By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Misamis Oriental — Peasant groups in Northern Mindanao Region said the march of peasants here was a success with the overwhelming support of more than 10,000 farmers and sympathizers from other participating sectors.
“We are thankful that many came out to join the peasants’ march. This is an effective way to show the government’s inaction to resolve and address the concerns of peasants,” Heny Gugudan, Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus Women’s Association chairperson
Lakbayan or the peasants’ march is a nationally coordinated protest action of farmers every October 21. It aims to highlight the plight of peasants in a predominantly agricultural country like the Philippines. The protest action is timed with the commemoration of former President Ferdinand Marcos’s issuance of Presidential Decree No. 27, which served as the foundation of the existing agrarian reform program of the government, which peasants said did not serve their interests but that of the landlords, multinational corporations and the government.
The Northern Mindanao Region, which covers the provinces of Misamis Oriental and Bukidnon, was one of the sites of the peasants’ march. In Malaybalay, Bukidnon, one of the three converging points of the march, farmers left at around 11:00 in the morning of October 20. More than 20 trucks, buses and jeeps filled with peasants, women, youth and indigenous peoples left for Cagayan de Oro City to air their grievances.
Peasants then marched from Barangay Agusan and reached Don A. Velez at around 7:30 in the evening to meet delegates from other converging points. They exchanged their produce as a sign of solidarity before proceeding to Pelaez Sports Complex, where cultural groups rendered songs that celebrate the struggle of the Filipino people.
On October 21, the peasants marched toward the Misamis Oriental provincial capitol where thousands of peasants planked as a sign of their poverty, hunger and landlessness. They then marched toward Kiosko Kagawasan Divisoria, a park in the heart of the city, to continue the rest of the program.
“If we will not exert our collective efforts, such as this lakbayan, the government will not realize the strength of the people,” Gugudan said. She added that peasants might be coming from different areas, carrying various issues but “our burden remain the same and that is poverty and landlessness.”
Among the concerns raised by the peasants are the urgent need to uplift the living conditions of the coconut farmers, the fight of the people against large-scale mining, land grabbing by multinational corporations and the absence of national industrialization and genuine agrarian reform in the country.
“State security forces tried to stop many peasants from the countryside from joining the march. But the expected number of people still came and participated in the march. Their morale is high,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Northern Mindanao region secretary general Richard Colao told Bulatlat.com.
Colao said they received reports that soldiers threatened farmers and their families that those who would join the lakbayan would suffer its consequences and at worst, be killed. There are also areas, he added, where distribution of the conditional cash transfers under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) were moved to the same day as the peasants march.
“It shows how Aquino’s CCT, which is a mere dole out program, is being used to quell the struggle of the people,” Colao said, adding that this is not the first time that it happened. “The local government office adjusts their schedule based on our activities. They distribute cash dole outs even when we are holding small seminars, meetings or trainings.”
Despite these, Colao told Bulatlat.com, the people still came out to participate in the peasants march.
As soon as the delegates of the march entered the vicinity of Cagayan de Oro City on October 20 and again during their program on October 21, members of the AFP could be seen regulating the flow of traffic, which is unusual, said Colao. “It all the more proves that the peasants march is a success because military troops were obviously alarmed about our collective action and high morale.”
No changes under Aquino
Fr. Patrick’s Mabalahad of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, who participated in the peasants march, told Bulatlat.com that he is a witness to the suffering of peasants in Taguloan, Misamis Oriental.
“Peasants would frequently share their problems to church people like us. Under the existing agrarian reform program, they need to pay for the land they are tilling before it could be theirs,” Mabalahad said, “But how can they pay for it when they could hardly buy seedlings, fertilizers and, most importantly, their own meals.”
Mabalahad added that peasants are suffering under such conditions for several decades already. “Nothing changed even under President Benigno S. Aquino III who promised a better future for Filipinos. No government support reaches the poor farmers.”
During a dialogue last October 20, KMP’s Colao said ocal government officials did not show even a single drop of sincerity when farmers aired their concerns. He told Bulatlat.com that the farmers informed them of their plight and the circumstances that they are in.
“But we were told to present necessary papers, data to prove our issues,” Colao said, “We told them that we would never do that because it is their job to gather information. They are, after all, given salaries from the people’s taxes to perform these tasks.”
Colao added that during their build up activities before the peasants’ march, the provincial capitol cut off their electric supply even if they have earlier informed them that they would be tapping from it. “If they could not grant such simple request, how would they be able to heed the demands of the peasants.”
BTL Women’s Gugudan said the future of peasants remain dim under Aquino who would not distribute Hacienda Luisita, a real estate in Tarlac he co-owns, to farmers who are its rightful owners. “For me, HLI serves as an example to all agrarian disputes in the country.”