“Didn’t the farmers of Escalante shout for land, rice, and better working conditions? And what did the government do? Just like the Kidapawan farmers, they were fed with bullets.
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental – It has been 30 years since the bloody massacre of farmers in Escalante City. And the recent killing of farmers in Kidapawan has brought back memories of injustices committed against them.
“When I saw and heard the calls of the Kidapawan farmers, weren’t those the same calls that Negros farmers demanded, but then they, too, were met with bullets?” 60-year-old farmer Edgardo Magbanua told Bulatlat.
The infamous Escalante massacre claimed the lives of 20 farmers on Sept. 20, 1985. No one has been held accountable for the killings.
“Didn’t the farmers of Escalante shout for land, rice, and better working conditions? And what did the government do? Just like the Kidapawan farmers, they were fed with bullets. They were massacred,” Magbanua added.
Magbanua was among those who joined the Global Action Day protest for Kidapawan farmers last Friday, April 8 in front of the National Food Authority’s regional office in Bacolod City.
During the protest, they chanted, “bugas dili bala (rice not bullets).”
Last April 1, state security forces opened fired at the starving protesting farmers in Kidapawan City. They were demanding the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as government subsidy to El Niño victims after months of dry spell destroyed their crops.
At least two farmers were killed in the bloody dispersal. Dozens others were injured.
Sugar workers in Negros are still mired in harsh living and working conditions.
Magbanua, a sugar worker since he was 18 years old, said farm workers in the region still get low wages. He receives P265 wage per day. Every week, he brings home at least P1,000 for his family, much below what is needed to meet their needs.
Another sugar worker Gilbert Bautista, 41, said he has been working in sugar plantations since he was 11 years old. He said they, too, have been suffering from El Niño.
“Since the dry spell began, our lives have worsened. We cannot grow vegetables to sustain our needs. The rivers have dried up,” he told Bulatlat.
Bautista said he earns from P125 to P145 only.
“This is the reason I do not believe farmers in Kidapawan were manipulated. Why would farmers protest if they have something to eat? That’s a lot of bull,” he said.
In Negros province, Bautista said that they, too, demanding the release of sacks of rice from government. He added that the NFA in their region would rather that hundreds of sacks of rice would rot in their warehouse than hand it to the starving farmers.
The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) said 95 percent of sugar workers in Negros Occidental receive only P33 to P66 per day, or a dollar daily.
Bautista added, “they treat us like animals. We should be getting help because we are the ones who bring food in every table. But they are making us look bad.”
Various progressive groups have expressed fears on the whitewashing of the Kidapawan massacre. The result of the national fact-finding mission last week revealed that the police had tampered with the crime scene.
In its pronouncements, both the local government and the police blamed the protesting farmers and progressive groups supporting them for the bloody outcome of the supposed “clearing operations” last April 1. They said members of the New People’s Army (NPA) were among the ranks of the protesting farmers.
“What we saw was a massacre. They called for rice and they were given bullets instead. That is a massacre. Their claim that there were NPAs there is the same lies they peddled even during the Escalante massacre and all the other massacres they have committed against us,” Magbanua said.
After the Escalante massacre came the Mendiola Massacre in 1987, where 11 protesters were killed when state troops opened fire on rallyists at Mendiola Bridge near the gates of Malacañang Palace in Manila.
He added that such government pronouncements were not surprising since with or without a rally, farmers who are collectively struggling for change are red-tagged as either members or supporters of the NPA.
Magbanua said that to this day, soldiers maintain heavy presence in their communities, and continue to commit grave rights abuses in the region.
Magbanua said, “Our calls may be ‘old’ but it remains relevant because the government has never lifted a finger to help us. Today we ask again, bugas dili bala.”