A presidential candidate and four senatorial bets showed up to support the Peasant Electoral Agenda.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte, senatorial bets Isko Moreno, Neri Colmenares and several other candidates took up the challenge of farmers from all over the country and promised to support various reforms for the peasantry.
In a forum, Feb. 3 at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, farmers under the banner of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) presented what they called the Peasant Electoral Agenda for 2016, centered on the demand for a genuine agrarian reform program.
Duterte said he is open to the agenda laid down by farmers.
“The land reform was a farce. There was no support for farmers,” he said.
Duterte said he would like to find out how many hectares of land in Mindanao have been bought back by landlords and big business. He said he would get agriculture experts to study the issue further before he can push for a new land reform program.
The mayor of Davao City blamed the land problem for the armed conflict in the countryside, where many of the poor join the New People’s Army (NPA).
Meanwhile, Makabayan senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares expressed unequivocal support for genuine agrarian reform. Colmenares, now Bayan Muna representative, is a co-author of House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) . The bill seeks to distribute land to the farmers for free. The bill states government would not pay compensation to landlords who acquired land through “violence, deception and other sinister means.”
Asked about GARB, reelectionist Senator Vicente Sotto III said he has yet to study the bill, but promised to file a counterpart bill in the next Congress.
David Yap, a representative of senatorial candidate Sherwin Gatchalian, said Gatchalian is opposed to land use conversion.
Other peasant agenda
The candidates took turns giving their stand on other peasant concerns, such as agricultural support services and human rights.
Sotto noted that he was one of the five senators who voted against the ratification of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1994. He said that even though his colleagues persuaded him to vote in favor of GATT, he remained steadfast in his position.
Under GATT, the country was forced to take in other countries’ agricultural products at lower tariffs, which deluged the market with cheaper imported farm produce at the expense of the local producers, who fell to bankruptcy.
Sotto said, “Napatunayan na tayo ang tama, hindi sila.” (We have proven that we are right, they were wrong.)
The senator said the government should buy 50 percent of farmers’ produce at reasonable prices.
For his part, vice presidential candidate and incumbent Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno said he is studying the impacts of smuggling on the livelihood of onion and garlic producers.
Moreno and Gatchalian, through their respective representatives, said they support the call for free irrigation services.
Colmenares is a co-author of a bill seeking to abolish irrigation service fees.
The KMP estimates that farmers pay an average of P4,500 ($94) per hectare per year as irrigation fee.
Moreno said he would study the impact of genetically modified organisms (GMO) on the environment.
Duterte recognized the farmers need for credit, fertilizer, seedlings and farm-to-market roads.
Responding to the campaign of Southern Tagalog farmers for the recovery of coconut levy funds, Sotto asked for a copy of House Bill 1327 or the Genuine Small Coconut Farmers’ Fund filed by Anakpawis.
“Small coconut farmers ang unahin natin bago ang development sa ibang aspeto,” (We should prioritize small coconut farmers before any development on other aspects.) Sotto said.
Sotto also sideswiped President Aquino’s counterinsurgency program. Responding to a testimony of a farmer from Southern Mindanao about the militarization of Lumad and communities, Sotto said, “Oplan Bayanihan, walang kakwenta-kwenta ‘yon.” (Oplan Bayanihan is nonsense.)
Duterte said soldiers beat up and kill farmers suspected of being NPA guerrillas. He cursed an Army soldier who beat up farmers in Paquibato district in Davao City.
Duterte said he would end illegal drugs, crimes and corruption in six months. He said even farmers pay their carabaos, goats and chickens for illegal drugs.
“Durugista, criminal, ubos ‘yan! Papapatay ko talaga. Honest. Totoo. As in. I will not hesitate to order the police, military to kill,” Duterte said.
Human rights groups have criticized Duterte for the Davao Death Squad. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 1,000 killings were committed by the death squad since the late 1990s.