By Julia Catalina Herrera
As peasants are made to choose between dying from hunger and dying from bullets fired by blood thirsty executioners, a tyrant sleeps soundly in a bed of greed and self-righteousness, dreaming of a country under his absolute control.
It seems like a distant time since once presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte promised land reforms to hundreds of farmers and land rights advocates. The Duterte regime immediately unmasked itself as a hypocrite as they imposed anti-peasant policies.
Earlier this year, Duterte signed the rice tariffication law which lifts quantitative import restrictions on international rice, putting more weight on farmers who are already facing low wages and landlessness. The law is said to lower the prices of rice to under P27 and the inflation rate by 0.5 to 0.7 percentage points, however, rice prices still have not reached these projections after months of its implementation. The opening of the local market to international rice has only subjected the local rice sector into a competition it cannot win. As of 2019, the national budget for both agricultural sectors: Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and Department of Agriculture (DA) drops from 10B to 8B and 53B to 47B, respectively. The government fails to provide aid to farmers affected by drought and dry spell damages due to climate change and the overwhelming increase of prices of fertilizers, pesticides, and gas due to inflation. So how does the government expect the local rice sector to compete with well-funded international agricultural importers such as that of Vietnam?
To the farmers’ compromise, farmgate price of palay plummeted to as low as P9 per kilo in Pampanga and P7 in Nueva Ecija and Bataan which are significantly lower than its P12 per kilo production costs. Farmers who face the fear of dying of hunger submit to this desperate condition to at least regain a portion of their investments. This only worsens their state of poverty which will eventually push them to abandon farming as a source of livelihood and displace them from agricultural lands. If both rice consumers and producers do not benefit from this law, then for whom is it written for?
As agricultural lands become idle, they become feasts for the eyes of land grabbers and engrained capitalists. It was actually Cynthia Villar, a known perpetuator of land conversion, who authored the farmer-tormenting rice tariffication law and continues to neglect the absurd palay price drops that are asserted by farmers themselves. Hidden agendas cloud the farmers’ call for aid in this government run by the greedy ruling class.
So isn’t it just fair for the farmers to fight back against this abusive regimen? Anyway, what choice is there left for them who have nowhere else to go except the tormenting chamber of poverty? But like all tyrants, the thing Duterte hates most is his critics. “Go there, you are free to kill everybody.”, he says to his henchmen, giving him absolute power to punish without any judicial sanction. Throughout Duterte’s term, there are already 216 extra judicially killed farmers. Their cries for help met the silencing impact of a bullet.
Last October 20, 2018, 9 farmers from Hacienda Nene, Sagay City, Negros Occidental were ambushed by dozens of armed men while they were asleep. These farmers were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) which is an organization of sugar farmers that promotes the collective condemnation and resistance to injustices that their sector is currently facing. The authorities accused them of being members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA), a group affiliated to the New People’s Army (NPA), when in fact the farmers are the ones harassed by the RPAs in the area long before the ambush. As of now, Negros has the highest number of farmers killed due to their involvement in the defense of their lands.
As the farmers continue to fall under the brutal hands of power-hungry leaders, the agricultural sector suffers with them. This endangers the country’s food security by being dependent to food imports from foreign countries. An introspective estimation states that the price of palay might reach as high as P100-P150 per kilo if this actualizes. Furthermore, it binds the country under the control of foreign traders such as that of China, putting them at an advantage in the country’s current territorial disputes against them.
As the agricultural sector faces the grazing of bullets, the entire nation which depends on it for essential resources bleeds with it. We might not feel it now, but as Duterte grows hungrier for blood and power, all of us are at risk of the suffering and loss of freedom that the farmers are currently subjected to. So with the utmost urgency, let’s raise our voices that this regimen is continuously toning down. Let’s unify into the movement these tyrants are direly afraid of. [P]