks to depend on.

“We will defeat Duterte’s dictatorship and tyranny through our collective struggle for genuine land reform, resistance to militarization and demand to end state-sponsored political killings,” he added.

“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 said.

For the Damma-ka farmers, food has never tasted so good, as it comes from their hard work and struggle. The fight for land continues in Baloc.

(This article was updated Oct. 31, 2017, 11:20 AM. The farmers’ organization earlier posted as Dammak-Ba is corrected to Damma-Ka Baloc, or Damayan ng Mamamayan Laban sa Kaapihan at Kahirapan-Baloc chapter.) ()

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