The age-old issues affecting the peasantry – landlessness, hunger and poverty – were expectedly the main issues at the rally in observance of Peasant Day last Oct. 21. The protest action, however, also became an occasion to air the growing demand for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
By ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
“She assumed power through a people’s uprising in 2001. But now, the people will boot her out of office for the hardship she has inflicted on us.”
Carmen Buena, chairperson of the peasant women’s group Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women), was obviously referring to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she spoke at a rally in Manila in commemoration of Peasant Day last Oct. 21.
Spearheaded by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement in the Philippines), Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Forces of the Philippine Fisherfolk Movement), Amihan, and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), the Manila rally was attended by more than 3,000 peasants from Southern Tagalog, Central and Northern Luzon, as well as hundreds of activists from other sectoral groups. There were simultaneous mass actions all over the country, involving more than 10,000 activists, the KMP told Bulatlat.
The peasant groups denounced, among others, the government’s plan to privatize the National Food Authority (NFA), an agency mandated to stabilize rice prices.
“Instead of allocating funds to raise the NFA’s capacity to purchase palay at its mandated price for peasant associations and cooperatives, (Macapagal-Arroyo) has aggravated the manipulation of palay prices by landlords, businessmen, and the rice cartel and thereby allowed the further sinking of the peasantry into hunger and poverty,” read a joint statement by the KMP, Pamalakaya, Amihan, and the NFSW.
The NFA currently purchases rice at P10.50 ($0.19, based on an exchange rate of P56.315 per US dollar) per kilo. However, according to KMP chairman Danilo Ramos, the agency has only a one-percent market share due to lack of funds. The palay market, he said in a recent interview with Bulatlat, is controlled by the “rice cartel,” which usually buys palay at only P7.50 ($0.13) a kilo.
Ramos, a farmer from Bulacan, said that because of this farmers usually earn only P2,000 ($35.51) after every harvest season – which, he said, translates to P22 ($0.39) a day until the next harvest season.
According to the National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six living in Metro Manila needs P594 ($10.55) to fulfill food and nonfood requirements.
Meanwhile Elmer Labog, chair of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement), expressed support for the farmers’ demands and lambasted the Macapagal-Arroyo administration for recently reiterating its proposal to impose eight new tax measures that have been already criticized for their being anti-poor.
“President Arroyo pleads for understanding from (the people), and asks us to endure until 2010, which is the deadline for her administration’s MTPDP (Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan). This is great folly! It means we should die for the meantime, and come back to life come 2010,” Labog said in a speech during the rally.
The Oct. 21 rally ended the four-day activity of the progressive peasant movement. Peasant activists and other groups earlier held a vigil at the Department of Agriculture (DA) office in Quezon City starting Oct. 18.
The following day (Oct. 19), accompanied by their mothers and a number of peasant leaders, some 30 children from Hacienda Luisita, a 6,000-hectare sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco family in Tarlac (about two and a half hours north of Manila) picketed the house of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino on Times St., Quezon City to protest the retrenchment on Sept. 30 of 326 workers.
The Hacienda Luisita children and their mothers refuted claims of the management that workers had to be retrenched because the company was losing money. “If the company is indeed losing money, (the Cojuangcos) should just give the land to us so we can tend to it,” said Carina Espino, secretary-general of the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU).
Espino told Bulatlat that Hacienda Luisita has been undergoing land conversion since 1995. Because of this, she said, Hacienda Luisita workers and residents are being displaced.
A million signatures for president’s resignation
On Oct. 20, the peasant protesters held a “Street Conference” as part of the program at the DA office in which, among other things, they launched a “Manila Declaration,” a petition aiming to gather a million signatures for the resignation of Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Based on data from the government itself,” the declaration read, “481,000 peasants and fisherfolks lost their livelihood within just one year, from April last year to April this year.”
At the Oct. 21 rally, Apolinario Alvarez, chairperson of Anakbayan (Nation’s Youth), scored the Macapagal-Arroyo administration for causing the hunger of millions of Filipinos. He also reiterated the Manila Declaration’s call for Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation.
The declaration assailed the anti-peasant and anti-people policies of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, including agricultural trade liberalization and the absence of a genuine agrarian reform program.