Commemorating Mendiola Massacre: The bloodstained struggle for land

Twenty-two farmers were marching to the Malacanang to parade their calls for a genuine land reform until it became a bloody dispersal on January 22, 1987, that took 13 lives, thus the Mendiola Massacre. The farmers were expecting a dialogue with President then, Corazon A. Aquino to demand free land distribution amidst the growing monopoly of land which the president herself is an owner of 6,453 hectares of land. Instead of a peaceful dialogue, farmers were answered with sporadic firing from the police with the intent to slaughter everyone in their path. No one was taken accounted for the bloody act since the charges were later dismissed by the 1993 supreme court because as they cited immunity of the government official from any suit.

Similarly, a bloody incident happened in San Agustin, Palo where eight farmers were killed including a pregnant woman during a “tiklos” conducted by the resident farmers who were victims of land grabbing by the despotic Pedro Margallo and its family. Elements from the 87th ID started indiscriminate firing against the land beneficiaries and their supporters and after the smoke was cleared, no one was punished after our current prejudiced justice system has made the same cover-up.

Thirty-one years after, the demand of the farmers remains as it has never been solved. The semi-feudal framework of the country continues where farmers are forced to work as usurp, serving the greater gains of the landlords that represents the ruling elites. The promise of land distribution was shattered as it was presented by the bogus land reform program known as CARP and was later extended through CARPER.

The peasant sector was given false hope when Duterte promised to distribute land to them and even placed Ka Paeng as the Department of Agrarian Reform secretary. Through the implementation of it’s bogus “peace and rehabilitation” program in the name of “Oplan Kapayapaan”, hundreds of farmers are killed by the fascist Armed Forces of the Philippines because of false information and red tagging. Moreover, government troops can easily get away from it since farmers’ factual accounts barely reach the mainstream. In Eastern Visayas alone last year, five farmers were killed while a thousand more were forced to evacuate due to intense militarization in their areas.

Duterte later canceled the continuation of peace talks before the supposed fifth round where the most salient part of the process which is the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) could have been discussed, including the solution to the century-long problem of the farmers which is land ownership. This only shows that Duterte is anti-people and a warmonger that has deceived the people through its trapo (traditional politician) way of handling the elections.

It is now clear that Duterte was never the answer to the malady that was inflicting to the farmers opposed to what he boasted before. Disillusioned and furious, the farmers, together with the greater masses should fight Duterte’s tyrannical rule simply because justice will not be served on a silver platter. The course of events from administration to administration, regime to regime just goes to show that impunity then is impunity now.

 

#Landtothetillers

#Endstatefascism

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To the country’s ‘middle class’ (A letter from the hinterlands)

You might be having fun with your family and relatives who just got home from the city or abroad. You might be enjoying the midnight sales on those malls we have never gone to. And you might be savoring the taste of lechon and hamon and all the food we cannot offer our children this holiday season. This year and in the next coming years, the gap between our sector and yours might get wider and the tendencies and crisis of being blinded with the country and it’s people’s situation might be intensified. And so today, we write to you.

We wish to offer you more rice produced and processed in the country through our very hands next year but we lack fields to plant palay. Our president seems to have no plan to fix the agrarian reform system in the country by pushing and implementing a genuine agrarian reform law. This is despite the fact that we comprise the majority of the country’s population, 75% to be exact. And our landlords have instructed us to plant pineapple instead of rice, and fruit trees instead of sugar, thus converting our vast fields to corporate-owned plantations. Also, conversion of agricultural land to commercial use for the benefit of the country’s elite and the imperialists might get faster under the current administration.

We wish to offer you high-value crops in large harvests but we lack tools and scientific and more advanced knowledge. Apparently, the government is not investing much, not even enough, for the agricultural advancement of this agricultural, although backward, country. The Department of Agriculture could not even arrest the massive crop infestation problem in Northern Samar, in the whole Samar island, and in many other parts of the country. Instead, they are introducing varieties that must have affected the nutrition of our soil.

We wish to send our children in schools, especially at the tertiary level, but we have nothing to pay for the now even higher school fees. Our little Juan’s and Maria’s are so enthusiastic to finish their studies, they are willing to walk two or more hours a day just to reach their school. But today, we are not certain if they could even finish high school after it was added with two more years. And in the practical side where we strive for survival, they’d employ themselves as cheap farm workers earning way-way below the poverty threshold.

We wish to greet the first day of the year 2018 with a complete family but I lost a family member after he was shot dead while he was working in the field and my neighbor’s husband was illegally arrested, both of them are tagged as members of the New People’s Army by no less than the government troops. We must admit that we have joined several mass demonstrations but it wasn’t because we are NPAs but because we want to voice out our sorrows and griefs of which we mentioned above. We have also seen members from your ranks during those mobilizations.

And just like you, we wish to have peace in this country but President Duterte terminated the peace negotiations between his government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). His government did not even honor the signed agreements between the two parties, this includes the respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. They were so close to agreeing on free land distribution in the country but Duterte listened more to his army than to the people they should be serving.

We are tired of being called ‘lazy’ when we, in fact, spend most of our time under the scorching heat of the sun or ignorant when education is actually inaccessible to us. We are tired of this political, economic and cultural barrier that exists between our sector to the other sectors of this society.

We have heard over the radio that a new tax reform package has been approved by the president. We don’t know much about it, but it sure will increase prices of commodities and services which you also consume. Sooner or later, our economy will drop while the country’s few elites gain much more than we lose.

The next time that we meet in the streets, in the marketplace or in a public hospital, I hope you see us in a different perspective now after reading this note. But the people in the hinterlands need not your sympathy but for you to join us in our struggle towards national democracy. We have long extended our arms for your embrace.

“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.

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.