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Triple whammy for Filipino farmers

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

Pandemic, liberalization and human rights abuses

by Aaron Macaraeg

Progressive groups and peasant leaders march along Recto Avenue in Manila as they declare October 21 as Day of Defiance Against Fascism. Mass leaders from multisectoral organizations joined farmers in calling for a genuine agrarian reform and demanding justice to all victims of state terrorism that killed hundreds of peasants and agricultural workers. Photo by Carlo Manalansan/Bulatlat

Redo Peña, a farmer from San Jose del Monte, Bulacan fled for his safety in Metro Manila after being repeatedly harassed by goons and suspected state forces. In an interview with Bulatlat, Peña said soldiers have been active in their area, not with the delivery of aid but with continuous intimidation of farmers, including himself.

Peña, a leader of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan, is at the forefront of opposition against the construction of Metro Rail Transit-7 (MRT-7) by the Araneta Properties Inc. The project covers four farming Barangays (districts), with military setting up checkpoints in these areas. As a result of these checkpoints, Peña said farmers could not deliver most of their produce to the market, as vehicles were not be allowed to pass during the enhanced community quarantine. “The strict lockdown crippled us. On top of the ongoing militarization in our community, it is difficult to survive. Many of us have very little produce,” said Peña.

In May, banana trees of his fellow farmers in Norzagaray were destroyed by goons of Royal Moluccan. During a global pandemic, two hectares of farm was razed to the ground.

For defending his right to till the land, Peña has been labeled by the military as a communist. “Even before the lockdown, soldiers have been harassing and spying on me as I have been active against companies and government projects encroaching in our farms,” said Peña.

Over the week, the practice of red-tagging by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) gained national attention after Major Gen. Antonio Parlade Jr. and paid trolls red-tagged celebrities such as Liza Soberano, Angel Locsin and Catriona Gray. For Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the practice of labeling farmers and agricultural workers as “communist-terrorist” is meant to justify arrests, detention, and even killing.

“We understand that we face these atrocities because we dare speak up against our sufferings. We are tagged as terrorists because we dare act against land grabbing and exploitation. We are harassed because we dare to unite and organize our fellow poor tillers of the land. We are issued with death threats and ultimately killed because we aspire to feed our families and to feed our nation,”

KMP said in a statement.

The group has called for the defunding of NTF-ELCAC and the realignment of the 2021 budget for the task force to rice production subsidy for those affected by the pandemic and rice importation.

Depressed prices of rice

In the nearby province of Pampanga, farmers are in dismay at the low price of rice.

According to Joseph Canlas of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (Regional Farmers Union), rice prices range from P7 (US$ 0.14) to P10 ( US$ 0.21 USD) per kilo. Canlas blamed the Rice Liberalization Law, imposed for over a year now, imposing misery on rice farmers. “It’s too much. They are very angry with the low price of rice" Canlas told Bulatlat.

Canlas belied government pronouncement that the National Food Authority (NFA) will buy rice at a much more expensive rate with P17 (US$ 0.35) per kilo to cushion the impact of rice importation. “NFA would never buy rice at that rate from local farmers,” said Canlas.

Farmers have had a hard time selling their rice to the NFA because of lack of transportation to their storage facilities. They would have to shell out first on renting vehicles with no guarantee that NFA will buy their products. Canlas explained that NFA has a strict moisture content percentage in buying palay. With lack of farmers’ machinery in drying palay before selling, it would be a lost cause to go to NFA in the first place.

“The rainy season is not helping either. We really have no choice but to sell it to private dealers at a very cheap price,” said Canlas. He said that if this trend continues, there would be high probability that farmers would think twice in planting rice.

During a global pandemic, farmers are being starved, neglected and harassed.

This article first appeared on the Bulatlat Website. Reproduced with permission

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