By BENJIE OLIVEROS
When people use the phrase “Let them eat brioche (cake),” quoting a French queen – widely believed to be Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife of King Louis XVI, but later discovered to be Queen Marie Therese, wife of Louis XIV – who uttered the phrase in response to the clamor of hungry peasants for bread, it is to demonstrate the callousness of rulers and government officials. But the peasants and their families who gathered at the highway of Kidapawan, March 30, to amplify their call for rice assistance from the government because the raging El Niño phenomenon has destroyed their crops were met not only with callousness but with murderous intent by government, police and military officials who see “red” in every demonstration of the people’s collective action and legitimate dissent. They were made to eat “lead” instead.
The Kidapawan massacre erased all pretensions of the Aquino government that its bosses are the Filipino masses.
The peasantry, who still comprise the majority of Filipinos, is the most neglected sector in Philippine society. Its basic demand for land reform has been ignored for centuries. The family of Pres. Benigno Aquino III has been defiantly maneuvering to prevent the full implementation of the Supreme Court decision to distribute the lands of Hacienda Luisita to the farm workers.
Recently, farmers are also the most affected by the El Niño phenomenon. Farms have dried up and the response of the Aquino government has been limited to cloud seeding, which, recent studies show, has largely been ineffective, especially in times of serious drought, like what the country has been experiencing this past months.
In the meantime, the people, especially the farmers are left to fend for themselves. Jerry Alborme, leader of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in North Cotabato said during the Senate probe on the Kidapawan massacre that around 27,000 farmers were already reeling from the effects of the drought, with crops amounting to P288 million ($6.26 million) destroyed, as of January 2016.
This has been the reason why farmers are demanding 15,000 sacks of rice for six municipalities for the duration of the drought. Instead, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza offered them a meager three kilos of rice each every three months. When they refused, their protest action was brutally dispersed, with Special Weapons and Tactics policemen firing at the unarmed farmers.
The Aquino administration’s candidate for president and its anointed successor of its “daang matuwid” program Mar Roxas even tried to cast aspersions on the motives of the protesting farmers by his question: “Who financed the protesters?”
Farmers group UMA Pilipinas revealed that while the bloody dispersal was taking place, Mar Roxas was photographed with Governor Mendoza in a campaign sortie at Kabacan, North Cotabato, around 30 kilometers away from Kidapawan, by local media DXVL Radio ng Bayan KOOL 94.9 FM. DXVL also reported, April 1, that Mendoza told the crowd that the farmers’ demand for 15,000 sacks of rice is “impossible.”
In the meantime, instead of investigating the policemen who fired their guns at the protesters, the police officers involved in the dispersal were even given medals and commendations while the 79 arrested from the ranks of the protesting farmers continue to languish in jail and are facing criminal charges.
If this is the “daang matuwid” that the Aquino government is boasting about, then the people have had enough of it.