October is Peasant Month. It is only when I started volunteering for Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, and eventually Rural Women Advocates, that I learned about this. There is a month when we can pay tribute to our farmers and fisherfolk, our food security frontliners. As young children, we only remember our farmers when we celebrate Buwan ng Wika and sing “Magtanim Ay Di Biro,” wearing straw hats and camisa de chino.
The song is correct, farming is no easy feat. Today, farmers are reeling from the militarist lockdown implemented by the regime during the height of the pandemic. On top of that, they lost P75 Billion a year after RA 11203 or Rice Liberalization Act was implemented.
“Maghapong nakayuko,” or better yet, our farmers have been breaking their back for centuries because of the hacienda system and neoliberal policies. Farmgate prices of palay in Davao, South and North Cotabato, Agusan del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Caraga plummeted to P11 – P15 per kilo. It is lower in provinces like Nueva Ecija, Tarlac, Isabela, Bicol, Bulacan, Pangasinan, Mindoro, Ilocos Sur and Negros Occidental with prices between P10 to P14 per kilo.
“Di man lang makaupo, di man lang makatayo.” This is because there is no real and sustainable support for our farmers. The government offers loans to our farmers via the RCEF or Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. Do farmers really need more loans when we know that they are already buried in debt? Farmers have to produce around P30,000 per hectare for land preparation, land rent, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, planting, harvesting, and post-harvesting tasks.
This month, we can only truly pay tribute to our farmers by signing the online petition against Rice Liberalization Law. According to Amihan, “A main feature of the RA 11203 was the repeal of the significant mandate of the National Food Authority (NFA) for “integrated growth and development” of the national rice industry, or set the “floor price” for harvested palay, to ensure fair returns to the rice farmers, and control rice stocks to stabilize the farm gate and retail prices; and the sole power to import rice from other countries.” All these important functions for the national rice industry were surrendered to the private sector, dominated by foreign monopoly import traders and local big palay traders. Therefore, they are able to dictate low farm gate prices, and high retail prices, both detrimental to the poor rice farmers and consumers in the country.
In an agricultural country like ours, the biggest budget must be allotted to the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Agrarian Reform. Right now, for every P100 budget, only P2.00 is allotted for agriculture and production. For every P1.00 budget for agriculture, there is P4.00 for the police and military.
Now that we are under a pandemic, is it not more beneficial and logical to invest on our food instead of red tagging? NTF-ELCAC or National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict must use their P19.1 billion budget to the production of food and full subsidy of rice production.
“Magpanibago tayo ng lakas, para sa araw ng bukas!” All sectors must push for genuine agrarian reform where farmers can finally have their own land. Only then can we have food security and food sovereignty. The government must provide 100% free irrigation and sustainable production subsidies. More than relaxing the requirement for moisture content, the National Food Authority must make machineries and post-harvest facilities readily available for our farmers.
Our farmers feed the entire nation, yet the government displaces them as it continues to convert agricultural lands into commercial lands. This is why everyone must join the call for land, food, and justice. We must continue pushing for House Bill 477 or Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA), and pressure the government to procure 20% of the total production of our farmers. This month, let us take protest selfies calling for “Presyo ng Palay, Itaas! Presyo ng Bigas Ibaba!” for the welfare and interests of both poor rice farmers and us, consumers. Finally, sustained research and development for organic production must also take place. This is an effective means to cut down costs and dependence on imported agro-chemical input and to preserve the environment. (davaotoday.com)
Rae Rival writes and does volunteer work for Gantala Press and Rural Women Advocates. She is a teacher and a mother. Her stories, poems, and essays have appeared in CNN Philippines, Rappler, Voice and Verse Poetry Magazine (Hong Kong), Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, university presses, and do-it-yourself zines.