Unity Statement of the Visayas Rural Poor Summit of the Lakbayan ng Visayas 2017

October 18, 2017

Cebu City, Philippines

The islands of the Visayas like the rest of the Philippines, are blessed with abundant natural wealth. Fertile fields yield a generous harvest of rice, corn, sugarcane, fruits, vegetables and other crops. Our seas provide us with a rich bounty of fish and other aquatic resources.

But these riches are not enjoyed by millions of small farmers, fisherfolk and agriculture workers, the vast majority of Visayans, who are deep in poverty.

80% of arable lands are controlled by landlords who keep most of the harvest as land rent. Big commercial fishing vessels encroach   on municipal waters leaving small-scale fisher folks with less than 5 kilos of fish caught a day. Seasonal workers, the sacadas, in sugar haciendas endure backbreaking work for a measly wage of P100 a day for men while women receive a lower wage of P80. Their situation gets even worse during Tiempo Muerto, the period between planting and harvesting, when work in the hacienda dries up leaving them without any means of livelihood. They are forced to drift to the cities in search of work.

Those who do have land to till as tenants or smallholders struggle to make it productive. They have little access to farm machinery and post-harvest facilities and their meagre income can barely shoulder the cost of fertilizer, seed, plant medicine, and other inputs. The payment of irrigation service fees are an addition to the already burdensome operation costs, although irrigation services have now been made free the National Irrigation Administration continues to collect unpaid back accounts. To cover production costs, farmers need to borrow money but without sufficient access to credit they become prey to usurers.

Because of their poverty and social marginalization, the rural poor are most vulnerable to disasters. It has been 4 years since Typhoon Yolanda devastated the provinces of Eastern Visayas but until now they have yet to fully recover. The criminal neglect of the government in the relief of affected communities has been compounded by the gross mismanagement of the rehabilitation as typhoon survivors live in substandard shelters despite the billions of pesos appropriated for reconstruction.

The government agrarian reform program that was supposed to distribute land to landless tillers and provide support services to help them make their land productive is a failure. Landlords exploited loopholes purposely included in the law to evade coverage of their lands, to prevent the installation of agrarian reform beneficiaries, and the distribution of haciendas.

The Department of Agrarian Reform was indifferent to the farmers’ struggle for land until the appointment of a peasant leader, Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, as DAR Secretary. He opened DAR to the farmers and moved to prevent land use conversion, installed agrarian reform beneficiaries, and pushed for genuine agrarian reform through free land distribution. However, landlords and their allies in Congress maneuvered to have Mariano rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

Instead of addressing the plight of the rural poor, successive administrations stuck faithfully to US-dictated neoliberal policies of liberalization, privatization, and deregulation that expanded their exploitation by an oligarchy of foreign capitalists, local big businessmen, and landlord hacienderos.

In the name of encouraging investment, massive land use conversion drives farmers and fisherfolk from their homes and deprives them of their livelihood. Others are swindled or pressured to convert their crops from growing food to cash crops that enrich traders and agri-corporations but leave farmers in debt and without a source of food. An example of this is Massive projects such as the Jalaur Megadam in the island of Panay displaces farmers and indigenous people in the name of “development.”

Trade liberalization paved the way for the untrammeled importation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as a sugar substitute driving down sugar prices leaving countless sugar plantation workers jobless.

The Duterte administration, in spite of its boast that “change is coming,” ignored the needs of the broad masses in the countryside who propelled him to office. He has rehashed the old neoliberal dogma into his ambitious Build-Build-Build program that aims to usher a “golden age of infrastructure” that will facilitate the exploitation of the countryside by foreign capital and displace innumerable farmers and fisherfolk.

The P8 trillion budget for this program will be financed by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) which was railroaded by his supermajority in Congress. TRAIN places the tax burden on ordinary citizens as its excise taxes on oil and sugar-sweetened beverages will drive up prices of basic commodities. Meanwhile, taxes on big corporations and the rich will be reduced.

These neoliberal policies drive the Visayan rural poor deeper into poverty. The Philippine Statistics Authority reports that farmers and fisher folks are already the poorest sectors with poverty incidences of 34.3% and 34%, respectively. Also, three of the country’s poorest provinces are in the Visayas: Eastern Samar with 59.4%, Negros Oriental with 45.3% and Northern Samar with 43.7% poverty incidence.

Faced with glaring inequalities, the rural masses of Visayans drew on their rich historical experience of resistance against oppression. They have organized farmers associations, labor unions, fisherfolk organizations and other progressive groups to defend their rights and advance their economic and political interests. They have launched mass actions, land occupations, and bungkalan to resist fascism and end hunger and poverty.

The people’s resistance for their legitimate demands, however, was met by militarization and human rights violations seen by the appalling killings of leaders and members of progressive organizations in the Visayas and the rest of the country.

After proclaiming himself a “socialist’ and “leftist,” Duterte has turned to the right, evident in at least 60 former military men appointed in different executive functions and advisory posts. He has purged his cabinet from progressive and patriotic secretaries serving the people like Gina Lopez of DENR, Judy Taguiwalo of DSWD and Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano of DAR. He has surrounded himself with representatives of big business, landlords and militarists.

He has now declared three wars against the people he swore to serve – the war against drug, against people he calls terrorists, and against those he considers rebels.

The war against drugs has become a war against the poor who are killed without being given the chance to answer accusations in court. Meanwhile, rich businessmen and government officials accused of involvement in illegal drugs, including members of the President’s family, enjoy due process and presumption of innocence.

The war against terrorism has become a war against the Moro people who suffer discrimination and violence under the Martial Law regime in Mindanao. Their rights have been drastically curtailed and their communities mercilessly destroyed.

The indifference to violence and the expansive culture of impunity generated by these wars have been used to fuel the war against progressive organizations whose legitimate grievances are negated by being tagged as armed rebels. All over the Visayas, military and police operations have terrorized and victimized farmers, community organizers and mass leaders through harassment, vilification, red-tagging and killings.

 

In Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, there were 8 killings of leaders and members of progressive organizations in just two months. The series of killings and threats against farmer’s organizations and their supporters created an atmosphere of terror in the city. Harassment of farmer leaders even reaches social media where they are falsely Meanwhile, there has been no action from the police to solve or give lead to the series of killings. The culture of impunity reigns and sows fear among the people.

 

In Bohol, the provincial peasant federation Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL) – has been the target of harassment and vilification. Since February, there were 27 documented cases of human rights violations including abductions, arbitrary detention, restriction of mass actions, and posting of military encampments in civilian areas. These are all perpetrated by the 47th IB of the Philippine Army, Philippine National Police, with full support and cooperation of the provincial government’s Countryside Development Program-Purok Power Movement under the counter-insurgency program of Oplan Kapayapaan.

 

In Eastern Visayas, soldiers encamp in barangay halls in Albuera, Basey, Calbiga and other towns. The encamped soldiers are perpetrators of threats, intimidation, and sexual harassments against minors on communities where progressive groups are active. Livelihood of farmers and members of local peasant organization have been impaired since they opted to discontinue going to their farms because of previous experiences of harassment and torture once they are seen alone in the field.

 

In response to these grave social injustices, we, farmers, farm workers, fisherfolk, peasant women and youth, representing the rural poor of the Visayas stand in solidarity against massive hunger and escalating fascism and demand for the following calls:

Stop Killing our Farmers!

 

Dismantle the Hacienda System!

 

Stop Land Use Conversion!

 

End Martial Law and Fascism!

 

End Oligarchy of Big Landlords and Compradors!

 

End the Neoliberal Policy of the US-Duterte Regime!

 

Struggle for Genuine Agrarian Reform and National Industrialization!

 

 

 

 

For the Rural Poor of the Visayas,

 

 

National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW)

 

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Cebu (KMP-Cebu)

 

Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL)

 

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Negros (KMP-Negros)

 

Kahugpungan Alang sa Ugma sa Gagmayng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (KAUGMAON)

 

Paghungpong sang Mangunguma sang Panay kag Guimaras (PAMANGGAS)

 

SAGUPA-SB