As the public rages over misuse of people's taxes, a beggar in torn pants sleeps off his hunger in a sidewalk along Bonifacio Street. ( photo by Ace R. Morandante)

HUNGRY EVEN IN SLEEP. As the public rages over misuse of people’s taxes, a beggar in torn pants sleeps off his hunger in a sidewalk along Bonifacio Street. ( photo by Ace R. Morandante)

I saw on television an official of the PCOO distributing slippers and food packs to a poor community somewhere in the national capital region yesterday, and I thought, nothing has really changed. It’s the same old make-believe that we have seen the past administrations had done to show that they “care” for the poor.

It could have been an effort to show that the current administration is “in step” with the calls of the time, as some weeks ago, the “World Food Day” was commemorated on October 16.

In a statement, the Philippine Network for Food Security Programmes (PNSFP), a network that advocates the attainment of food security in the Philippines, is pushing for government programs and policies towards genuine agrarian reform, self-sufficiency and regulation of food market to make it accessible to the marginalized sectors.

The Network have been raising the public consciousness about the growing hunger in the countryside and how government policies even worsened the poverty situation of Filipinos, especially the very least among rural folks including the displaced farmers from their farm lots and the indigenous communities who are being driven out of the ancestral lands.

Is the government listening?

Since the month of October has long since been celebrated as the commemoration of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) month, it is only right to mention that up to this time, the struggle of the IPs against corporate incursions into their ancestral domains has never abated, but instead even intensified.

The farmers likewise continued to fight for their right to own the lands they till, as government policies have favored high value crops, and has maintained the status quo, continuously converting large tracts of agricultural lands into oil palm plantations, pineapple, bananas and other so-called agri-business ventures owned and controlled by local landlords and big businesses and foreign corporations.

“The continued inexistence of fundamental policies to attain food security in the country generates worsened hunger among poor sectors, hence, this day is nothing but World Hunger Day,” Renmin Vizconde, PNFSP Advocacy Officer said in a statement.

The group criticized that the absence of a genuine agrarian reform program or security of farmers on land leads to their systematic displacement, thus, undermining the food-producing capacity of the country.

Pointing out that the previous land reform program under Republic Act No. 6657 Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) has expired in June 2014, and the mandated agency, Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has become helpless to cover more lands for distribution to farmers, supposedly a major contribution in food production in the country.

Visconde further cited the case of farmers on land previously controlled by Lapanday in Mindanao clearly depicts how the Philippine government put more weight on export-oriented agriculture than for food security and self-sufficiency.

Lapanday maintains hundreds of thousands of hectares for its banana and pineapple plantations to be supplied to the foreign monopoly corporation Del Monte. They were able to sustain their control over vast lands through agri-business venture arrangements (AVAs) with agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), which was actually sanctioned by CARP and promoted by DAR, or the government in general. Initial data from DAR show that lands under AVAs have covered 2 million hectares across the country,

Adding that with millions of hectares of lands dedicated for export-oriented agriculture, that displaced many farmers who were cultivating their own food, it is the government that fundamentally undermines food security in the country.

At present, more than a hundred farmers from Bukidnon are camping out in front of the DAR office in Quezon City, demanding land distribution as their lands were covered as educational reserve by the Central Mindanao University (CMU). The farmers are cultivating rice and other food crops on the 514-hectare lands, even before it was declared as reserve early in the 1960s. But now, they are being driven out by CMU administration.

This has been a contradiction caused by the CARP’s loop-sided provision exempting educational reserves from land distribution. It is quite clear that the present and past administrations continue to veer away from attaining food security and self-sufficiency by promoting liberalization by favoring foreign monopoly corporate interests in government programs.

The heavily funded National Rice Program (NRP) even failed to contribute in the attainment of rice self-sufficiency as it promoted rice varieties commercialized by the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) as these are designed to be cultivated with costly agro-chemical inputs which farmers across the country could ill afford.

The NRP was funded by at least P35 billion from 2011 to 2015. During the same period, the National Food Authority (NFA) was also funded by nearly P20 billion, hence,

adding that to the NRP Budget, would amount to at least P55 billion for the rice program, both in production and distribution.

This huge budget should have been sufficient to feed the Filipino masses.

Based in 2009 government data, utilization per capita reached to 119.92 kilogram per year, but in 2013 it sharply fell to 116.48, or roughly 3.5 kg. For a family of five, it is a fall of near 50 grams per day. With huge budgeting and expectation of improvement, the indicators revealed the opposite.

Under the Duterte administration, the Department of Agriculture is bragging about updating the mapping of agricultural lands in the country, but with the aim of identifying more lands for plantation production.

It has continued the Oil Palm Roadmap of the previous government, targetting 1 million hectares across the country for its production.

The new NFA administration also adopts the neoliberal framework of abandoning the regulation of the rice trade in the country or leaving them to the hands of the private sector and focus heavily in importing rice, as stated in the Philippine Development Plan 2017 – 2022.

The said plan further states its decoupling of its regulatory powers and focus on buffer stock via importing rice. The NFA also cried malevolently of food shortage last year, in a crafty way to justify more rice importation via exacerbated liberalization through private sector-to-private sector (P2P) importation.

Underneath all these, the agency’s palay procurement ranged from 27,000 to 365,000 metric tons, which were actually 0.1% to 2% of the country’s total palay production. Moreover, NFA stock share drastically fell from 1.7 million metric tons in January 2011 to 906,000 metric tons in January 2016, or from 50% of the stock to the minority 28%. But the commercial stock, from only capturing 16%, almost doubled to 30% of the 3.2 million metric tons rice stock in January 2016.

With the NFA accomplishing its neoliberal mission, it abdicated its mission to secure the rice supply PNSFP claimed. it asserted, that with agrarian reform remaining unfulfilled and the agriculture sector shaped into serving the demand of the world market via neoliberal programs and not geared towards attaining food security in the country, the “World Food Day” is actually “World Hunger Day” for marginalized Filipino sectors.

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