GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

After one year in power, it is vital for us Filipinos to pay attention to the performance of the Duterte administration. This is my objective assessment on the current administration’s program on agriculture as a fundamental sector in the country.

Land reform

Land for the farmers remains elusive. After the bogus and pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) expired, there is no existing land reform legislation that favours Filipino farmers. The reality remains — seven out of 10 farmers are landless.

The past and present administrations failed land reform programs that maintain the semi-feudal character of Philippine society, where majority of our country’s land are still owned by few landlord oligarch families like Lorenzo, Cojuangco-Aquino and Floirendo.

In all fairness, the Duterte administration’s effort to provide land for the farmers through Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, the only farmer in Duterte’s cabinet is commendable. However, without genuine land reform legislation, Mariano’s efforts will be minimal.

Add to the fact that the leftist Agrarian Reform Secretary’s appointment remains in limbo as the Commission on Appointment is yet to decide on his confirmation. The pro-farmer stance of Mariano is now being challenged by the landlords through trumped-up charges.

Perhaps some of these blind followers may raise eyebrows and accuse me of being “atat” or impatient. But, no! One year is more than enough to pass legislation in congress. It will not take months or a year for a President to issue an Executive Order to distribute lands to the tillers if he so wishes.

Irrigation

One of the promises at the onset of the Duterte administration was to provide free irrigation for our farmers. Yet until now, there is neither legislation nor a clear guideline on how to do it. The absence of legislation and a clear guideline is now used as a ticket for excuses on the part of Gen. Ricardo Visaya, the administrator of the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), not to provide free irrigation.

Worse, Gen. Visaya has the nerve to ask the farmers to pay a P12.31 billion “debt”. It is adding insult to injury when government push through with this “debt” payment from the farmers. In the first place, it was the past and present administrations’ failure to provide free irrigation. This is the kind of militarist and incompetent administration we have in NIA right now.

The administration’s promise to provide free irrigation was anchored on the reality that irrigation fee is a burden to the Filipino farmers. Free irrigation is still an unfulfilled promise of this administration.

Food sovereignty

One of President Duterte’s campaign promises in February 2016 was to provide food to every Filipino household. This commitment of the Duterte administration was reiterated after the appointment of Manny Piñol as Agriculture Secretary. Despite the press releases of Secretary Piñol, the government still failed to present a comprehensive program to provide food for every Filipino household.

Let us use rice as an example. We welcome the press release of Sec. Piñol to stop rice importation and bust rice cartels. Then, reality strikes. Our buffer stocks is getting drained and we are now threatened by surging prices of rice. Also, the clear divide among government officials on the issue of rice importation remains a challenge.

Another program presented was the resurrection of the MASAGANA program. MASAGANA was first introduced by then President Ferdinand Marcos in his MASAGANA 99 program, that aims to achieve a production of 99 cavans of rice per hectare. The current administration’s MASAGANA 6,000 aims to increase the rice production to six metric-tons of rice produce per hectare. The MASAGANA program is characterized by the high-input agricultural system that entails the heavy use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers for its hybrid programs.

But because it is a high-input farming system, a credit-financing system will be implemented. Instead of providing free subsidies, farmers will be financed through loans. However, the Filipino farmers have had enough of these deceptive financing schemes, which push our farmers to be victimized by usury. It’s like resurrecting Frankenstein in Philippine agriculture.

The economic reform programs like the proposed tax on Asin (salt) will also burden common Filipinos. Talking about food, the government is also planning to impose an excise tax on “salty” foods like sardines and noodles. While it is true that these are not “healthy” foods, but the masses of peasants and workers do not consume these foods by choice. It’s what they can afford to buy.

It must be noted that as long as the economic policies like the “Dutertenomics” (Duterte’s 8-point economic agenda) are subservient to the neo-liberal agenda of capitalist globalization, our country will remain export-oriented and import dependent. Food for every household will remain a broken promise and a mere lip-service.

Plantation expansion

Aside from the troubled rice economy, another problem that the Philippine agriculture is facing right now is the continuing expansion of big agri-business plantations. In Mindanao alone, 500,000 hectares of land are being operated by big agribusiness plantations like TADECO, Lapanday, Del Monte, and SUMIFRU and the current administration has failed to revoke existing programs of plantation expansion.

For example the palm-oil Industry Road Map that targeted 1 Million hectares of land as palm-oil plantations, 98 percent of which will be in Mindanao, and 39 percent in CARAGA region are mostly in farming and lumad communities, while 100,000 hectares will be expanded to ancestral domains in Palawan.

Along with the expansion of plantations comes the continuing destruction of the environment as plantations practice aerial-spraying. The mono-cropping practice in plantations already resulted to the total destruction of the biodiversity in a particular area.

Human rights violations

Within Duterte’s one year in power, 64 farmers have been killed in the country, or 1 farmer gets killed in every two weeks. Our province in Compostela Valley became a hot spot of these killings wherein 10 farmers were killed in 10 months.

Just this week, June 27, 2017 in Barangay LS Sarmiento in Laak town, four farmers were illegally arrested and were accused of being rebels. Even high-profile farmer leaders like Pedro Arnado, Lito Lao, and Jerry Alborme and known rights-activist Hanimay Suazo were arbitrarily detained at the checkpoint in Davao City last June 28, 2017 for “being suspicious-looking”.

The Duterte’s all-out war policy against the communists in February and the declaration of Martial law in Mindanao have a big impact on the increasing number of rights abuses committed by state forces.

Peace talks

Compared to the former administration of President Benigno Aquino, the Duterte administration’s effort in peace negotiations must be given due recognition.

However, as a progressive partylist described the Duterte administration, the president is in a tug of war between reactionaries and progressive forces. The flip-flopping or laban o bawi stance of the administration in previous and recent agreements resulted to setbacks and worse, the cancellation of the supposed 5th round of talks. The warmongering of the US and army generals are obvious efforts to sabotage and destabilize the peace negotiations.

And instead of discussing how to sincerely address the root causes of the armed conflict, the Duterte administration is vent on pushing for the signing of a bilateral ceasefire agreement, veering away from the primacy of the socio-economic reform as the substantial agenda. Socio-economic reforms through land distribution and national industrialization will pave the way for a just and lasting peace, but the administration has refused to acknowledge this reality.

Duterte showed efforts to bring about reforms in the country. However, the substantial change he promised is still far from reality.

It is still in the hands of Duterte to bring to reality the genuine change that he promised. Not fulfilling his promise only show his militarist stance and iron fists to crush the aspiration for land, food and justice of the 16 million strong Filipinos who supported him.

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