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Will collective farming by artists save one of Manila’s remaining urban fields?

By Mong Palatino

In the Philippines, a group of artists and volunteers have turned themselves into farmers to cultivate a piece of land situated in the heart of the larger metropolitan area of Manila as part of a campaign to prevent evictions of land tillers. The group, which belongs to the Alliance for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, an organization known locally as SAKA, advocates for peasant rights in the Philippines.

In an interview with this author, SAKA leader Angelo Suarez explained what motivated the group to organize what is called a a bungkalan, a collective land cultivation in Quezon City, one of the sixteen cities making up Metro Manila whose total population reached nearly 13 million in the last 2015 census.

As peasant advocates who advance agroecology, we wanted to participate in agricultural production.
In the spirit of bungkalan, we thought this was a great chance to start participating in production and learning the rudiments of both organic agroecology and organizing a community for the assertion of people’s rights.

Suarez related the complicated history of this specific piece of land: initially used as farming land, it was grabbed from peasant communities in the 1930s to become a territory of the newly established Quezon City. Its status changed again in the 1950s when it was donated by the government to the University of the Philippines Diliman (UP), the country’s premier state university.

The land then remained underdeveloped over the next five decades despite the rapid urbanization of Quezon City. In the mid-2000s, the local peasant community successfully petitioned the government to put the land under the coverage of the agrarian reform program but UP contested this notice of coverage by ‘colluding’ with the Quezon City local government in rejecting the terrain’s agricultural classification. Indeed UP plans to build a parking lot in the community.

Yet Suarez is adamant the land should be considered as an agricultural area, as he explained:

It is a bit strange that a farmland can exist in what appears to be a highly industrialized city. But given the reality of uneven development, there does exist a large farmland in Quezon City that resembles nothing of its urban surroundings. Sure, it’s not agricultural on paper—but all it takes is a quick visit to the actual site to determine there’s nothing industrialized about this part of Quezon City at all. In fact, it is so bereft of industrialization that much of the work carried out on the farm is done by hand. The farmers cannot even afford the fuel needed by their rusty old hand tractor to make it work. Even threshing unhusked rice is done manually. What SAKA does is help maintain—and eventually prove—the agricultural status of this farmland by keeping it productive.

Suarez said SAKA started working in the area in early 2019.

We sought permission from the local peasant community to let us till the few square meters they had left unkempt for its difficulty to till. We worked the land for months, till it’s finally able to yield eggplant, okra, pechay [a form of cabbage] , string beans, and other vegetables. We are yet to devise a more efficient system for portioning out the produce among those who’ve worked on it, but for a good span of time all produce was for anybody’s taking: primarily the resident farming community, then the SAKA volunteers who’ve worked on it.

But the group now faces a series of challenges:

The first challenge is the fact that, being artists, literally none of us is a farming expert. Once in a while we get volunteers who have experience in urban gardening and amateur organic farming—but this land is the real deal, we’re practically starting from scratch on actual agricultural land.
Another setback is our lack of experience in organizing. Many of us in SAKA are new activists, and while we are guided by seasoned peasant organizers, many of them spend more time in the countryside where most of our peasant communities are.

Suarez reported how a series of rains flooded SAKA’s little portion of the farm, thus they started digging a makeshift canal system to get rid of excess rainwater. This project has become their number one priority and will remain so in the next few months:

We’ve been digging canals to jumpstart another massive till; the makeshift trenches we’re making should prevent another flooding from killing our crops. Ka Toto, one of the resident farmers and an active member of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) partylist group, reminds us that the last quarter of the year is a great time to plant, a season conducive to growth. So we have to work double-time in gathering volunteers to join us. To do this, we have been actively campaigning in different forums, talking about bungkalan as a nation-wide mass movement that plays a significant role in the peasant struggle, as well as about bungkalan itself as an urgent intervention in UP’s forthcoming eviction of resident peasants.

It is unclear if the law signed by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on August 2019 allowing UP to sell portions of the farming land to the Quezon City government would resolve the dispute. But initiatives like the bungkalan organized by SAKA are helpful in raising awareness about the need to preserve this farmland in the center of Quezon City, and to resist the eviction threat against residents in the community.

Below are more photos from SAKA’s bungkalan activities:

Farming in the city with a high-rise in the background. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Planting activity organized by SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission
Volunteers of SAKA. Source: Facebook, used with permission

(This article was first published by Global Voices, an international and multilingual community of bloggers, journalists, translators, academics, and human rights activists. It is republished by Kodao as part of a content sharing agreement.)

LODI asks Robredo to stop ‘disinformation’ surrounding drug war

An alliance of artists and journalists asked newly-appointed Interagency Committee on Illegal Drugs (ICAD) co-chairperson, Vice President Leni Robredo, to include among her top priorities stopping and investigating “what is clearly a policy of disinformation, misinformation and information manipulation surrounding the government’s drug war.”

In a statement, the Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI) asked Robredo to seek disclosures to many pressing questions on the drug war, particularly the unsolved deaths of tens of thousands of victims.

The group asked Robredo the following:

1. Who are the country’s biggest druglords, and the status of investigations or prosecutions against them, if any? Who are the officials protecting or providing them with lenient, special treatment?
2. What information does the ICAD member-agencies have regarding the entry of illegal drugs from abroad, and what steps they have taken to stop them?
3. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions against former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon in connection with the disappearance of billions worth of shabu, against “ninja cops” led by former Philippine National Police Chief Oscar Albayalde, and other top officials, and those who gifted three convicted Chinese drug lords with early release?
4. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into the “narco lists” publicized by the president?
5. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into every case of extrajudicial killing or deaths in the hands of the police?
6. What is the status of investigations or prosecutions into policemen identified as perpetrators of extrajudicial killings?
7. Who are the other convicted top drug lords freed under BuCor Directors Bato dela Rosa and Faeldon?
8. Where are the lists and actual inventories of shabu and illegal drugs seized by police in their operations?
9. Which private drug testing companies are involved in the many drug testing activities of government, the amount of taxpayer funds provided to them, and the status of all private/personal medical information in the possession?

“The answers to these and many other questions are important in assessing the conduct of the so-called drug war. Agencies and officials of government are duty-bound to provide the answers to taxpayers and all citizens,” LODI said.

The group also asked Robredo to press ICAD member-agencies to be open to public feedback and criticism and to invite in her capacity as ICAD co-chair United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs “so they could do their work, provide government and the public an independent view, and make their recommendations.”

In November 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to slap UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard should she decide to push through with her investigations on the drug war.

 Speaking to overseas Filipino workers in Vietnam, Duterte said, “Kaya sabi ko kay Callamard, kung imbestigahan mo ako, sampalin kita. “ (That’s why I told Callamard, if you investigate me, I’ll slap you.)

Meanwhile, Robredo presided over her first ICAD briefing on Friday, reminding law enforcement agencies to reconsider current drug war strategies to prevent “senseless killings.”

Robredo said the new anti-illegal drug campaign should target the drug problem, not “our people.”

 “Maybe it’s time to think about a new campaign with something more effective, where no one dies senselessly,” Robredo told attending officials in the briefing.

Earlier, Robredo promised that “[t]he anti-drug campaign will continue with the same vigor, intensity.”

“What we will change is the manner by which it is implemented,” Robredo added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

No to legal attacks on freedom of expression and public participation

CAP condemns perjury, sedition charges vs. colleagues

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) condemns the successive filing of legal charges against human rights advocates and opposition members, which includes in their respondents members of the artist community.

This week alone has seen the filing of two complaints, which threaten not only the respondents but the very essence of freedom of expression and public participation itself.

First, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. filed perjury charges against human rights groups who asked for a protection order against government harassment. These are KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, Gabriela, and the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, which earlier petitioned for a writ of amparo and habeas data following the killings, vilification, and harassment against their members. Second is the “inciting to sedition” charge initiated by the PNP and the DOJ against a diverse line-up of 36 opposition figures starting with the Vice-President, on the pretext of being responsible for the spread of the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” videos.

Included in the former is Kiri Dalena, a filmmaker, visual artist, and human rights advocate whose work has bravely reflected on the state’s perpetuation of human rights violations. Included in the latter is Joel Saracho, a veteran actor, writer and convener of the media and arts alliance Let’s Organize for Democracy and Integrity (LODI).

We are outraged over how artists are facing these absurd charges of perjury and inciting to sedition. We view such legal attacks as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are lawsuits filed in retaliation for speaking out on a public issue and intending to burden, censor, intimidate, and silence critics into abandoning their criticism or opposition. While the Palace denies any hand in these charges, it can not deny that these incidents are rising as more people are expected to take to the streets in the United People’s SONA on July 22.

We condemn these assaults on our colleagues in the art and culture sector, who have tirelessly dedicated their craft, consciousness, and practice towards being artists for democracy, nationalism, and justice. We denounce the continuing red-tagging of our colleagues, our organizations, our films and the institutions that screen these.

We condemn how citizens at the forefront of protecting human rights are viciously attacked and targeted. These include human rights defenders Christina Palabay and Edith Burgos, wife of late press freedom icon Jose Burgos and mother of desaparecido Jonas Burgos, whose lifelong struggle for justice has been referenced across artworks to films.

We must not let such legal harassment pass. Already, artists and cultural workers are among 509 political prisoners in the Philippines today. These include Alvin Fortaliza, arrested on March 4, 2019 in Guindulman, Bohol and falsely charged with two counts of murder. Fortaliza is the Artistic Director of the Bol-anong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy (Bansiwag Bohol) Bohol Cultural Network which stages theater performances and conducts theater workshops for youth groups and was a volunteer provincial coordinator for Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist in Bohol.

Artists, cultural, knowledge and media workers will fight back: with our voices, our art, and our presence in the parliament of the streets on July 22 at the United People’s SONA.

Kampuhan ng mga manggagawang agrikultural, dinepensahan ng kolektibong pagluluto

Ni Roge Gonzales

Nitong Pebrero 10 ng umaga, sa pangunguna ng Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA), inilunsad ang Luto! Laban! Sunday Cookout para sa NAMASUFA sa Liwasang Bonifacio, Maynila.

Tumungo ang mga artistang alyado ng SAKA at mga boluntaryo mula sa industriya ng sining, kultura, at kaalaman sa protest camp ng Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suyapa Farm (NAMASUFA), ang union ng mga manggagawang agrikultural na higit apat na buwan nang nakawelga sa plantasyon ng saging dahil ayaw iregularisa ng kumpanyang Hapones na Sumitomo Fruit Corporation o Sumifru.

Naglakbay pa mula sa Compostela Valley ang 350 sa mga unyonista upang kalampagin ang nagtutulog-tulugang Department of Labor and Employment pati ang Malacañang.

Ginanap ang salo-salo isang araw bago ang takdang police dispersal at ng Manila city government sa kampuhan.

Katambal ang mga iba pang organisasyon tulad ng Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Amihan Federation of Peasant Women, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Anakpawis Partylist atbp., layunin ng Luto! Laban! na hikayatin ang mamamayan na palakasin ang panawagan sa regularisasyon ng Sumifru workers, ipagtanggol ang kanilang kampuhan mula sa banta ng clearing operations sa utos ng Manila City Hall, at itigil ng pangulo ang pagratsada sa land-use conversion na matapos magkait ng lupa sa magsasaka ay humahantong sa pang-aabuso sa mga manggagawa ng plantasyon.

Sa katunayan, tungo sa pagtatapos ng aktibidad ay dumami ang pulis na nagdulot ng pangamba sa mga welgista.

Nakaugat ang kanilang pangamba sa ilang beses na nilang naranasang dahas ng estado mula pa sa pagpapatupad ng batas militar ni Duterte sa Mindanao.

Ugnayan ng sining at produktong agrikultural

Liban sa pag-aalay ng tanghaliang crispy tawilis, minced pork with basil, at talbos ng kamote salad ng ihinanda ng mga boluntaryo kasama ng mismong mga unyonista, dalawang palihan ang isinagawa sa protest camp.

Habang abala ang ilan sa pagluluto habang nagtatalakayan, ang mga anak ng Sumifru workers at volunteers (edad 5-8) ay nagsanay sa pagguhit samantalang ang mga manggagawa (edad 20-35) naman ay lumahok sa isang writing workshop.

Nagkaroon din ng mabilisang live sketch session ang ilang visual artist sa gitna ng kampuhan tampok ang kalihim ng unyon habang siya’y nagbabahagi ng mga karanasan.

Ang Liwasang Bonifacio ay naging lunsaran sa pagbabahaginan ng kaalaman at karanasan.

Ang drawing workshop ng mga bata ay uminog sa prompt na “pangungulila sa tahanan”, kung saan sa proseso ng pagtuturo sa mga musmos sa pagguhit ng basic shapes at pagkukulay ay ipinatimo sa kanila ang halaga ng pagbabalik-tanaw sa nakagisnan nilang buhay sa kanayunan na ibang-iba sa lungsod kung saan sila nagkakampuhan.

Mainam itong paraan upang sa maagang kamulatan ay di lamang maipakilala sa kanila ang sining ng pagguhit kundi maipaunawa rin ang ipinaglalaban ng kanilang mga magulang at mabigyan din ng oras ang kanilang mga magulang na makibahagi sa mga aktibidad nang hindi pinuproblema ang mga bata.

Karamihan sa mga iginuhit ng mga bata ay mga eksena ng kanilang pamumuhay sa bukid.

Samantala, nagbukas ang writing workshop sa pakikipagtalakayan ng mga volunteer sa Sumifru workers hinggil sa kung ano ang espesyal na ulam na kanilang hinahanda kapag dumating ang suweldo.

Nailahad ang simpleng pamumuhay ng mga manggagawa sa pagsasabing adobong manok/baboy, sinigang, at sinabawang gulay ang madalas nilang ihanda kapag may pera.

Kasama rin sa talakayan ang halaga ng kanilang produktong agrikultural na isang esensiyal na sangkap sa merkado at ekonomiya ng mundo (e.g., banana chips, halo-halo, ketchup, harina, cereals, feeds, at marami pang iba.)

Sumunod na ibinahagi ng mga manggagawa ang buong proseso at panahon ng paglikha ng produktong saging.

Sa diskusyon, lumitaw na may dalawang pangunahing pagkakahati ang proseso ng kanilang paglikha: sa “erya” o lupang sakahan, at sa planta.

Umaabot sa halos labing-isang buwan mula sa pagbubungkal, pagtatanim, pagpapalago, pag-ani tungong packaging at quality control upang makapagluwal ng export-grade na Cavendish na saging sa mga bansang Japan, Korea, China, New Zealand, Singapore, at Middle East.

Metikuluso ang proseso ng kanilang paggawa sapagkat kakailanganin pa ng tamang “calibration” ng sukat at kalidad ng mga saging (na kinaklasipika nila sa “small hands” at “big hands”). Sa kalkulasyon ng UMA, binabarat ng Sumifru ang mga manggagawa nito sa pagbibigay lamang ng P365 na arawang sahod.

Samantala, sa barat na halagang P15.75 lamang binibili ang kanilang produkto kada kilo mula sa kinontratang grower. Pero ibinebenta ito sa labas ng bansa sa halagang P212.63 kada kilo ng saging. Sa bawat ektarya ng plantasyon ng saging, tinatayang kumikita ang kumpanyang Hapones ng dagdag P18 milyon kada taon.

Isinalaysay din ng mga manggagawa ang kanilang mga saloobin hinggil sa nangyaring marahas na dispersal sa pitong strike camps sa Compostela Valley noong Oktubre 11 at ang pagpaslang ng mga militar at pulis ng kumpanya kay Danny Boy Bautista noong Oktubre 31.

Si Bautista ay isa sa mga pangunahing nagtaguyod mula noong pumutok ang welga noong Oktubre 1. Sinundan pa ito ng panununog sa kanilang union office noong Nobyembre 30 at ang intensipikasyon ng surveillance at harassment mula sa mga militar.

Hindi nakapagtataka kung gayon na natutulak ang mga manggagawa na tahasang lumaban at manindigan sapagkat maging ang payapang pamumuhay na kanilang hinahangad sa Compostela Valley ay ipinagkakait sa kanila ng estado.

Sa alab ng pakikiisa ng iba’t ibang sektor

Matapos ang masayang salo-salo sa pananghalian at kuwentuhan, nagtipon ang lahat upang maglunsad ng pangkulturang programa.

Nakiisa ang mga estudyante at guro ng Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo College, at UP Los Baños. Tumugtog ang mga musikerong sina Alyana Cabral, Mara Marasigan, at The General Strike. Sa saliw ng makabayang himig at mga mensahe ng pakikiisa mula sa mga kinatawan ng iba’t ibang sektor, naging solido ang hanay at diwa ng sama-samang tanggulan para sa Sumifru workers.

Naging tampok din ang pagtatanghal ng Sining Obrero, ang grupong pangkultura ng NAMASUFA, na inawit ang kanilang orihinal na komposisyon (Padayon, gihapon ang welga sa ComVal!) na punumpuno ng dagundong ng tapang na ipanalo ang welga sa kabila ng pangil ng pasismo.

Naging marubdob din ang pagbasa ng mga manggagawa sa kanilang obra, mga monologue, sa writing workshop.

Saad ni Justy, 25, limang taon nang packer sa plant 220 ng Sumifru, “Hindi po madali ang kalagayan ko doon sa Mindanao dahil sa martial law. Bilang isang manggagawa ay natapakan po ang aking karapatan na ibigay ang dapat sa akin. Hindi rin madali na gumising nang madaling araw upang magtrabaho tapos hindi ka pala makapasok dahil sobra na daw o over-manning. Hindi madali kapag walang katiyakan ang ganitong sistema o porma ng tinatawag na kontraktwal.”

Tagumpay ng sama-samang pagkilos

Sa pagsasara ng programa, ipinaalala ni Lisa Ito, secretary general ng CAP, na ang sitwasyon ng Sumifru workers ay nangyayari sa buong bansa. Sunod-sunod ang mga trahedyang ipinapataw ng gobyerno kamakailan sa mga maralitang manggagawa at magbubukid. Aniya, lalo pa’t hindi nakikita sa mass media ang buong kuwento ng pakikibaka ng Sumifru workers, napapanahon at nararapat ang mga pagtitipon tulad ng Luto! Laban! upang magkaroon ng boses ang mga api.

Kinabukasan ng Luto! Laban!, dalawang linggong palugit ang naipanalo ng kolektibong pagtatanggol ng NAMASUFA’t mga tagasuporta nito para manatili ang protest camp sa Liwasang Bonifacio.

Sa pahayag ng UMA, ang extension nakuha ng unyon mula sa city hall ay “bunga ng pinagsamang lakas ng manggagawa at iba’t ibang sektor na sumusuporta at naninindigan para sa kanila.”

Lalong umiigting kung gayon ang pangangailangan na makipamuhay ang mga estudyante, guro, empleyado, lalo na ang mga manggagawang pangkultura, at sa sama-samang tanggulan para sa Sumifru workers, maisulong ang makatarungang panawagan para sa sahod, benepisyo, at regular na trabaho. #

‘Walang habas na paglabag sa karapatan’

Video by Resbak

Masdan ang mga daing ng taumbayan noong SONA.

Ang video na ito ay dokumentasyon ng pagkilos ng mga artista mula sa iba’t-ibang hanay at organisasyon, bilang pagkundena sa walang habas na paglabag ng Rehimeng Duterte sa karapatang pantao ng mga Pilipino.

(Resbak, Respond and Break the Silence On the Killings, is an artists alliance. )

PHOTOS: “Hesu Kristo Magsasaka”

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(Photos by Amel Sabangan)

The group “Artists for Kidapawan”  performed around downtown Manila last April 30 to dramatize their support for the victims of the violent dispersal of protesting farmers in North Cotabato four weeks ago.  The artists performed dances and tableaux at Plaza Miranda, Recto, Bustillos, Morayta and España.

In preparation for Labor Day today, the artists also performed in front of malls, which are said to be the main practitioners of labor-only-contracting among workers.

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