“The sickle is no equal to terrorism, release our farmers now!” – Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas

Following GRP’s hosting of the 2017 ASEAN Summit attended by US President and the current face of imperialism Donald Trump, Duterte’s tongue-lashing over progressive groups, and the 360 proclamation and termination of peace negotiations with the Philippine reds, four farmers in Samar island in the Eastern Visayas region were nabbed by military elements in a span of two weeks.

Fourteen days after the illegal arrest of Marabut, Samar peasant-leader and head of Tag-alag Farmers and Fisherfolks Association Carlito “James” Badillo who admitted being harassed, tortured, and threatened by elements of the 87th Infantry Battalion last November 10, three more farmers in Palapag, Northern Samar were abducted by alleged elements of the 20th Infantry Battalion. The farmers and members of the Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) who were identified as Richard Avino, Teny Gerbon, and Arnel Aquino are believed to be detained at the detachment of the 20th IB at Brgy. Opong, Catubig, Northern Samar.

The three farmers from Northern Samar are still left unsurfaced as soldiers refuse to disclose their whereabouts. For two consecutive days, the family of the said farmers and human rights group Katungod Northern Samar went to the detachment of the 20th IB in the town proper of Palapag, Northern Samar, urging the military to release the abducted farmers. But instead of discharging the peasant group members, a suspected soldier phone-called Katungod Northern Samar Secretary General Sargie Macallan yesterday, November 24, asking who among the arrested persons would he choose to die.

In Matuguinao, Samar, sixty families were forced to evacuate to the forests due to the intensifying militarization in their town. The military did not only bring fear to these peasant communities but also paralyze their livelihood, thus a threat to their lives. It can be recalled that there have been aerial bombings in the said town since May this year as recorded by Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas.

Aside from the warrantless searches, suspicious men have been hopping from peasant organization to peasant organization, presenting pictures of staffs of Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas and asking for their names and address. Tailings over peasant leaders and human rights workers all over the region have also been intensified.

Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) calls for the immediate release of Badillo who is currently facing illegal possession of firearms and explosives as charged by the military and to swiftly surface the three farmers in Palapag, Northern Samar. The regional peasant group pressed that the Duterte administration and the AFP must be held accountable for the intensifying human rights violations in Eastern Visayas. Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas also urge the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to record and act upon these human rights abuses.

“The sickle is no equal to terrorism. We challenge the Philippine Army to release our farmers now,” said Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas Secretary General Jun Berino.

With a hundred and fifty new soldiers in Eastern Visayas and four more military battalions to be re-deployed in the region, more human rights violations and similar cases are possible to happen.

“Soldiers in the region under the 8th Infantry Division are intensifying their Community Support Programs (CSP), deploying more Peace and Development Teams (PDT) to barrios, now fully disregarding the International Human Rights Law (IHL). This is all because of the foolishness of their head, Rodrigo Duterte, to terminate peace talks and declare an all-out war against its very people,” said Berino.

According to Berino, militancy and resistance with vigilance at this tempestuous times are things the Filipino people, especially the marginalized sectors, should practice.

Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas urges the public to report all the human rights abuses and suspicious actions of alleged military elements in the region while actively supporting the back-to-back mass actions and protests.

Advertisements

Chasing Justice

The old printer chuntered and disgorged tons of leaflets. The used boxes painted with calls cried out the people’s lost voices. The silent fields were waiting for the beautiful noise, different from the sound that once broke it. And then you saw their smile. And slowly, it disappeared on the exact same day that it came to sight.

It was the 16th of October this year. It was supposedly the day of the execution of the ages-old decision of Department of Agrarian Reform Adjudicator Board (DARAB) on the fourteen hectares of land in San Agustin, Palo, Leyte. But it didn’t materialize and days later, another motion to quash was filed by the ‘defendants’ of the land. The defendants who defended their side beyond the law.

This brings us to what happened twelve years ago. The situation is quite the same. No, there were no gunshots heard, no fabricated charges filed against the blameless, no pregnant woman died, no “kill them all” and farmers begging off stories, no blood diffused in the fields. But their right to their land was once again denied.

Who would ever forget the November 21, 2005 massacre penetrated by elements of the Philippine Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion? It killed eight lives, the military blinded the public by saying it was an encounter between them and the rebel armed group. The bloody incident’s story may have vanished from the mainstream or the real story might not have reached it. But it is ours (farmers) to tell.

On May 1998, Renato Dizon and other plaintiffs filed a case against Pedro Margallo who grabbed their land. A decision in favor of the San Agustin farmers came out two years later. On year 2005, the land beneficiaries, peasant groups, and Bayan Muna initiated a “tiklos” and stayed in a “kamalig” at the center of the field which, ironically, was also used against them by the military. Staying in the lone “kamalig” meant rebellion to the government’s armed group. It was deemed false.

Years after, peasant groups in the region under Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) didn’t stop negotiating and skirmishing for the land through legal means. All of the decisions issued by DAR and even the Court of Appeals, in separate years and in more than ten times of motion filing and rebuttals, were in favor of the San Agustin farmers.

But where is justice? Will it remain a hanging question and so will be left unanswered?

A shrapnel will be defeated by the united masses crusading for their rights. Justice lies where our crusade begins.

Dugo ngan balhas an nagbarisbis

Didto ha haluag nga katutubhan

Ini an panginahanglan:

Guti nga tubig ngan pag-ataman

Labi na an pag-ato han katawhan.

 

An maiha na nga kauriton ni Juan

An balhas nga tumuro ha umhanan

An pagguli-at han mga kabataan

An dugo han pito nga nanindugan.

 

Parag-uma, imo an Luisita

Aton an ginbalhasan nga tuna

Ha waray kapagalan nga pakigbisog,

Ha katapusan, kita gihap magdadaog.

#KABLAS: Dry fields and pockets

Free irrigation is not a good news for the farmers of rain-fed farmlands.

Cracked land. Less abundant fields. Poor growth of crops. Backward irrigation system.

After years of pushing for an irrigation system that is free of charges, some farmers already cherished the fruit of their long-time struggle starting this year. But such is not the case for most of the farmers in Eastern Visayas.

From year 1985 to year 2009, there is only an 18% increase in the irrigation system development in Eastern Visayas showing a less than 1% annual development rate. In the whole island of Samar, only 39.34% of farmlands is irrigated according to the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) 2017 data. Least irrigated is Eastern Samar with only 35.42% irrigated land.

irrigation

Irrigation development in all the six provinces in Eastern Visayas

In 2000 to 2014, at least 40% of the region’s overall rice production come from rain-fed fields. The figure shows how poor irrigation system significantly deduces farmers’ supposed harvest. With the slow-paced development, a decrease in production is expected especially amid the adversity of a changing climate. This will even worsen the peasant sector’s existing economic crisis.

Irrigation might be free but the struggle for a quality and accessible irrigation continues and so is the people’s militancy to fight for this.

#Kablas (Poor) is a series of short news feature stories depicting the alleviating poverty of the agriculture sector in Eastern Visayas

#KABLAS: Crop infestation infesting farmers’ economy in EV

Dwarfed pale-colored abaca leaves instead of narrow glossy dark green sheets. Stunted palay instead of an abundant rice field. Lifeless tree of life instead of extant coconut trees. Crumbling stomachs, lost pennies and dying farmers. Pests does not only infest crops but also paralyze farmers’ livelihood.

Since 2011, progressive farmer groups in Eastern Visayas led by Samahan han Gudti nga mga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) launched protests to call government’s attention on the worsening crop infestation in several parts of the region. But no corresponding action took place for years resulting in a significant production loss and an alleviating poverty.

Department of Agriculture confirms a 15 to 23% production loss of crops due to the worsening affliction of crops. Data reveals that about 40% of abaca plantations are no longer productive because of bunchy top virus carried by banana aphids while “cocolisap” or coconut scale insects brought a nationwide disease affecting about 338 million pesos worth of coconut as of the 2016 data.

From the 29,444 metric tons annual production of abaca in 2003, it decreased to 8,418 metric tons in 2015 causing an 8 million pesos fiber loss and forcing 31,871 farmers to either plant another crop or worse, leave their fields as confirmed by Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA). Worst case is in Northern Samar where 95% of farmlands in Catubig and Las Navas are affected by crop infestation.

The Department of Agriculture revealed that they are having difficulty in validating the cases of crop infestation in Eastern Visayas. DA Regional Executive Director U-Nichols Manalo, however, stated that the phenomenon will not affect projected production of crops despite its obvious effect to the very people who plant these crops.

Eastern Visayas is one of the major producer of rice, abaca and coconut in the country. Despite this, the government invests too little to nothing on giving our farmers immediate and long-term aid.

 

#Kablas (Poor) is a series of short news feature stories depicting the alleviating poverty of the agriculture sector in Eastern Visayas.

Intensifying Militarization in Eastern Visayas

Eastern Visayas remains one of the poorest regions in the whole country, despite its vast natural reserves. It comprises 7.14% of land in the Philippines, almost half of this is agricultural. The Philippine Statistics Authority figure shows that 91.93% of the population in the region is concentrated in rural areas, despite a relative civilization of seven cities in Eastern Visayas. This complements the figure that 69.5% of its population are dependent on agriculture in terms of economy. Although 41.90% of the region’s GDP is contributed mainly by the service sector according to government data, it is agriculture that feeds the region’s people with pennies to almost nothing as the sector is facing an intensifying poverty.

Government aid remains elusive for the peasant sector in Eastern Visayas despite the obvious need for an immediate relief and comprehensive rehabilitation program. The decreasing productivity rate of the agriculture sector reinforced through the lack of government support is  lethal – killing farmers themselves and the sector’s economic aspect.

The peasant sector in Eastern Visayas is attacked not only by the neoliberal economic policies but also by an intensifying militarization in the region. The Community Support Programs (CSP) and Peace and Development Teams (PDT) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines under the framework of the counterinsurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan did not bring peace to our folks in the countrysides but a threat to their lives.

At present, there are seven battalions (20th, 43rd, 14th, 87th, 52nd, 19th and 78th Infantry Battalions)  under the 8th Infantry Division operating in Eastern Visayas. All of these have recorded cases of human rights violations, according to Katungod Sinirangan Bisayas – Karapatan.

Since March 2017 up to the present, there have already been four mass evacuations due to the escalating number of human rights violations in four different towns (Lope de Vega in Northern Samar, Calbiga and Matuguinao in the province of Samar and Burauen in Leyte). It can be noted that the Philippine Army in Eastern Visayas launched spontaneous “offensives” against the very people it ought to protect by the time that the peace process between the NDFP and GRP was starting to fail.

There have been at least three farmers killed under the first year of the Duterte administration due to red tagging. In February this year, a farmer-leader named Bernadette Lutao of Bobon, Northern Samar was killed in what the AFP propagandized as a clash between them and the red armed group New People’s Army. But official accounts say that Lutao was shot dead and no encounter took place. Last month, another farmer leader in Albuera, Leyte was shot by two alleged military elements and passed away days after the incident.

Another farmer named Belinda Capacite of Can-avid, Eastern Samar was jailed last July, a day after Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA), due to fabricated charges. Capacite was tagged as a collector of the revolutionary tax enforced by the CPP-NPA.

While the national and international media reports the aerial strikes in Marawi, City in the island of Mindanao, aerial bombings also occurred in the island of Visayas hitting the rural part of Matuguinao, Samar. In fact, residents of Brgy. Rizal in the said town were forced to leave their barrio and take refuge in the homes of their relatives in other places.

Some civilians were threatened by the AFP that they are included in the list of “NPAs and their supporters”. In September this year, the 87th IB based in Calbiga, Samar convened the barrio captains telling them that they should convince their constituents who actively support the NPA to surrender before “Duterte declares Martial Law”.

In Basey, Samar, nine residents of Brgy. Mabini were framed as fake surrenderees. The youngest is the 20year old Benita, Mabag, member of Kabataang Party-list Western Samar and a student of Mabini Natonal High School. According to her account, she was interrogated for days starting last October 5 by the AFP on her alleged connection to the red army which Mabag denied. Days after, the 87th IB already propagandized, through a local newspaper in Eastern Visayas, that Mabag seeks for their protection as she was recruited by a “certain Ka Monica” of the NPA. The other civilians interrogated by the AFP are Jaypee Macasadoc, Pamfilo Incenas, Rafael Sablan, Dioricio Algera and Benita’s father, Amado Mabag.

In Gamay, Northern Samar, some farmers are being asked to present their identification cards whenever they are seen by armed men in their fields. This “ID system” also exists in other parts of the Samar island.

The AFP is trying to disband peasant organizations to form other AFP-led organizations such as Kilusang Pagbabago and other groups. They are also using DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) and DENR’s National Greening Program (NGP) to convene farmers and subject them in an intense interrogation and intimidation. Examples of which are those that occurred in Alang-alang and Albuera, Leyte where farmers were told not to attend mobilizations.

There have also been recorded tailings among Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas leaders and staffs. The whereabouts of  farmer organizers is being asked from the members of local peasant organizations. The latest occurred this month of October in Alang-alang, Leyte. Also, on July 23, Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas Deputy Secretary General Nestor Lebico was tailed in Northern Samar by two suspicious elements, after attending the Northern Samar Small Farmers’ Association General Assembly. A military official, in fact, went to the Regional Congress of Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas last August 23, also asking the names of the leaders of the said alliance. Suspicious elements have also been observed within the vicinity of Sagupa’s office in Tacloban City.

In sum, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is using “peace and development” to blind the public on  their human rights violations. Developing the road network in countrysides, building schools and other facilities, and providing social services to rural areas are some of their most used cards to legitimize their encampment in barrios, therefore violating the International Humanitarian Law (IHL).

At present, the AFP is having a connivance with the local government through the Regional Development Council (RDC) and Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) imposing local government units to support and uphold the AFP’s CSP and PDT projects. This occurs despite the people’s active demand to pull out troops in the countrysides.

While there is a strengthening peasant movement in the region as farmers rise against hunger and poverty, the puppet republic reinforces its military and fascist character.

Rabunos, Sinirangan Bisayas!

Tindog  Visayas!

(Surge, Eastern Visayas! Rise Visayas!)

Hear the tolls: Imperialism beyond the bells!

Bring back our bells! Respect our sovereignty! US, out now!

“Give us back those Balangiga bells,” Duterte mentioned in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 24, 2017. These bells acted as “trophies” seized by the US army to scar the infamous massacre that happened during the Philippine – American war where 50, 000 Filipinos were brutally slaughtered.

On the 116th year since the day of the Balangiga uprising against the imperialist US, progressive and patriotic groups underscored that the country should not just call for the return of the bells, but should continue forwarding the reason why the bells tolled that day – to revolt against the fascist US.

Why did the bells stop tolling?

In 1901, the bells were taken as war booty after the uprising of the Filipino guerillas where 48 US troopers died with 22 more other in Balangiga wounded during a raid in a US Army encampment. This prompted the US to send US Army General Jacob (Howling Jake) Smith to order a retaliation where he commanded the US troops to kill every male Filipino, 10 years of age and above, which led to the bloodbath of 50, 000 Filipinos.

The bells that symbolize our folks’ heroism are presently stored in US military bases, two are in a US Army base in Cheyenne while another is in the museum of a US military facility in South Korea to showcase their cruelness.

Long-time call answered with rhetoric

There has been a consistent effort of the Philippine congress to recover the bells. Bayan Muna Party list, in fact, is one of the firsts to submit a resolution calling for the recovery of bells, to recover the bells. This year, President Duterte himself “begs” US to bring back the bells to Balangiga.

US, however, gives this nation no single bell, but rhetorical statements we heard for years. Former US officials and US war veterans think that they should not return the bells as they consider it as a proof of their “bogus victory”. Not even an official statement recognizing their brutal act and apology was ever released. Worse, they’ve maintained their economic, political, military and cultural influence in the country through strong ties with the state and its ruling elite.

Rebelling puppet?

Duterte’s call for the return of Balangiga bells does not necessarily mean that he is either patriotic or anti-US. His “shallow militancy” to project a false rebellion against his bosses is plainly for his self-interests.

Let us be reminded that the administration continued the US-RP Mutual Defense Treaty along with the unequal military treaties just like Visiting Forces Agreement. In fact, the U.S., just this year, is trying to restore its military bases here in Eastern Visayas specifically in Guiuan and Ormoc, strategic places for naval skirmishes, as it continued its annual Balikatan exercises with the Philippine Army in these towns this year. As it happened, a fisher folk community was demolished for the construction of a US base in Ormoc according to official accounts.  These constructions will be free of cost and no rent will be collected from them. These actions only deflect the image the administration is portraying – that the Duterte administration is against the imperialist US.

Duterte, known for his profanity and comical statements usually addressed to Obama and China, occasionally challenges the U.S. to stay away from the Philippines during his early times. But after a year of submitting his self to US through initial pronouncements of suspending peace talks, promoting neoliberal economic policies, and waging a war against the farmers and his very own people, it could be drawn that Duterte is using the bells to toll his own demands for US – to fund his militarist vanity.

Beyond the bells is its tolls

While we call for the return of Balangiga bells and US’ admission to the crimes they perpetrated, we should also remember for whom those bells tolled – it was, above all, for the imperialist US. It was our heroes’ cue to their uprising against the US troops. And today, those bells continue tolling for US and their puppets – for Duterte and his cronies.

The call for the return of Balangiga bells speaks more than the bells. It also calls for a nation free from its top oppressor, a nation free from imperialist US. A Balangiga uprising yesterday is a nation rising today.