GREEN MINDED: Thoughts on Philippine Agriculture Today

For more than twenty years since the Philippines ratified its membership at the World Trade Organization (WTO) the already backward Philippine agricultural economy suffered more and more defeats.

Perhaps the present generation of the Filipino youth are not familiar with WTO, Globalization and Neo-Liberalism, except for economics student and privileged few. Fewer can provide a comprehensive analysis in context vis-à-vis with the prevailing social realities of the Philippines.

In order to give a relatively simpler picture of neo-liberal capitalism, the movie Snowpiercer can be of great help. Yes, capitalism provides nothing but a boxed consciousness of order, similar to the train in the movie. A promise of maintaining “order” at the expense of alienating and suffering of the people at the tail of the train—lower class citizens, while providing lavish lifestyle for the exploiting classes.

WTO as an economic organization facilitates trading between countries in a grand scheme to create global markets, providing the illusion of specialization and healthy competition through free-market and free-trade. For example, Vietnam and Thailand will be the rice basket of the world, Philippines will specialize in producing bananas, tunas and a few more goods.

The “free-market” idea is too good to be true under WTO of monopoly-capitalism. Industrialized countries dictate the fate of third-world countries. It was a scheme to create junkyards of surplus and sources of cheap raw materials and cheapest labor.

Contextualizing Philippine Agriculture

Land is one of the most vital component in agriculture, though some populist may not agree with this and argue about intensified gardening, vertical gardening and aquaponics. Praxis disproves such populist idea. It is beyond debate that land is vital in agriculture, more so, land possession and sufficient support system to our famers favor a productive agricultural economy.

However, the predominant landlessness of Filipino farmers hinders such productive and prosperous harvest. Seven out of ten farmers remain landless, four of which were tied with credits of high interest from usurer-landlords.

Despite of the past and the present administrations’ claim that the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and its succeeding reforms and extensions (CARPER) distribute lands to the landless Filipino farmers, yet the glaring reality disproves such claims.

Hacienda Luisita is a testament as how PD 27, CARP and CARPER failed our people. These land reform programs apparently serve the interest of the local ruling elite, landlords, plantations of bourgeois compradors and foreign companies.

Despite of the high court’s ruling to distribute lands, gunfire and bullets were given to the poor Farmers. During the 2010 presidential elections campaign, Aquino promised to distribute Hacienda Luisita, and until now that his inutile term is about to end, lands for the farmer were still to no avail. The long history of land struggle in the country asserts that landlessness is the base of feudal exploitation and denudation of a sustainable agriculture system.

Colonization and Destruction of Sustainable Agriculture

The backward agriculture system perpetuates an economy that depends on import and oriented in exportation. I have nothing against with trading between countries, however, designing an economy that is import dependent and export oriented is not good at all.

The popular notion that inequality is pre-determined and the elementary economic belief that resources are scarce were actually not true at all. Tracing the agricultural landscape of pre-colonial Philippines we can surmise that we already have a sustainable one. The basic need for food was actually being addressed by the vast resources and fair distribution among tribesmen. Technological advancement with the use of indigenous knowledge uplifted agricultural production back then, from simple farm implements to complex rice terraces. We used to have a sustainable agriculture system.

The history of destruction in our country’s sustainable agricultural system can be traced during the Spanish colonization era. When the Spaniards declare their dominion over our lands through the Encomienda System, among other impositions in order to serve the interest of the colonial Spain. The encomienda system was the formalized land grabbing scheme of our Spanish colonizers.

When the Manila-Acapulco trading was established, the subsequent attacks from pirates raise the demands for more exports on agricultural produce like the famous Manila hemp, sugar, tobacco, among others. Such increasing demands resulted to the imposition of the Hacienda System that aims to increase productivity through mono-cropping in large farmlands or Haciendas. In order to provide enough labor force for the haciendas, polo y cervicios or forced labor policy was imposed.

There are two main points with regard to the Hacienda System and its subsequent forced labor policy: (1) mono-cropping paved the way for large-scale destruction of the relatively sustainable agricultural system, (2) massive dislocation of farmers who served as mere farmworkers under severe exploitation and destitute conditions in various haciendas.

Neo-Colonization and Import Dependent Export Oriented Economy

After the first national democratic revolution of 1896 succeeded in defeating our Spanish colonizers, industrializing countries that time expand their territories in order to have new markets for their surplus products and of course to outsource cheap labor and raw materials for their production. French colonized Indochina, Britain colonized India, and US colonized Philippines.

After the Second World War, super power nations agreed to divide the world in particular pushed for subdivisions of territories: colonial or neo-colonial in form. In our case, there was a nominal independence. We have a “sovereign” state and “democratic” constitution but we do not have freedom from colonial impositions. Philippines is a neo-colony.

Destruction of local productivity and the Lack of Sustainability

One glaring reality in re-affirming the neo-colonial character of Philippine society is its membership in WTO in 1994. With WTO our economy suffered more defeats, especially in the agriculture sector.

Prior to our country’s membership in WTO, we have a relatively sustainable or at least a relatively wider variety of agricultural produce. For example the Ilocos region produces garlic and onion, the great plains of central Luzon, Cotabato provinces and the Mindoro Island produces rice, and so on.

Our vegetable industry for example suffered a decline in production. Comparing the gross earnings of the vegetable industry, from 1981-1990 the annual average earnings pegged at around 15% while in the period of 1991-1997 the annual average earnings reduced to only 7.8%. The decline in production can be attributed with the impositions and restrictions brought by WTO.

Every year we experience surging prices of basic commodities. Last year we experienced the unparalleled increase on the price of garlic. The price of imported garlic significantly surged as high as P400 per kilo. The case of the garlic industry is also reflective of the ill-effects of WTO. Importation of garlic leads to unstable prices, dependent garlic economy and total destruction of sustainability and self-reliance.

For more than twenty years, the promises of WTO of mono-capitalist free trade remains elusive, as it becomes clearer and clearer that the critics of WTO prior to our membership was right about this. The left was right that WTO will only bring destruction to our agricultural economy.

We spent the last twenty years of wasted agriculture under WTO, and I think it is about time to spend the next twenty years or so in the struggle to rebuild a sustainable Philippine agriculture. With much certainty that the left is right, the best way out is through the national democratic struggle.

There is a great need to go against neo-colonization of WTO of monopoly-capitalism. Similar to the final scenes of the film Snowpiercer, there’s life after the final battle—dare to struggle, dare to win!

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