Injustice, killings, government neglect of agriculture mark this year’s Peasant Month – Karapatan

“We commemorate peasant month with a firm  recognition for all the peasant leaders who were killed by the Duterte government for upholding the call for genuine agrarian reform. We honor the lives of peasant organizers and peasant leaders who stood strong amid State fascism and militarization in their communities. Our farmers are among the most neglected and marginalized sector in the country. Their resistance to governments who continue to perpetuate injustice and violations is justified and necessary. We echo their call for justice, food sovereignty and genuine agrarian reform,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

According to Karapatan, of the 266 documented political killings under the Duterte government as of June 2019, 216 are farmers.  The rights group mentioned the names of several peasant leaders and organizers who were killed under the Duterte government, including Jimmy Saypan, Alexander Ceballos, couple Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla, Vivencio Sahay, Eleuterio Moises, and brothers Edgardo and Ismael Avelino, among others. 

“We remember their names; we remember the cause with which they gave their lives for. We likewise remember the perpetrators whom we will hound until justice is served,” Palabay added.

The Karapatan official likewise emphasized the continuing government neglect on the plight of farmers: “From the bukbok rice to the rice tarrification law, there seems to be an unlimited source of solutions that totally miss the target. Even the government recognizes that agriculture has slowed down in the 2nd quarter of this year, with declines noted in the growth of palay and sugarcane, among others. Instead of supporting agriculture and farmers that will yield a more sustainable solution to the food insecurity in the country, the Duterte regime is instead killing agriculture. Those who fight and resist, those farmers are killed too,” she added.

Palabay also slammed the passage and implementation of the Rice Tarrification Law which brought down the farm gate prices of palay and copra to an eight-year low. The law removes volume restrictions on the rice imports and allows unlimited rice importation in the country. Reports from the Philippine Statistics Authority confirmed that as of October, the palay is now only priced at an average of PhP 15 per kilogram. Farmers from other regions have had it much worse, with Bulacan reporting that buying price in the province was only PhP10 per kilo.

“The rice tarrification law is another nail in the coffin for farmers already drowning in debt, bogus land reform laws, and years of government neglect. It is important to note that rice imported from other ASEAN countries are cheaper precisely because their agricultural sector receive billions in subsidy. Our local farmers do not have that kind of support, which is further aggravated by price manipulation and the existence of rice cartel,” explained Palabay.

“We are very far from achieving food sovereignty because our government keeps taking steps backward for the agriculture sector. Worse, farmers in rural areas have to beg government for support, especially during disasters such as flood or El Nino. Our farmers are key for sustainability in the agricultural sector, but they are undermined and their legitimate demands are met with bullets. Politicians mock farmers for their lack of technical expertise in business, but it is the lives, sacrifices, and practical knowledge of farmers who can feed a nation,” Palabay concluded.