News Feature

Plight of the peasants

Words by — Bea Rabe and Celeste Samin

The peasant sector has been fighting for genuine agrarian reform for decades. The existence of Peasant Month which is celebrated this October is a testimony to the worsening systematic abuse they have faced under Marcos’ dictatorship and continue to face under the fascist Duterte regime. Recent movements in celebration of Peasant Month amplifies the dire situation of the peasantry as they call for justice, socio-economic aid, and genuine land reform. 

 Aside from further killing the agricultural industry with the implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law (RLL), Duterte and his cronies intensified the militarization on land-grabbed agricultural lands and crackdowns on innocent peasant leaders and rights advocates. While they struggle to survive in a society bent on exploiting them, they are simultaneously fighting to keep their homes and feed their families. But how is this current situation compared to the period that pushed the original celebration of Peasant Day on October 21 to become a month-long celebration?

Bogus land reforms

After the declaration of Martial Law in 1972, Ferdinand Marcos issued Presidential Decree No. 27 or the “Tenant’s Emancipation Act” which is claimed to be for the “emancipation of tenant farmers of rice and corn lands,” but has only protected the interests of landlords. The decree safeguarded a minimum of seven hectares to the landlords and was only confined to rice and corn lands, covering less than 14% of total cultivated lands that were tenanted and privately owned. This excluded agricultural lands with traditional export crops such as sugar, copra, bananas, tobacco, and pineapples. Furthermore, there is red tape that requires farmers to participate in cooperative development programs with heavy financial obligations on top of the loan repayments.

PD 27 offered an extremely limited land redistribution window as it covered only rice and corn lands. It was notedly implemented mainly in Central Luzon which used to be the core of peasant insurgency. The agrarian reform act has only served as a basis to justify the string of human rights violations Marcos took against the growing peasant movement in the country. 

After the People Power revolution, a broad alliance of the peasantry called the Congress for a People’s Agrarian Reform proposed the People’s Agrarian Reform Code for the proper implementation of genuine agrarian reform to be presented to then President Corazon Aquino. 

By 1987, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, the largest peasant movement in the country before, organized a broad peaceful march in hopes of holding a dialogue with Aquino after being promised by then agrarian reform minister Heherson Alvarez. Only the police met them and once the police barricade did not hold, they opened fire on nearly 10,000 to 15,000 farmers and peasants, killing 13, who were only calling for equal land distribution and decent wages, leading to what is now known as the “Mendiola Massacre.”

The sustained pressure brought the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in 1988. It has only been “instrumental” for landlords to continue land grabbing and to illegally evict farmers, but it has also served as a futile attempt to assuage the horrors of the Mendiola Massacre. Similar to PD 27, there is limited land coverage under the program that excluded 56.3% of agricultural lands. 

The Department of Agrarian Reform continuously scaled down the initially expected 10.3 million hectares of land from 1988 to only 8.6 by 2006. Despite having a total of 13,653,603 registered farmers according to a 2017 report, there are only a total of 2,908,200 beneficiaries under CARP. Hence, seven out of ten peasants are still landless from 2005 until 2020

This has been revised as CARP Extension and Reforms (CARPER) under the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2009 as a response, similarly, to cover up the Hacienda Luisita Massacre. This expired in 2014 under Noynoy Aquino and was continued and made worse by Duterte by limiting it to government-owned and “idle” lands through Executive Order 75 and DAR Administrative Order 1, series of 2019, that promoted easier land conversion of those under CARP.

The agricultural industry and peasantry received another blow as the Philippines entered an agreement with the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995 that essentially repeals the Magna Carta of Small Farmers which states that importation policies should be periodically reviewed by the government in consultation with farmer organizations. The protection conferred by the law was devalued by the agreement that liberalized the market for agricultural products.

The worsening condition, said the Cordillera People’s Alliance, encouraged peasants affiliated with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) to establish and observe Peasant Month for public awareness and to “solidify peasant ranks” while the 21st of October is commemorated as a national day of protest. 

Death sentence for the rice farmers

The administration of Duterte and Marcos may be nearly 50 years apart, but the events are proof that both past and present are stained with the blood of farmers as they, and the administrations in between, have implemented the same laws and promise the same reforms that do not prioritize peasant communities. 

The Duterte administration continues the incapacitation of both the peasantry and the agricultural industry. The Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), authored primarily by Cynthia Villar who is well known for converting farmlands for commercial purposes, removed quantitative restrictions on rice importation that allowed foreigners to import unlimited volumes of rice. 

The enactment of the law “is equivalent to a death sentence for the local rice industry and rice farmers,” said the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). According to AMIHAN National Federation of Peasant Women, farmers over the country lost around Php 165 billion pesos due to RTL with around 20.2% of circulating rice in the country being imported.

By 2019, farmers are forced to sell grains of rice as low as Php 7 per kilo, lower than the cost of production and labor at over Php 17. In Central Luzon, the rice capital of the country, farmgate prices range from Php 9 to 12 while they dropped to Php 7 in Bataan. 

Not more than a year later, it reached Php 15.50 per kilogram at best in Nueva Ecija, still less than the cost of labor and production. According to Lumapas of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), the price however has ranged within Php 10 to Php 13. This drops significantly when they experience typhoons due to little to no production. Hence, despite decades of labor to feed the country, farmers continue to struggle to feed their families.

The losses of the peasantry have only worsened as the world enters a pandemic and as Duterte continuously imposed and relied on nationwide lockdowns. With sparse and underwhelming support from the government, the peasantry took the heaviest toll during the pandemic.

Under the 100-day enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in Cagayan Valley, farmers only received an equivalent of P55 per day from the Social Amelioration Program (SAP), with a total amount of P5,000. Farmers in the SOCCSKSARGEN  region, however, were still waiting for their cash assistance. Furthermore, the promised P10,000 cash assistance to tide the peasant sector by the signed Bayanihan 2 Act last year has still not reached its due beneficiaries as of August. 

Placed beside the “ambitious” 2022 national budget, it clearly underlines the priorities of the administration in a state of crisis: the proposed Php 28.1 billion allocations for the government’s anti-insurgency program NTF-ELCAC highly contrasts the allotted budget for the country’s pandemic response, which is only 4% of the 2022 proposed national budget, while about 2% of the budget was proposed for the Department of Agriculture. 

Farmers and peasant leaders continue to fight for what is rightfully and legally theirs. The ground they hold is the ground they have personally nurtured, but the oppressive forces of the government continue to uphold foreign and capitalist interests, nurturing the land they have stolen with the blood of those who cared for it.

State intimidation and harassment

The peasantry has resorted to countless dialogues and strikes to protest inhumane labor conditions, but were answered with bullets. The same response of the succeeding governments to the calls of the peasantry for sufficient wages and genuine land reform is riddled with human rights violations in the form of massacres and under the Duterte regime alone, around 342 farmers have already been murdered.

The recent and rampant killings and arrests of individuals in the past two years are not the first violent incidents against farmers under this administration. The mere fact that the title “Lianga Massacre” refers to two separate incidents in the same location about six years apart, embodies the intensifying militarization in areas where land-grabbing of ancestral lands, killings, and forced evacuations are widespread. 

Last June 15, three members of the Lumad-Manobo tribe were killed, including 12-year-old Angel Rivas, when the 3rd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army opened fire. The victims were presented by the military as armed insurgents of the New People’s Army, however, Karapatan affirms that they were only farmers.

Nine Southern Tagalog activists were brutally killed and six were arrested only days after Duterte told the police and soldiers to “kill” and “finish off” communist rebels during encounters. “Bloody Sunday”, known as one of the biggest one-day violences by the police and military against activist groups and leaders, spread across Laguna, Rizal, and Batangas last March 7.

Only this October 25 in Quezon, more than 50 coconut farmers were forced to surrender as members of the NPA. This is but the latest display of a state policy of red-tagging which they use to justify the extrajudicial killings in the province. During the Marcos Regime, over 6,000 farmers from different parts of the province gathered to take part in the rally for land reform, fairer prices, and the end of militarization in the province. Unable to intimidate after the first round of fire, the soldiers then opened fire at the group. In February 1981, two farmers were killed and thousands of protestors were injured in what is now known as the Guinayangan Massacre.

On the other hand, well-known land grabbers such as Greggy Araneta used the pandemic to further exploit farmers. In San Jose del Monte Bulacan, Araneta threatened to evict around 350 families from 700 hectares of agricultural lands to replace it with commercial establishments, said the KMP. 

Indigenous communities are also forced to vacate their ancestral domain to give way to commercial establishments. The Tumandok community in Boracay is being repeatedly evicted from their ancestral lands even in the middle of the pandemic and which is in violation of Republic Act No. 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act of 1997. Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” has also destroyed the villages and displaced at least 18,000 individuals from the Aeta community at New Clark City.

Violent demolitions and evictions of farming communities continue to ensue at the height of a militarist lockdown. Struggles persist in Dasmariñas, Cavite, as the South Cavite Land Company Incorporated (SCLCI) attempts to displace 100 families tilling in Lupang Kapdula, a 155-acre hectare land. Last July 6, the farmers suffered once more after alleged armed guards owned by SCLCI fenced their land, ran over their crops, and forcibly closed the farm-to-market road.

Since 2020, the farmers of Hacienda Yulo in Canlubang, Laguna have been receiving constant threats of death and eviction from the Ayala-hired security firm, Seraph Security Agency.  A 7,100-hectare estate owned by the Yulo clan, its land bears a hundred-year-long struggle of transgressions. The most recent display being a group of armed men setting the houses of two farmers on fire. 

In a statement for the brash violence against farmers in Hacienda Yulo, KMP National Chairperson Danilo Ramos said, “Ginawa pa nilang oportunidad para magpalayas ang paghihirap ngayon ng mga magsasaka!” which bears truth not only for these communities, but for other agricultural lands across the archipelago whose farmer families are repeatedly threatened for occupying and tilling.

Farmers feed the nation, but the government continues to starve them of justice and basic necessities. They implement bogus reform laws that only benefit the landlords and foreign interests and when the peasantry asserts their rights, they are met with the government’s oppressive forces. Even the pandemic is used to further tyrannize the peasantry and instead of providing cash assistance and subsidies for the production of rice and food, the state continues to deprive the peasants of support, replacing it with threats and harassment. 

For genuine reform and social justice

In the face of worsening attacks and injustices the peasant sector continues to experience, easant day became a month-long event that we continue to commemorate out of solidarity and respect to the sector that feeds the nation. For many decades, the administration continues to intentionally implement neoliberal policies that not only exclude, but also endanger, the livelihood and well-being of our farmers and the indigenous communities. These underwhelming and inadequate policies overlook the peasantry, impelling them to live from paycheck to paycheck, from one harvest season to another, without any security.   

Hence, the nationwide call resounds in the streets to support and push for the passage of House Bill 555 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), as well as House Bill 477, the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA), which pushes the government to procure 20% of the total production of our farmers. At its core, these bills prioritize free land distribution to landless farmers, as well as sufficient services and support to our farmers. 

By protecting and building a solid support system for the farmers which involves price support from the government, facilities control, and their involvement and consultation for policy and decision making, the country would achieve food security based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance. For our national industry to grow, we must first protect those that drive it.

The fight for land ownership has been a long and vicious road. The callous response of the government manifests itself as a bloody “no” based on the continuous attacks against farmers, fishers, and the indigenous sector. By refusing to safeguard the lives of the pillars of Filipino society, the government deprives itself of its identity; for it is only when we listen, support, and protect our farmers and the indigenous communities that we will prosper as a nation. [P]

UPLB Perspective is the official publication of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, established 1973. It is the first campus publication established during the Martial Law in the Philippines.

1 comment on “Plight of the peasants

  1. Pingback: 11 farmers’ homes demolished on Peasant Day; farmers call for land distribution, genuine agrarian reform – UPLB Perspective

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