We must demand for a pro-farmer leader
For the past year, our Filipino farmers have endured countless calamities — typhoons, the COVID-19 pandemic, and backward government policies — which left them struggling until this day to make ends meet. The Philippine agricultural sector continues to be stagnant despite its crucial role as the backbone of the economy as farmers remain poor and marginalized under the Duterte regime. And it has become so labor-intensive and economically unrewarding to the point that most Filipino farmers do not aspire their children to become farmers.
In line with the National Peasants’ Month this October, we witness politicians and prominent personalities left and right declaring and filing for their candidacy for the 2022 elections. As early as this month, they are starting to forward their campaigns and promises as they vie for key electoral positions. In commemoration of the struggles of our Filipino farmers and agricultural workers who continue to provide food on our table, we must clamor for pro-farmer leaders: leaders who will reinvigorate the agriculture sector by forwarding progressive economic policies. Hence, we demand our candidates to stand firm with our farmers towards a more robust agricultural economy.
When he was still campaigning for the 2016 elections, Duterte presented himself as a leader for the farmers. However, his fixation over his anti-poor drug war and silencing the administration’s dissenters left our farmers to remain one of the poorest sectors of Philippine society. The Philippine Statistics Authority reported in 2018 that farmers tallied a 31.6 percent poverty rate, the highest compared to other sectors like our fishermen and rural area residents. The COVID-19 pandemic further unraveled the Duterte administration’s neglect of the agriculture sector as it became obsessed with instilling an oppressive and militaristic approach to the pandemic instead of providing economic relief to our impoverished farmers and agriculture workers. The enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the empowerment of the NTF-ELCAC are just some of the clear manifestations that Duterte has always been a fascist leader — one that is never for farmers.
Duterte has always highlighted in his State of the Nation Addresses the need to extend aid for our farmers, even emphasizing that a robust agricultural sector is key to our economic development. The figures under this “Duterte legacy,” however, tells a different story. Since 2016, 321 peasant farmers have been killed nationwide. Moreover, peasant women group Amihan reported state-sponsored attacks to our peasant women in the form of red-tagging, extrajudicial killings, and imprisonment over trumped-up charges with 63 out of 80 peasant women political prisoners arrested under the current administration. The Duterte administration’s persecution of our peasants and farmers over the clamor against landlessness, lack of financial aid, and neoliberal policies instead of addressing them is a testament of how Duterte continues to neglect — worse, kill — the agricultural sector.
Aside from neglect and oppression, the government continues to marginalize our agricultural sector with neoliberal policies which leave our farmers in a cycle of poverty. The implementation of RA 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law has compelled our farmers to sell their produce for as low as 12 pesos per kilo because the government removed restrictions on rice importations from foreign markets. This way, at least 160 billion pesos was lost in the farming industry according to Cathy Estavilo of Amihan. Furthermore, farmers’ group Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan) secretary-general Danny Carranza pointed out that the budget for agrarian reform implementation is low as he called to assess the effectiveness of Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). More than this, the government has not yet implemented a target for the land distribution since 2016, leaving most of our farmers landless; thus, keeping them from getting out of poverty.
If the government continues to neglect the plight of our peasant farmers and if they insist on silencing the clamor of the agricultural sector for genuine land and agrarian reform, we Filipinos are bound to pay the price. If our future leaders fail to extend help to the very hands that feed us, the other Philippine industries would follow suit and meet an inevitable death. That is why as early as now, we must demand that our election candidates prioritize the agricultural sector as the center of their economic development plan.
In electing our future leaders, we must never settle for another face of the Duterte legacy: full of neglect and indifference towards the struggle of our farmers. Rather, we must elect a leader who would genuinely represent and amplify the voices of our peasant farmers, someone who would recognize the struggles they face in the current political and economic system.
We must, furthermore, elect leaders who would protect and strengthen our agricultural sector towards national industrialization. In line with this, Carranza calls on our presidential candidates to “reconsider the liberalization of agri-trade and to protect small food producers against food importation.” Meanwhile, we must demand genuine agrarian reform now for the betterment of the Filipino peasantry. We must continue to advocate for land redistribution for our farmers, higher prices for local produce and lower interest rates, and ultimately an end to the impunity the current administration commits to our farmers.
The agricultural sector, as premised above, is the backbone of our economy. Thus, we must never let it get crippled with the machinery of the current fascist regime that favors the interests of imperialist countries. As the election season unfolds, we must remain vigilant and make ourselves informed about what our aspiring leaders campaign and fight for. We must continue to engage and forward the calls of the Filipino peasantry and never let any candidate continue the Duterte legacy of neglect and oppression towards our farmers. We must be critical of the leader that we choose to support as the leader we choose may dictate whether or not the hands that feed us would get to eat for one more day.