“Kawitang palakol” and “gawat” are terms that refer to times when food is scarce, usually the weeks before harvest season when the farmers have spent all their money on fertilizers and pesticides and harvest time is still far away. The considerable increases in the prices of farm inputs and terribly low price of palay ((unmilled rice) have however made the whole year a period of “gawat” for the Filipino farmers.
By DABET CASTAÑEDA
Celestino Ariel, 60, started farming at the age of 18. His family is a tenant, tilling a three-hectare farm in Barangay (village) San Roque, Naic in Cavite province, 39 kms south of Manila.
To work their land, Mang Celestino borrowed P12,000 (US$214.29 at US$1=PhP56) from a local money lender. The contract he signed stated he should pay one cavan of palay per P1,000 he borrowed in addition to the whole amount loaned.
The amount he borrowed however was barely enough to shoulder all expenses: farm inputs at P6,230, labor cost from planting to harvesting at P 4,575, and rental of farm equipment at P1,500 – totaling P12,305.
When harvest season came, Mang Celestino’s one hectare reaped a total of 80 sacks of palay. He used the 10 cavans to pay the thresher operator and another 15 cavans to pay the farm workers who helped harvest his products. He also paid P200 to the neighbors who helped him carry the products home (hakot).
Less the 12 cavans he needed to give to the moneylender in addition to the P 12,000 he borrowed, Mang Celestino was left with exactly 33 cavans.
However, because of the very low farm gate price – P7 per kilo or P175 at 25 kilos per cavan – he was left with only a total of P7,525. He was P4,475 short for his P12,000 loan.
Mang Celestino said he had to borrow money from his 80-year-old mother, Maria, to add to his loan payment.
Mira Luna Varon, 50, a widow with four children, is a former settler in the uplands of western Tarlac, 109 kms north of Manila. Her family used to till six hectares of land. In an interview with Bulatlat, Aling Mira said she and her neighbors were given a stewardship of the land they occupied by the local government in 1990. Harvests then were good because they had enough land to till, she said.
In 1998, Aling Mira said the provincial government under Gov. Arturo Yap took around 200 hectares of land in the mountains, including Aling Mira’s. Aling Mira and her family were then driven out to look for land to till in the lowlands. Aling Mira found a hectare of idle land which, after being cleared of tall grasses, has served as her family’s source of livelihood and where their new home stands.
All of Aling Mira’s children have graduated from high school and as much as she wants to send them to college, they are now all tied up in farm production. “Wala rin akong pera na ipampapa-aral sa kanila” (I have no money to send them to school), she said.
The fear of being evicted again from the land they are tilling is very intense for the family since they do not have a land title. “Wala kaming kasiguruhan dito” (We have no security here), she said.
Meanwhile, not far from Aling Mira’s land is the land being tilled by Bella Reyla. Aling Bella is tilling a hectare of land owned by Paulino Rela, a small landowner who owns eight hectares of farmland.
Their landlord-tenant relationship is what they call buwisan: the landowner gets 25 percent of the total production while the tiller gets 75 percent but shoulders all the production cost.
Aling Mira and Aling Bella are not alone in their plight. Research by the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) shows that 70 percent of farmers nationwide are landless.
Agricultural production in the Philippines remains agonizingly backward to this day. Although big agriculture-based corporations – such as canned pineapple producer Dole-Philippines in Cagayan de Oro, southern Philippines or the sugar producer Hacienda Luisita Incorporated in Tarlac – use high-tech machinery for their farm production and harvesting, the lowly Filipino farmers continue to make do with the age-old plow and slow-paced carabao.
Meanwhile, harvesting is still done by hand, using hand-held sickle. Later, the palay grains are spread on cemented ground and dried slowly under the sun.