By JOAN GARCIA
Last October 20-21, peasant groups coming from the Ilocos region joined in the camp out at Mendiola of the Lakbayan 2011.
“We joined the Lakbayan in solidarity with our fellow peasants. Activities like this serve as a venue for us coming from the regions to present our issues at the national level. For example, smoking is considered a big issue, thus, cities and municipalities have passed ordinances regarding no smoking areas but the bigger issue of the plight of the tobacco farmers in our country is still not known by the majority”, Donna Rabang Peta of Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) said.
Peta explained that the selling price of tobacco ranges from P60-70 ($1.40 to $1.63) per kilo depending on the classification.This is less than STOP Exploitation’s call for a P128 ($2.98) per kilo selling price without classification.One kilo of tobacco can make eight reams and 16 pieces of cigarette.
The main buyer of the tobacco coming from the Ilocos Region is Phillip Morris which markets popular cigarette brands like Winston and Marlboro, the selling price of which ranges from P2 to P2.50 ($0.05 to $0.06) per stick.
Aside from gaining a wider audience for the issues of the tobacco farmers, the Lakbayan also helped in strengthening their organization. Though they were not able to attend the camp out at the Department of Agriculture and at the Supreme Court, the activities that they were able to join further consolidated their members regarding the current situation of the sector.
“The focus group discussion of the leaders from different provinces showed us that the issues confronting the farmers in our country are not different- landlessness and the feudal relations between the landlords and peasants persist everywhere,” Peta adds.
Aside from the tobacco farmers, fisherfolk and students from the Ilocos region also joined the Lakbayan.
Anabel Narvasa, Secretary-General of TIMEK (Voice and Hope of Fisher folks of La Union) explains that the problems of the fisher folks are the same as those of the farmers. During harvest time, fisher folks also go to the fields as farm workers.
“Landlessness also affects us fisherfolks aside from not owning farm lands, the land we live in, which is usually along the sea shore, also do not belong to us”, Narvasa said.
Narvasa adds that it is important for fisherfolk to join in campaigning for the passage of the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).
Coming from the youth sector, Lee Biscarra of Kabataan Partylist- Ilocos explained that the Lakbayan is a good venue for the students to be more aware of the plight of the peasants and their integration with the sector gives them resolve to help in the issues that affect them.
“More importantly, aside from teaching us valuable lessons regarding the plight of our farmers, we learn that asserting for what is ours takes time and effort. The fight for genuine land reform is a continuous struggle and we must do all we can until that goal is achieved”, Biscarra said.