Farmers and land reform advocates under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, AMIHAN peasant women federation and Anakpawis Partylist led a picket protest at the Department of Agriculture to call out agri chief Emmanuel ‘Manny’ Pinol on significant issues besetting farmers nationwide.

 

“We are raising important issues to Sec. Pinol. Ever since he became agri chief, he refused to face KMP member-farmers seeking dialogues. Now, we want him to address our demands,” says Danilo Ramos, KMP chairperson.

 

First is the status of the free irrigation services for farmers. The Free Irrigation Services Act lapsed into law without President Duterte’s signature last Jan. 19, 2018. KMP demands the DA and its attached agency National Irrigation Administration to present the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the details and conditionalities of the free irrigation services act.

 

“Providing free irrigation is actually a backlog of the Duterte administration. Now that free irrigation is finally a law, we want it dutifully and fairly implemented so that farmers can benefit from the free irrigation service,” says Antonio Flores, secretary general of KMP.

 

“Based our consultation with farmers organizations nationwide, it was known that NIA is still collecting operation and maintenance (O & M) fees from farmers. We want this clarified because the cost for O & M could be even bigger than the actual fees for irrigation of farms. Besides, NIA has a budget of over P40-billion for this fiscal year that can easily cover or subsidize the cost of O & M.”

 

“A genuine free irrigation would liberate farmers from one layer of burden which is the high cost of irrigation fees,” Flores said.

 

Similar actions demanding for free irrigation are happening in General Santos City and other major urban centers and provinces nationwide.

 

Neglect of farmers’ economic woes

The KMP also pressed Pinol on other issues concerning farmers like the effects of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN). “Farmers are feeling the heavy impact of TRAIN and its consequent new and additional taxes. TRAIN will have an impact on the production cost due to the non-stop increase in oil prices,” says Ramos.

 

“The general upward trend in prices of food, commodities and services will also burden farmers and their families. The increase in cost of living and production will take toll on the livelihood of farmers. Rice and food prices have increased in the past weeks. It is enraging that farmers who produce food cannot anymore afford its cost. Tiyak na sasaklaw pa ang kagutuman na nararanasan ng mga magsasaka. We want to know how DA and Secretary Pinol assist farmers?,” Ramos asked.

 

DA’s part in land grabbing and militarization  

The agency is also under fire for its active promotion of land grabbing of Lumad and indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands. Last week, President Duterte said he would open up Lumad lands to foreign investors.

 

DA, together with NCIP, are tasked to transform vast tribal lands into food production areas. Pinol announced that he already prepared a ‘program for development of Tribal Lands’ called ‘Bantay Kagubatan’ that will produce cacao, coffee, abaca and black pepper.

 

“We cannot allow further land grabbing and encroachment of ancestral lands. Lumad people of Mindanao are fighting life and death to defend their lands. They are resisting militarization of communities.”

 

“Lumad and indigenous peoples have their own way of life and food production. This Bantay Kagubatan program is land grabbing in disguise. DA wants to enter the lush and productive lands of indigenous peoples to produce cash crops and export crops, not food crops for the tribal community and consumers.”

 

KMP also demanded the DA to explain why its affiliate agency, the National Food Authority (NFA), is requiring its officials and employees to accomplish affiliation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. DA-affiliated agency, National Food Authority, is requiring its employees and officials to accomplish affiliation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines, virtually forcing NFA personnel to become intelligence agents of the military.

 

In a memo 0062 issued by NFA Human Resources Division, it asked its officials and employees to accomplish and submit an information sheet by January 31, 2018 for affiliation to the AFP. “NFA is mandated to ensure the country’s food sufficiency. Why is it requiring its personnel to be affiliates of the military? NFA affiliation with the AFP would make NFA personnel nationwide as auxiliary intelligence agents for the AFP’s militarization campaign.

 

KMP challenged Secretary Pinol to an immediate dialogue to discuss the abovementioned issues raised by farmers. ###