Philippines: Farmers groups’ week of marches against Aquino government

Riot police block farmers from marching to the Presidential palace in Manila

Bulatlat, October 16, 2010

Calling the Aquino government as a “haciendero regime” and the “number one enemy of peasants,” progressive farmers’ organizations from Central and Southern Luzon would converge at the office of the office of the Department of Agrarian Reform before marching to the historic Mendiola bridge on October 21.

MANILA — Farmers and agricultural workers from all over the country are asking for nothing less than genuine agrarian reform when they start observing Peasant Week on Oct. 18, Monday. “We have proven that for more than a year after it was passed, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension (CARPER) is also inutile,” Anakpawis Representative Rafael Mariano told Bulatlat. “It is now time to look into the free land distribution scheme, which is the framework of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill.”

The Peasant Week is annually observed by progressive farmers’ organizations to renew their vow to fight for a genuine agrarian reform program that will solve the centuries-old land problem in the country.

The theme of this year’s peasants march is “Lakbayan ng mga Magsasaka Laban sa Hacienderong Rehimen ni Aquino” (Long March of Farmers Against the Hacienda Regime of Aquino). At the north leg of the march in Luzon farmers would hold their first vigil in Tarlac on Oct. 18 while the Southern Tagalog Wing 1 and 2 would hold their vigil in Alabang and Batangas, respectively. The different groups are expected to converge at the Department of Agrarian Reform office in Quezon City on Oct. 21 before marching towards Mendiola in Manila.

The Katipunan ng mga Samahang Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama-TK or Federation of Farmers’ Associations in the Southern Tagalog Region) said they are already anticipating that the military and the police would attempt to stop them from continuing with their protest action, either by forming blockades or adding checkpoints around the region. “But we (have) warned them that nothing could stop our rage against this regime’s deafness to the peasants’ plight,” Kasama-TK secretary general Axel Pinpin said, adding that the election gun ban might also be used to file more trumped-up charges against peasants to prevent them from reaching Manila.

“Gone are the days when we were still challenging the new administration to act on the needs and demands of the peasants,” Mariano said. “It is now time to demand for what is due to us.”

Land Reform

“President Benigno S. Aquino is incompetent in addressing the roots of the land problem in the country,” Pinpin said. For this, he has dubbed Aquino as the “Peasants’ Enemy No. 1.”

Pinpin accused Aquino of deliberately not mentioning anything about land reform during his inaugural address, State of the Nation Address and in his speech marking his first 100 days, which he called as “Report Kay Boss.” Instead, the people only heard from Aquino “empty words on wang-wang, hotdog and condoms,” Pinpin said, adding that “the peasants are no longer expecting anything fruitful from his regime.”

In fact, one of the biggest questions that could hound his presidency remains to be the land dispute at Hacienda Luisita, a 6,453-hectare landholding which he co-owns. Mariano said Aquino’s earlier pronouncements about his ‘hands-off’ policy on the Luisita case is proof that he is not interested to pursue a genuine land reform program.

A year since CARPER was implemented, Mariano said land grabbing, cancellation of land titles and emancipation patents have even intensified. Peasants who are fighting for their right to land are instead put behind bars and charged with “trumped-up petty crime cases.”

Land reform under the Aquino administration, according to Mariano, is not just comparable to going through the proverbial eye of a needle. “It is like going through a needle without an eye.”

Old Policies

Despite being a new administration that had won under the banner of “treading the righteous path,” not much has changed in what peasant groups deem as anti-people and anti-peasant policies that were implemented by its predecessors. For one, Aquino has extended until January 2011 what progressive groups describe as “the bloodiest counterinsurgency program in history” Oplan Bantay Laya, which has engendered gross human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, victimizing legal activists.

During the first 100 days of the Aquino administration, Rep. Mariano said, not a single hectare of land was distributed but 11 peasants had been killed while another three were jailed and charged with trumped-up charges. The arrested peasants are called as the Lumban 3.

The Aquino administration, said the peasant groups, has also continued the neo-liberal globalization policies because of Pres. Aquino’s “subservience to the dictates of the World Bank.” In his budget message, Aquino said the rice subsidy program of the National Food Authority only created huge losses for the government. Thus, the 2011 budget did not anymore allot funds for the program.

With the government’s decision not to procure palays (unhusked rice) in 2011, Mariano warned that it would result in a dramatic increase in the prices of rice early next year or until the supposed oversupply of NFA rice, which are stored in its warehouses, are consumed. Maiano said this move of the Aquino government would also give more leeway to the private rice cartel to corner all the palays from peasants at a very cheap price, hoard it, and then sell it at higher price when the NFA rice, the cheapest rice available in the market, has been sold-out.

In just a couple of months, Aquino has revealed himself to the public as an anti-peasant leader just as much as (former President Gloria) Arroyo was,” Mariano said. (Bulatlat.com)

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