Words by EJ Lasanas
485 coconut farmers from Agdangan, Quezon were forced to surrender as “rebels” by the 201st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (KASAMA-TK) confirmed.
This was during a “program” conducted by state forces last November 9.
The farmers are members of Coco Levy Fund Ibalik sa Amin (CLAIM), a legitimate organization campaigning for the redistribution of the P105-billion coco levy fund for the benefits and interests of its supposed beneficiaries, who are small coconut farmers and their heirs.
In an interview with the Perspective, KASAMA-TK spokesperson Felizardo Repaso, also known to his peers as Ka Zarding, stated that the military and NTF-ELCAC are accusing CLAIM of being an affiliate of the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
The farmers were forced to attend a program where they were told to sign forms declaring that they are affiliates of the CPP-NPA-NDF, which the forms state is a “terrorist group”. The farmers were also told to declare support for NTF-ELCAC.
“Sa totoo lang, labag sa kanila [mga magsasaka] ‘yan. Pero napapirma sila dahil ‘pag hindi sila pumirma ay hindi sila pwedeng umalis sa lugar ng venue na kanilang pinagdadausan dahil nakapaligid ang militar,” Ka Zarding recounted.
The farmers also cannot choose to avoid attending the program as they would be harassed and threatened with criminal cases.
“Pupunta ka man o hindi ay makakaranas ka ng harassment. [Ang] hindi pumunta [na] iba ay pinagbabantaan na pupuntahan sa kanilang mga tahanan,” Ka Zarding added.
Despite being forced to sign against their will, the farmers have not and will not surrender their calls for the proper distribution of the coco levy fund, Ka Zarding assured.
On what drives the ‘forced surrenders’
According to Ka Zarding, even before the establishment of the NTF-ELCAC, the coconut farmers were already experiencing threats, harassment, and red-tagging from state forces.
The event in Agdangan, Quezon is the latest in a series of “forced surrender programs” conducted by state forces in the said province. In all of these programs, farmers who are members of legal and legitimate organizations are forced to declare that they are affiliated with the CPP-NPA-NDF.
Such programs were already conducted before in eight other towns in Quezon province: San Narciso, Macalelon, Lopez, Atimonan, Gumaca, Catanauan, Lumanay, and San Andres.
According to a statement by KASAMA-TK, a main driver of these programs is the Enhanced Comprehensive Local Integration Program (ECLIP) of NTF-ELCAC which incentivizes falsely surrendering as a member of the NPA.
“Sa ilalim ng [ECLIP] Amnesty Program ng NTF-ELCAC, ang bawat isang pinapasukong NPA ay bibigyan ng ‘award’ na aabot sa P60,000.00, na siyang ibinubulsa ng mga militar sa bawat serye ng kanilang mga peke at pwersahang pagpapasuko,” KASAMA-TK wrote in a Facebook post.
According to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Region XII, ECLIP, or Administration No. 10 that was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, “aims to help the rebel members of CPP-NPA-NDF and Militia ng Bayan to restore their allegiance to the Philippine government”. It also offers “financial benefits” worth thousands of pesos to “help” surrenderees.
However, Ka Zarding stated that ECLIP is a massive misappropriation of public funds as it could be allotted to education, health, and other basic social services.
“Ang pagtingin natin diyan, itong pondo ng NTF-ELCAC na binubusog ni Duterte at dinadagdagan [ay mula] sa inaalis na Serbisyong Panlipunan na budget. Sa pang-edukasyon tinanggalan, pangkalusugan, at iba pang batayang serbisyo [para mailaan ang pondo sa NTF-ELCAC],” Ka Zarding said.
Inside a ‘forced surrender program’
Ka Zarding explained that former Karapatan-Quezon Secretary General Genelyn Dichoso is a key person in enabling the state forces to coerce the coconut farmers to surrender.
“Iisa ang pattern nila, una, pumupunta sa barangay [hall] o municipal [hall] at gagamitin ang barangay para sila ang mag-mobilize ng tao, kung hindi man direktang militar ang tumugon doon sa mga bahay-bahay, sa mga dala-dala nilang mga record o listahan na nagmula sa opisina ng PCA [Philippine Coconut Authority] sa pamamagitan ni Genelyn Dichoso,” Ka Zarding said.
Dichoso is now speaking on behalf of the state forces, who alleged that she was a high-ranking officer of a supposed “communist-terrorist group” (CTG). She went on trial earlier this year for alleged attempted homicide.
Dichoso was one of the speakers in the November 9 “program” in Agdangan, Quezon. “Crying” in front of the people, as Ka Zarding recounted, Dichoso reportedly stated that CLAIM is a “fake organization”.
However, Ka Zarding disagreed that Dichoso ever became a part of CTG and explained that she is only a victim of the state forces’ harassment and red-tagging.
“Nitong mga panahong [itinatag] na ang NTF-ELCAC at inired-tag na ang mga legal na organisayon lalo na sa ilalim ng Makabayan Bloc ay hindi na niya nakayanan yung mga pagbabanta sa kanyang buhay,” Ka Zarding said.
Ka Zarding also added that before Dichoso sided with the state forces, she explained that armed rebel groups have nothing to do with CLAIM and Karapatan.
Turning the poor even poorer
“Wala pa ang pandemya, wala pa ang NTF-ELCAC ay naghihirap na ang ating mga kababayang magsasaka dahil sa pagbagsak sa presyo ng kopra,” Ka Zarding said.
KASAMA-TK added that among the harassment that farmers face is a massive clearing of coconut farms in Quezon province.
“Sa kasalukuyan, malawakang pagpuputol ng mga niyog o ‘clearing’ ang isinasagawa sa buong probinsya. Sa gitna ng pandemya, kalunos-lunos na paghihirap ang nararanasan ng mga magniniyog.”
Ka Zarding added that the harassment, red-tagging, and human rights violations committed by the state forces, and the NTF-ELCAC in particular are an additional torment to the already struggling coconut farmers.
“Sa ngayon hindi na lamang kahirapan ang nagbigay ng ibayong pagdurusa ng mamamayan dito, kundi ang mga paglabag sa karapatang pantao na kanilang nararanasan dulot ng NTF-ELCAC. Ang mga nagaganap na ito ay isang maniobra nila upang itago ang tunay na responsibilidad at obligasyon nila na sa isang makatarungang hinaing ng mga manggagawa,” Ka Zarding stated.
The farmers are calling for a stop to the militarization in their area and the abolition of the NTF-ELCAC.
“Palayasin ang mga militar. Hindi solusyon sa kahirapan na dinadanas ng mamamayan ang militar, ang pandarahas, ang panunupil. I-abolish ang NTF-ELCAC,” Ka Zarding stated.
Meanwhile, the coconut farmers are also asking for help from the local government.
“Kumilos [sana] ang pamahalaan sa antas lokal mula antas barangay, at munisipal at ang probinsya na kanilang proteksyunan ang magsasaka, pangunahin dito sa nagaganap na paninikil at pananakot,” he said.
Aside from assistance against harassment, the farmers are also calling for aid amidst the pandemic as well as recent natural calamities, and the granting of the ₱15,000-subsidy for farmers.
“Panawagan ng magsasaka na tugunan ang kahirapan dulot ng kalamidad, lalo na itong sa bahagi ng pandemya. Kagaya na lamang sa usaping yung calamity fund para doon sa mga matagal na dinanas na tagtuyot na hanggang ngayon hindi pa rin nakabwelo ang mga magsasaka sa kanilang kabuhayan. Maglaan ng calamity fund para sa magsasaka, ipatupad ang mga P15,000 na subsidy para doon sa mga [gawaing] agrikultura na ginagawa ng magsasaka,” Ka Zarding emphasized.
Ka Zarding also invites people from other sectors such as church leaders, workers, and the youth to help the farmers of Quezon. Finally, he calls on every farmer to be united and to firmly stand for their calls and rights despite the harassment done by state forces.
“Sa bahagi ng mamamayan, ang [CLAIM],ang lahat ng magsasaka sa buong Quezon ay makiisa. Nananawagan tayo sa lahat ng magsasaka na tayo ay tumindig, lumaban at ‘wag tayo matakot sa mga pakana lamang, dahil ang mga pakanang ito ay nagpapakita lamang ng higit na takot ng Pamahalaang Duterte na tayong mga mamamayan ay magkaisa,” Ka Zarding said. [P]