“We have to fight for our sake. We cannot just wait for them to implement land reform because they will never do it willingly.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – “Martial law is just a scare tactic. It’s the people who are more decisive. If they decide to take matters like their rights and survival into their hands, they cannot be denied.” So said Dante Gonzales of the Ugnayan ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and Kilusang Mayo Uno-Southern Mindanao Region.
At a forum held by environmental defenders at the University of the Philippines Diliman last November 29, Gonzales gave this observation in reply to questions why, despite Martial Law over Mindanao, they have successfully maintained their courageous ‘bungkalan’ (land cultivation) campaigns of agricultural workers and small farmers. Through their collective assertion of their land rights, they have transformed thousands of hectares of what used to be destructive agribusiness tenements into cases of sustainable agriculture.
The farmers and agricultural workers have banded together to work the land that the government, for reasons the workers presume must be due to the influence of big landlords, had delayed awarding them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. With solidarity assistance from organizations such as the National Council of Churches in the Philippines and the KMU affiliates, Gonzales said they found a more feasible use for the land, seedling and funding support. By early next year they look forward to processing cocoa from their harvest.
This is just one among the successful farmworker-initiated ‘bungkalan’ in Mindanao, a survival struggle that pits the unarmed farmers against the influential landlords, agribusiness giants and armed to the teeth government troops. In this bungkalan, Gonzales explained, the farmers have managed to get from the Department of Agriculture their titles or certificates stating that the land has been awarded to them after years of tenancy or farmwork there. In other bungkalan, unfortunately, the DAR has yet to release the titles to the farmers. Gonzales said this renders the bungkalan and the farmers vulnerable from corporate plantation owners and the government troops who see red in farmworkers’ land assertion.
For the Duterte government (and the previous administrations), “development” means corporate agribusiness and plantations, using toxic pesticides and fertilizers, employing low-paid farmworkers, said Leon Dulce, national coordinator of Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment. That the farmers and farmworkers’ associations would assert their rights to survive and sustainably work the lands their families have tilled for decades – this is what the government vilifies as “terrorist.” Because implementing a genuine land reform is also, on record, one of the programs of the New People’s Army, the Duterte government and the military accuse the farmers of being “fronts’ of the New People’s Army (NPA).
That is why despite the initial successes at bungkalan and the economic improvement it has brought to people’s lives, Gonzales said, “We’re not yet safe.”
Saying the enemy is big and doing its best to grab their land, to continue extracting surpluses from the workers and leave the country high and dry, “We have to fight for our sake. We cannot just wait for them to implement land reform because they will never do it willingly,” Gonzales said. Bulatlat. Bulatlat.com