BY TRINA FEDERIS
Peasants are usually depicted as a hardworking people, perpetually hunched over their crops, their limbs half-buried in mud. Under the scorching heat of the sun, or the lashings of the rain, they stay on, either protecting their crops, or harvesting. But who will protect this neglected sector when the powerful come to take their livelihood away? Collective action!
Mang Felix Paz is the chair of the Bicol chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement). His main duty is to help the peasants in the various difficulties they encounter. Difficulties include the landlords’ seizure of the land the peasants work on, and the problem of how to increase their agricultural produce.
Of course, he also organizes fellow peasants so that the struggle for the ownership of the land they are working on will reach its ultimate goal.
Although there has been a constant spate of peasant-killings, he says he is no longer afraid. Being as old as he is (he does not specify what his age is), he no longer thinks of what will happen to him, but what will happen to those he leaves behind if he stops.
“Ayaw kong danasin ng mga anak ko ang pinagdadaanan ko ngayon” (I don’t want my children to go through the same experience that I did), he says. He cites his children as his constant source of inspiration.
But he does not want to stop at that. “Hindi lang kayo ang gusto kong matulungan… gusto ko matulungan lahat… bakit, pag ang pamilya ko lang ang tinutulungan ko, tahimik ba?” (You are not the only ones I want to help… I want to help everyone… Why, if I only help my family, will there be peace?)
Victories, big and small
There have been rewards, he says. There was one case wherein the palay (rice) crops they have taken cared of for one season was already nearing its ripe stage, when the landlords’ men decided that it was an opportune time to bulldoze the whole field. Everyone, including old men and women, small children, even pregnant mothers, quickly proceeded to the field to link arms and block the bulldozers’ path. They were successful; seeing that there was no way he can get past the blockade, the operator turned back.
There are other smaller victories. Mang Felix cites the case of a kasama (tenant), who migrated from the Visayas region to Bicol because there was scarcity of food there. When he arrived in Bicol, he was as hungry as before. Mang Felix taught him to plant other crops besides palay, and take care of livestock, as well as make a pond for tilapia (St. Peter’s fish). In the meantime, he relied on food voluntarily given by other peasants who are relatively well-off, or had a bountiful harvest, or who also had fishponds or livestock. Mang Felix recalls this story with glee, as he remembers that this kasama had a stomachache afterwards because his stomach wasn’t used to so much food.
He no longer thinks that the result of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is promising. “Bakit hindi nila sabihin kung ilang milyon o hectares ang nabawi? (Why don’t they reveal how many millions or hectares have already been recovered?) This is in response to the report that the government has already recovered millions of hectares, and is in the process of giving it to the farmers.
He also reiterates that he has not heard of a farmer actually receiving the CLOA (Certificate of Land Ownership Agreement) of the land he is working on. “Tanungin mo yung mga magsasaka kung sino sa kanila ang nakatanggap” (Ask the farmers who has received any CLOA), he dares.
He also shares a case in Rapu-Rapu, Albay, where there was a celebration because the farmers where to be handed their CLOAs in 2001. There was a stage built for the occasion, and there was TV coverage. The leader of the farmers in the area was to go up the stage, receive the CLOAs from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, shake her hand, then go down. After the whole ceremony, after the cameras had been packed up, he was told to return the CLOAs.
When asked what happened next, Mang Felix shrugged his shoulders and said no one complained. Prodded further for the reason, it was because the organization then in that area was still weak; they were still not united, he says.