Cebu City – The city has not witnessed anything like this in years that Cebuanos – motorists, ordinary folk and other onlookers along the streets of downtown Cebu could not help but stare at the sight of more than 2,000 farmers marching with banners and red flags.
The street demonstrations and “salubungan” (welcome) of delegates to the Lakbayan ng Visayas may have interrupted Cebu City’s usual routine yesterday in far more profound ways, said John Lozande, Secretary General of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
Police reported that the protests caused minor traffic in this city’s major thoroughfares.
“What we are witnessing is the naked power of our working people – farmers long-oppressed by the hacienda system, mill workers, contractual laborers, our jeepney drivers, coming together to air their demands against a populist President who reneged on his promise of change,” said Lozande.
The start of the Visayas Lakbayan coincided with the second day of a nationwide transport strike to oppose government moves for a jeepney phase-out.
Farmers under the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) have openly declared support for jeepney drivers and small operators even as local peasant organizations launched distinct mass actions all over the country airing equally legitimate demands as part of #LakbayMagsasaka activities this October, which is considered “peasant month.”
“Duterte’s own pronouncements are exposing himself to be a despicable tyrant,” said Lozande, referring to President Duterte’s insensitive statements addressed to protesting jeepney drivers and their supporters. Duterte reportedly suggested that “the poor must be left alone to fend for themselves.”
The Lakbayan ng Visayas is an inter-island protest caravan against hunger and state fascism. Negros farmworkers under UMA and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) are among the thousands of peasants who converged in Cebu yesterday.
Farmers decried that they are witnessing both hunger and brutal repression under the Duterte regime. In Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental, 8 farmers became victims of political killings from July to September alone, due to Duterte’s all-out war policy.
Today, the farmers will hold a Visayas Rural Poor Summit. UMA said that among the issues that must be decisively addressed is the plight of Negros farmworkers who experience extreme hunger during the tiempo muerto (dead season) or off-milling season in the sugar industry.
NFSW is also campaigning for a P50 increase in farmworkers’ daily wages, and 50% increase in the pakyaw (group wage) rates in sugar areas.
“Duterte must listen to working people’s woes,” said Lozande. “The iron-fist, scorched earth policy that Duterte employs to address the roots of discontent and strife in the country will only further isolate his regime.”
The Lakbayan ng Visayas peasant camp-out at Plaza Independencia will go on until October 20.
Meanwhile, KMP member-organizations from Mindanao, Bicol, Southern Tagalog, North and Central Luzon regions, are preparing for the Pambansang Lakbayan ng Magsasaka para sa Lupa at Laban sa Pasismo or #LakbayMagsasaka which will culminate in protests in Manila from October 23-25.