The government-backed anti-insurgency war and the plunder of public funds have worsened poverty and terror among rural folk, said the “Tagaytay 5”, a group of five detained peasant advocates.
BY DENNIS ESPADA
The government-backed anti-insurgency war and the plunder of public funds have worsened poverty and terror among rural folk.
This was stated by five detained peasant advocates collectively known as the “Tagaytay 5” during a hearing by the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture held on Aug. 23 at Camp Vicente Lim in Canlubang, Laguna, as part of the inquiry on the controversial P728-million ($14.16 million based on an exchange rate of $1:P51.38) fertilizer fund “scam” allegedly machinated by former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “Joc-joc” Bolante.
Suffering more than a hundred days in captivity, the Tagaytay 5 – Riel Custodio, Michael Masayes, Axel Alejandro Pinpin, Aristedes Sarmiento and Enrico Ybañez – are facing charges of rebellion.
Wearing orange-colored shirts imprinted with a text that read “Free All Political Prisoners,” the five met with Senators Ma. Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal and Ramon Magsaysay Jr.,who chairs the committee. The five political detainees personally requested the senators to “intervene meaningfully” on their behalf and that of their families, and cause their “release in cognizance to the custody to the proper Senate office.”
Three of the accused are agriculturists and organizers of farmers’ associations in Cavite working for agrarian reform programs. They testified that during the election campaign in 2004, some local politicians promised to give farmers hundreds of bags of fertilizers coming from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Malacañang. But not a single bag ever came, they said.
Farm gate prices of coffee and mill gate prices of sugar, they said, significantly dropped due to the adverse effects of the government’s allegiance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), which slashed tariffs and allowed huge importation of cheap products. This resulted to farmers’ loss of income.
A can of dried green coffee costs P80 to P100 ($1.55-$1.94 at an exchange rate of $1=P51.38) compared to P250 to P300 ($4.86-$5.83) in 1995. Meanwhile, sugar used to sell at P1,200 ($23.35) per 50-kilogram bag; now it cost P560 ($10.90) in crop year 2003-2004.
The Kalipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers’ Federation in Cavite), Samahang Magbubukid ng Batangas (Sambat or Peasant Association in Batangas) and a sugar workers’ federation started an advocacy campaign urging policymakers to pull out of the WTO, develop a domestic demand for homegrown coffee and sugar, and enter into fair trade agreements with niche markets abroad. The campaign was launched in cooperation with the Diocese of Imus, Cavite State University (CvSU) agriculture experts and some legislators.
“We were able to take off in crop year 2004-2005 with our locally grown coffee and muscovado sugar being shipped to Canada and some local markets,” the Tagaytay 5 said in a statement. “We bought coffee and muscovado with significant mark-ups for the farmer-producers, way above the ‘normal’ market price. Our farmers were satisfied with the ‘new fair trade’, and so with our newfound markets. And so we thought we were on our way into developing a niche market with guaranteed prices for our farmers.”
On April 28, however, elements of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Navy intelligence abducted the five in Sungay village, Tagaytay City. Their captors claimed that they were New People’s Army (NPA) rebels plotting to foment “destabilization” on Labor Day.
“What made our abduction, seven-day isolation and continued illegal detention extra-painful is the fact that the project funds allotted for a new shipment of coffee and muscovado sugar, and new livelihood projects such as swine and cattle-raising were stolen by our heavily armed abductors.”
The Tagaytay 5 called upon the government to uphold the “principle of equal protection of law” regarding their case. They complained that they are continuously being locked-up all day in a five by six meter detention cell without windows, and are being deprived of sunshine as well as outdoor exercise.
They also recalled that last July, despite appeals on humanitarian grounds, both the PNP and the court rejected the request of Ybañez for a pass to visit his wife who was hospitalized for leukemia. His wife later died without seeing him.
Madrigal said she was bothered and shocked with what she described as “ill treatment” of the Tagaytay 5. “As accused persons, the ‘Tagaytay 5’ are presumed innocent until they are proven guilty.” (Bulatlat.com)