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Your legacy is anti-people, KMP tells Arroyo

Contrary to her glowing description of her presidency and speakership as she announced her retirement from politics, farmers said House of Representatives (HOR) Speaker and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s legacy are laws detrimental to the people’s interests.

Responding to her valedictory at the last session of the HOR Tuesday, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said Arroyo led the approval of an endless string of anti-people policies and legislation, including the rice tarrification law, the lowering of the age of criminal liability, regressive taxes, revival of mandatory military training for minors, among others.

Arroyo said she will retire from politics after three decades after having been elected as senator, vice president, president and Pampanga representative.

Recalling her presidency and career in Congress with world leaders, Arroyo said she does not think she will have as dramatic a legacy as giants of world history such as United States President John Kennedy.

“I think my legacy will center around restoring our country’s fiscal stability after a storm of financial crisis here and abroad. Our fiscal reforms expanded resources for infrastructure and development, after which, as I said earlier, our poverty level went down from 39% to 26%” she said.

‘Good riddance’

The KMP said they welcome Arroyo’s retirement from politics as “good riddance.”

“She will continue to be known as among the most loathed public officials in history. Arroyo and her enabler Rodrigo Duterte deserve condemnation for all the anti-people policies they are implementing,” KMP chairperson emeritus and Anakpawis President Rafael Mariano said. 

Mariano recalled that Arroyo’s speakership did nothing but ignore Anakpawis’ landmark bills.

“Under Arroyo’s helm in Congress, pro-people measures such as the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill and Php750 national minimum wage hike were snubbed and archived,” Mariano said.

Mariano added that Arroyo also presided in the railroading of the refilled coco levy bill that reduced the number of farmer-representatives to the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Committee from nine to only three last month. 

“The coco levy bill approved by Congress will not guarantee the return of the multibillion coco levy fund and assets to farmers. Duterte and his allies will only gain control of the fund,” Mariano said. 

Under the new coco levy bill, the trust fund committee will have an annual capitalization budget of Php10-billion, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Trust Fund Committee to be appointed by the President will be composed of six representatives from government sector, two representatives from the private coconut industry sector, and only three farmer-representatives.

The coco levy assets will be privatized under the supervision of the Privatization Management Office, the KMP added.

“These are not the demands of small coconut farmers. Ito ang gusto ni Duterte kaya ito ang sinunod ng Kongreso,” Mariano said.

“This long and drawn out battle for the return of the coco levy fund has burdened millions of small coconut farmers and their families. Many of them have died without actually benefiting from the coco levy fund,” the peasant leader said.  

Estimated to be worth up to 150 billion pesos, the fund was levied from coconut farmers by the Ferdinand Marcos regime that the Supreme Court said belonged to them.

Mariano said small coconut farmers will continue to assert the genuine return of the fund.

‘Loathed politician’

Arroyo, daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal, was the Phillippine president for nine years.

She took over the presidency from Joseph Estrada in 2001 after an uprising.

Her election in 2004 to a presidential term of her own was widely believed to be fraudulent, leading to massive protests and even ouster attempts by rebel soldiers.

During her reign, human rights group Karapatan reported 1,205 victims of extrajudicial killings and 206 victims of enforced disappearances. 

She was also elected as Pampanga second district representative in 2010.

She was arrested and jailed for plunder in 2011 but was acquitted and freed in 2016.

In July 2017, she was elected as House Speaker in a controversial maneuver alleged to be orchestrated by Davao City mayor Sara Duterte who was at odds with then Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Groups denounce Sagay massacre, abduction of farmer organizer

Human rights advocates held a protest action in front of Camps Aguinaldo and Crame in Quezon City to denounce Saturday’s massacre in Hacienda Nene, Sagay City in Negros Occidental and the abduction of farmer-organizer Joey Flores Sr. in Nueva Ecija last week.

Nine farmers and farm workers, including 2 minors, were killed by suspected SCAA/CAFGU members of the 12th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in the northern Negros island city.

The protesters said they suspect Armed Forces of the Philippines-backed paramilitary and goons carried out the brutal attack.

The protesters also assailed the abduction of Joey Torres Sr., Bayan Muna’s peasant organizer in Central Luzon last week they say was by the Philippine Army. (Video by Joseph Cuevas/Kodao)

NDFP: Sagay massacre shows evils of hacienda system

The National Democratic Front of the Philippines’ (NDFP) Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms (RWC-SER) condemned the massacre of nine peasants, including two minors, in Sagay City, Negros Occidental Saturday night.

The group tasked to co-craft with its government counterparts free land distribution programs for poor farmers blamed the failure of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) to implement social justice through genuine agrarian reform.

“The incident underscores the evils of the hacienda system,” NDFP RWC-SER chairperson Juliet de Lima said in a statement.

Nine farmers, including two minors, were fired upon by around 40 armed men at Hacienda Nene, Sagay City. They were subsequently shot on their heads and three victims’s bodies were burned by their killers.

Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, the victims started a land occupation campaign earlier to plant vegetables to tide them over the expected dead season of the sugarcane crops.

“As long as a handful of landlords monopolize land ownership and perpetuate their power through force, the Sagay 9 will not be the last victims of agrarian-related violence. Agrarian unrest will persist as the peasant masses continue to suffer from widespread poverty, high indebtedness, severe hunger and malnutrition,” de Lima added.

The NDFP RWC-SER also said President Rodrigo Duterte and the militarists in his cabinet have blood on their hands for terminating the peace negotiations that would have resulted in the adoption of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER)’s section on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ARRD).

“The draft ARRD, which was scheduled for signing last November before Duterte abruptly cancelled the peace talks provides for the free distribution of big landholdings and landed estates including lands targeted by the government for distribution, haciendas that are under the control of private individuals or entities, disputed lands with local agrarian reform and peasant struggles and lands already occupied by farmers through various forms of land cultivation and collective farming activities,” de Lima said.

“The break-up of land monopolies and free land distribution are the just, necessary and urgent corrective measures to the centuries-old social injustices suffered by the peasantry,” she added.

A day before the massacre, Duterte admitted in his speech that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-led revolution would not go away within his lifetime.

“When I die, the NPA (New People’s Army) will still be here. When Joma Sison dies, the NPA will still be here,” Duterte said, referring to the CPP founder and NDFP chief political consultant.

Sison for his part said Duterte is correct in saying that the NPA will continue to exist even after the professor and his former student are gone “…if by implication he means that the root causes of the armed conflict must be addressed and solved by social, economic and political reforms.”

“It is up to him to end his position of having terminated the peace negotiations with Proclamation 360. The standing policy of the NDFP is to negotiate with the GRP anytime he is ready to resume the peace negotiations in accordance with The Hague Joint Declaration and further agreements,” Sison said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

NFSW: 172 farmer-activists killed under Duterte

The massacre of nine land reform beneficiaries in Sagay City, Negros Occidental Saturday night brought the number of killed farmer-activists to 172 under the Rodrigo Duterte regime, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said.

In condemning the massacre of the nine farmers, the groups blamed the Duterte government as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their repeated “red-baiting of farmers conducting land occupation activities” for the carnage.

“On April 20, 2018 Brigadier General Eliezer Losañes, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army, said that the land cultivation areas (LCA’s) being maintained by agricultural sugar workers and farmers in Negros Island are in fact New People’s Army (NPA) rebels communal farms,” UMA and NFSW secretary general John Milton Lozande said.

The NFSW earlier said that the goal of setting up land cultivation areas is to ward off the inevitable hunger brought by the “Tiempo Muerto” (dead season in the sugar industry) on properties covered by agrarian reform.

The lands subjected to farmers’ occupation remain undistributed and idle, NFSW said.

The farmers wanted to plant vegetables, banana, corn and root crops on these lands to feed their families when there is no work to be had during Tiempo Muerto, the group said.

The victims began their LCA in the 75 hectare hacienda that morning.

The nine casualties and the four survivors were resting in a farm hut when they were strafed by about 40 armed men believed to be Revolutionary Proletarian Army members working as hired goons of the landlords.

Initial reports said that the perpetrators subsequently fired at the heads of the victims at close range and even tried to burn their bodies.

Initial data culled from the area reveal that a certain Barbara Tolentino owns the hacienda and maintains a number of goons there.

Earlier, two leaders of NFSW were also killed in Sagay City.

Feudalism and death

Flora A. Jemola, chairperson of NFSW-Sagay City was killed on December 21, 2017 in an LCA area in Hacienda Susan. She died from 13 stab wounds by suspected elements of paramilitary forces reportedly under the command of the 12th IB of the Philippine Army.

This was followed by the killing of Ronald Manlanat, a member of a local chapter of NFSW in Hacienda Joefred on February 21, 2018, again by suspected paramilitaries under the 12th IB of the Philippine Army. The killers emptied a whole magazine of M16 bullets onto his head.

The Sagay Massacre last Saturday hikes to 45 the number of peasants killed in Negros Island under the Duterte regime.

NFSW said that of the 424,130 hectares of sugar lands in Negros Island, 34 percent are owned by only 1,860 big landlords with 50 hectares or more each.

Thirty percent of the land is owned by 6,820 big and small landlords with 10 to 49 hectares each.

Meanwhile, the majority of 53,320 farmers and agricultural workers only own 36 percent of the sugar lands, the group reported.

The NFSW estimates that 70 percent of sugar lands that have been distributed by the government through its various land reform schemes had been leased back to the landlords due mainly to lack of support services and non-land support facilities that forced Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries to lease their land.

“Sugar workers in haciendas (plantations), on the average, receive a measly P500 to P750 weekly wages all year round. Minimum wage is pegged at only P245 per day for the farm workers but in many haciendas, P80-P120 a day is still prevalent,” NFSW said.

Saturday’s massacre received widespread condemnation throughout the country and was even reported by media outfits abroad.

Widespread condemnation

Makabayan senatorial candidate and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares vehemently condemned the massacre of 9 NFSW members.

“That is really absurd because the issue of land is a legitimate issue. This is an attempt of the Duterte govt to quell any form of protest by crminalizng legitimate demands,” Colmenares said in a statement.

“We demand an immediate impartial probe on this massacre and we will not stop until justice has been served,” Colmenares  said.

Fellow senatorial candidate Erin Tañada said he is disheartened by the incident.

“This is not the first time that farmers have lost their lives trying to gain possession of the lands awarded to them, and I fear it won’t be the last. This is a persistent problem in the implementation of agrarian reform,” Tañada said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

9 farmers massacred in Sagay City

Nine farmers, including two minors and four women, were massacred in Sagay City, Negros Occidental last night, Saturday.

In a flash report posted this morning, Aksyon Radyo Bacolod said nine were killed in a strafing incident at Hacienda Nene, Purok Fire Tree, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City.

The victims were National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) members who were staying in a hut at the place of the incident.

Four others survived the attack, NFSW said.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) in an urgent alert said the victims were engaged in a Land Cultivation Area (bungkalan) activity.

Sagay chief of police, Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, said the killings happened around 9:30 p.m.

He added that some of the victims were from different villages while the rest were from Bulanon but not from the hamlet where the plantation is located.

NFSW immediately accused “goons,” a euphemism for private security personnel, and members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, an armed band that had broken away from the communist New People’s Army for the incident in Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, close to 90 kilometers from here.

Sagay Mayor Alfredo Maranon III, son of Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Maranon Jr., expressed “shock” and condemned the killings “in the strongest possible terms” as he ordered police to “do everything possible to bring justice to the nine families that lost loved ones” and promised to extend all possible assistance to the victims’ kin.

NFSW officer Danilo Tabora confirmed that some 75 members of the union had occupied the land Saturday morning, a day after the harvest on the sugarcane plantation, as part of a “bungkalan” campaign to till lands covered by the government’s agrarian reform program.

Mayor Maranon confirmed that the land was under a “notice of coverage” from the Department of Agrarian Reform but explained that this meant this was still an early stage in the process of distributing the land to beneficiaries.

Sagay police named the victims as:

• Eglicerio Villegas, 36 – Bulanon

• Angelipe Arsenal – Bulanon

• Alias Pater – Barangay Plaridel

• Dodong Laurencio – Plaridel

• Morena Mendoza (female) – Bulanon

• Neknek Dumaguit, female

• Bingbing Bantigue – Plaridel

• Joemarie Ughayon Jr., 17 – Barangay Rafaela Barrera

• Marchtel Sumicad, 17 – Bulanon

According to sources, Hacienda Nene is owned by a certain Atty. Barbara Tolentino and is leased by Bacolod City-based Conpinco Trading.

Reporting from the funeral parlor where the victims had been taken, radio station dyHB said most of them bore headshots and at least three of the bodies were burned.

“We hold the military and the [Rodrigo] Duterte government responsible for said incident,” KMP and UMA said in its alert.

Other sources from the KMP said that they have been other killings at Hacienda Nene prior to the incident.

In December 21, 2017, NFSW-Sagay City chairperson Flora A. Jemola died from 13 stab wounds inflicted by suspected Civilian Auxiliary Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) forces under the 12th IB of the Philippine Army.

Last February 21, Ronald Manlanat, a member of a local chapter of NFSW in Hacienda Joefred, Barangay General Luna, Sagay City, was killed by suspected CAFGU members who emptied an entire M16 magazine onto his head.

The NFSW told Kodao that a fact-finding mission is being held at the moment.

The massacre happened as farmers’ groups led by the KMP are commemorating Peasant Month this October in a series of nationally-coordinated activities dubbed October Resistance. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘October Resistance’: Farmers protest human rights violations

Hundreds of farmers and activists commemorate Peasant Month with a series of activities they call ‘October Resistance,’ in obvious reference to the so-called Red October plot the military tried selling off as a plan oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a rally was held from University of Santo Tomas to Mendiola last Friday to call for an end to poverty, hunger as well “state fascism” by the Duterte government.

Protest actions were also launched in Tuguegarao City, Tagbilaran City, Laguna, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Bukidnon, Davao City and Cagayan de Oro.

The farmers said they demand genuine land reform, free land distribution and the pull-out of military troops from communities.

They also want to end land-grabbing and land use conversion schemes as well as a stop to plantations all over the country.

KMP Chairperson Danilo Ramos said that the ‘Red October’ plot scare of the government aims to justify human rights violations and intensify crackdown against peasant activists and organizers.

The group decried the recent human rights violations perpetrated by state forces. Among these is the killing of Jaime Delos Santos, chairman of the fisherfolk PAMALAKAYA (affiliated member of KMP) in Guihulngan Negros Oriental last October 6, as well as the killing of Victor Villafranca, also member of PAMALAKAYA’s HABAGAT or Haligi ng Batanguenong Anakdagat in Lian Batangas, last October 13.

They also assailed the violent dispersal of their camp out at the Department of Agrarian Reform last Thursday. # (Report and video by Joseph Cuevas with Maricon Montajes)

 

Arrested peasant advocates tortured, Karapatan says

The four peasant rights workers arrested in Nueva Ecija recently may have been tortured, human rights group Karapatan said.

In a statement, the group said Yolanda Diamsay Ortiz (46) of Anakpawis Party, Eulalia Ladesma (44) of Gabriela Women’s Party, and youth activists Edzel Emocling (23) and Rachel Galario 20 bore visible bruises on their faces when visited by kin last October 14.

The four were arrested by operatives of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), Philippine National Police and elements of the 7th Infantry Division in Sitio Bangkusay, Brgy. Talabutab Norte, Natividad, Nueva Ecija last October 13/

They are being held by the CIDG in their office at the Old Capitol building in Cabanatuan City.

Ladesma’s daughter told Karapatan after their visit her mother recounted that her hair was grabbed and was forced to drop to the ground when the CIDG operatives accosted her.

While on the ground, Ledesma was kicked several times and her hands tied thereafter while being forced to admit to being “Mariz”.

The daughter also relayed that she also saw Ortiz with a bruised face, her left eye swollen and there were hand marks on her neck due to strangulation.

Ladesma and Ortiz repeatedly told the former’s daughter that they were hit every time they refused to answer their captors’ questions.

Karapatan paralegals were not allowed to have access to the four women.

“Karapatan strongly condemns the illegal arrest, detention, and torture undergone by the four women human rights defenders in Nueva Ecija. This is indefensible,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

“This is precisely what happens when you have security forces that have no respect for human rights. This is the kind of police and military that we have – uniformed men with no integrity and not the slightest respect for women and their rights,” Palabay added.

Palabay said the four were arrested two days being Rural Peasant Women’s Day on October 15 when the world honors the struggles of women peasants and their advocates.

Palabay also lamented how abuses against rural women persist in the Philippines despite the ratification of laws that explicitly prohibit such violations, including the Anti-Torture Law of 2009.

This is on top of legislation and policies that seek to protect women from all forms of violence, including the Magna Carta of Women, Palabay said.

Karapatan noted that there has been a spike in the number of arrests of activists on the basis of trumped-up charges and the an increase of harassment cases against rights defenders – all alleged to be “rebels” by the Rodrigo Duterte government.

The 7th Infantry Division for its part said in a statement that the four women were “rebels conspiring against the government.”

Palabay, however, said that the military’s statement has no credibility if the victims were tortured.

“We have no doubt the spin doctors in the military will use this opportunity to forward their deluded narrative, even at the expense of torturing women! This is a shameful act that truly exposes the atrocities of the military and the police. All of those involved should immediately be held accountable,” Palabay said.

Karapatan demanded the release of the four women. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

‘October Resistance’ isasagawa ng mga magsasaka

Isang press conference noong Oktubre 8 ang isinagawa nang Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas o KMP at mga kaanib na organisasyon nito upang i-anunsyo ang kanilang pagkilos na tinaguriang “October Resistance against poverty, hunger and state fascism.”

Bilang bahagi ng buwan ng mga magsasaka ngayong Oktubre, iba’t-ibang aktibidad ang kanilang isasagawa bitbit ang panawagang tunay na reporma sa lupa, libreng pamamahagi ng lupa sa mga magsasaka, pagkontrol sa mga presyo ng bigas at iba pang bilhin gayundin ang pagtigil sa militarisasyon at paglabag sa karapatang tao sa kanayunan.

Ayon naman sa Amihan (Pambansang Pederasyon ng mga Kababaihang Magsasaka), lumalala ang kalagayan ng mga magsasaka at kababaihang magbubukid. Imbes na ibigay sa mga magsasaka ang lupain, inilaan pa ito sa ekspansyon ng mga plantasyon, malawakang pagmimina at land use conversion ang iba sa mga malaking kumpanya at panginoong maylupa.

Giit pa ng Amihan, walang plano si Pangulong Rodrigo Duterte para sa pagpapaunlad ng agrikultura at pamimigay ng lupa sa mga magsasaka.

Mariin naman nilang binatikos ang pakanang ‘Red October’ ng gubyernong Duterte at Armed Forces of the Philippines at sinabing layunin lamang nito na takutin at pahupain ang tumitinding galit ng sambayanan dahil sa walang-awat na taas presyo ng mga bilihin at serbisyo dulot ng Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law o TRAIN Law.

Binigyan nila ng halimbawa ang patuloy na pampulitikang panunupil at “red tagging” sa mga organisasyon at aktibista.

Patuloy din ang pagsasampa ng mga gawa-gawang kaso laban sa mga lider magsasaka kabilang na ang tagapangulo ng KMP sa Northern Mindanao na si Ereneo Ubarde at 33 iba pang lider sa rehiyon, gayundin ang pag-aresto kay Gerry Basahon, lider ng Misamis Oriental Farmers Association na kaanib ng KMP noong Oktubre 4, ani ng mga grupo.

Kinundena din nila ang pinakahuling kaso nang pamamaslang noong Oktubre 6 sa tagapangulo ng PAMALAKAYA sa Negros Oriental na si Jaime Delos Santos.

Dagdag pa ng KMP, kapag patuloy na tumindi ang atake nang rehimen tiyak na tatapatan ito ng paglaban nang taumbayan. Nakatakda ang kanilang malakihang pagkilos ng mga magsasaka sa Oktubre 19 sa ibat-ibang panig ng bansa. # (Bidyo at ulat ni Joseph Cuevas/Larawan ni Jinky Mendoza-Aguilar)

City councilor, lawyer, activists included in Negros town police’s poster of Reds

BACOLOD CITY — A councilor of the northern Negros Occidental city of Escalante, a lawyer who has longed worked with peasant and human rights groups, and a number of current and former leaders of activist groups were among more than 60 supposed communist rebels whose faces were printed on a police poster.

The National Federation of Sugar Workers issued an alert with a copy of the poster it said was being pinned up by the police force of the central Negros town of Moises Padilla.

The alert was released Monday, the same day human rights groups reported the arrest in Tarlac of Australian nun Patricia Fox, NDS, a volunteer with the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, by Immigration officers.

At the top of the poster is the message, “CNN PERSONALITIES, if seen in the area, please text 09099191720.”

CNN is the acronym used by state security forces to refer to members of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

PNP poster accusing well-known personalities in Negros of being underground revolutionaries. (NFSW photo)

Among the legal personalities whose faces are on the poster are Karapatan-Negros secretary general Clarizza Singson, Zara Alvarez of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program, UMA secretary general John Lozande,NFSW secretary general Christian Tuayon, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Negros secretary general Benjamin Ramos, Escalante Councilor Bernardino Patigas, Julius Dagatan, Ronald Evidente, Ma Rina Amacio, Rogina Quilop, Lary Ocena and Anecita Rojo.

A number of them are also included in the list of alleged rebels that forms part of the Department of Justice’s petition to have the CPP and NPA proscribed as “terrorist organizations.”

On the other hand, Amihan, the National Federation of Peasant Women, said Fox was arrested around 3 p.m. and is currently detained at the Bureau of Immigration’s intelligence bureau.

The group said the nun, who joined a recent international solidarity and fact-finding mission in Mindanao that was reported harassed and hounded by state forces, could be deported.

Sr. Patricia Fox, NDS, in detention at the Bureau of Immigration. (Photo by Atty Ma Sol Taule)

Fox’ arrest came a day after Giacomo Filibeck, deputy secretary-general of the Party of European Socialists, was barred from entering the country in Cebu, where he was scheduled to attend the congress of Akbayan.

Filibeck, who visited the country last year as a member of a human rights fact-finding mission that criticized the government’s bloody war on drugs, was informed he was on a blacklist order and deported.

Stand with Samar | Farmers take gov’t to task for not addressing their plight

By RUTH LUMIBAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — The Philippines is an agricultural country but, ironically, farmers complain of government neglect.

Though Eastern Visayas is often hit by typhoons and natural calamities, aid hardly reaches the poorest of the poor: the farmers from far-flung areas. But aside from natural calamities, another disaster plagues the farmers of Eastern Visayas: the plague of pests.

Read: Stand with Samar | On ‘ricelessness’, hunger, and poverty

According to Maricris, a coconut farmer from Las Navas, Northern Samar, pests like cocolisap have gravely affected the amount of copra produced — even reaching the point that they could no longer harvest anything because the worms have already destroyed both fruits and trees.

Jun Berino, spokesperson of SAGUPA-SB, also narrated how palay farmers have to face pests from the start of planting the seedlings up to the point of harvest. If they have enough funds, then they also have to rent water pumps. Otherwise, they would have to rely on rain for irrigation.

In the caravan of Eastern Visayas farmers for rights and justice, they were given the opportunity to face two agencies that have the mandate to assist farmers: the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Small farmers at a disadvantage

“Maraming problema na hindi natutugunan. May tulong naman na binabahagi ang PCA sa region na hindi naman nakakaabot sa mga magsasaka sa niyugan, lalo na sa mga mahihirap, (Many problems are not being met. The PCA gives assistance to the region but this does not reach the small coconut farmers, especially the poor ones.)” Berino said in an interview.

After farmers relayed problems they encounter back home, PCA Officer-In-Charge Department Manager of the Operations Department Pablo Romero explained their projects. According to Romero, PCA’s Yolanda Rehabilitation and Recovery Program (YRRP) has the following components: coconut planting/replanting, coconut intercropping, coconut fertilization debris management and integrated Rhino-beetle control, and integrated pest management.

Romero also explained that the PCA did not allocate funds for the rehabilitation of coconut plantations after post-Yolanda typhoons because no budget was released.

Later in the dialogue, the farmers discovered that one of the major factors that make it hard for them to receive aid is the requirement of a tax declaration to be presented before any assistance or rehabilitation fund is given to them.

Romero said they take ownership of the land into account to ensure ‘continuity’ of the project.

“Karamihan ng mga magsasaka sa niyugan sa Visayas ay walang sariling lupa. Ang proseso nila ay dapat may titulo o may binabayaran na tax para masama sa mga programa ng PCA. Ngayon, minungkahi namin sa PCA kung ano ang pwede nilang gawin para sa mga magsasaka na walang sariling lupa,” (Most coconut farmers in the Visayas do not have their own land. The process of the PCA necessitates a title or a tax declaration for you to be included in their program. Now, we would like to suggest to the PCA that they should also do something about the farmers who do not have their own land.) Berino commented.

Berino also explained that it is hard for them to register their lands because up until now, the classification of their area remains to be ‘forest or timberland’, meaning that it cannot be up for private ownership. Ironically, the actual use of the land is agricultural because years of cultivation have proven that it is fertile.

Romero, representative of PCA, shares about the projects of the agency. (Photo by Ruth Lumibao/ Bulatlat)

The dialogue with PCA is a telling tale of the state of agrarian reform in the country: not only of how those who till the land remain poor and landless, but also of how the politics of aid in rehabilitation tend to benefit those who are landed.

Legitimate demands and hollow promises

“Positibo na napaabot natin ang problema ng mga magsasaka sa niyog. Ang tanong lang ay kailan sila pupunta para tignan ang mga peste at matulungan ang mga magsasaka, (It is positive that we were able to communicate the problems of the coconut farmers. The question is: When will they go to our village to inspect the pests and help the farmers?)“ the peasant leader added.

In response to the farmers’ suggestion that the PCA find ways to address their problems while taking into account the reality that there is no genuine agrarian reform in the country, Romero remarked that he would have to consult his superiors.

In a dialogue with the Department of Agriculture (DA), the department agreed to coordinate with the Department of National Defense (DND) to raise the farmers’ concern about intense militarization in their home province, which likewise affects their livelihood.

It could be recalled that the farmers were earlier violently dispersed by elements of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) after building make-shift tents in front of the DA office.

Related story: Stand With Samar | QCPD demolishes campout of Visayan farmers (Link: http://bulatlat.com/main/2018/02/27/stand-samar-qcpd-demolishes-campout-visayan-farmers/)

“This is a result of the three-day camp-out. Had it not been for our determination to travel all the way from Eastern Visayas to Metro Manila, the agency will probably not even care about our situation – the alarming pest infestation and the famine looming all over the region”, Berino said in a statement.

In both dialogues, many questions were left unanswered and many concerns were left hanging. What cannot be ignored, however, is the reality that the farmers’ plight is always anchored on one unanswered call: genuine agrarian reform.

For as long as the government and its agencies do not address the problem of landlessness, they would never find a permanent, long-term, and fitting solution to the plight of the farmers. #