“They were even maligned by the local government who told them, ‘mga patay gutom kayo hindi nyo alam kung pano pagtrabahuan ang mga ito. Dapat rice for work,’” (You starving to death people; you didn’t even work for this. We should have asked you to work in exchange for this rice.)
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Several professors of the University of the Philippines-Diliman expressed solidarity with North Cotabato farmers who were violently dispersed by police in Kidapawan City on April 1.
Members of the Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND) were among the members of the national fact-finding mission who went to Kidapawan City last week. The violent dispersal left at least two dead, as police arrested and detained 79 farmers, including pregnant women, senior citizens and minors.
At a press conference held in UP Diliman April 12, CONTEND chairperson and sociology professor Gerardo Lanuza deplored the continued harassment and repression of farmers and the atmosphere of “martial law” after the dispersal. He noted that the mission team had to go through several checkpoints. The injured protesters who were in the hospital were guarded by armed police and soldiers, and the team was prevented from interviewing them.
Lanuza said the farmers they interviewed at the United Methodist Church spoke of worsening hunger, as rice was already scarce since October last year. But the local government distributed only three kilos of rice per family, along with promises that more would come.
“Until the end of March, no help came, so the farmers decided to barricade the highway to demand rice. But they were answered by bullets,” he said.
“Without the farmers, we will have no rice to eat,” said Lanuza, as his group vowed to support the farmers’ call for justice.
‘Pushed to the wall’
DJ Raymundo of the Save Our Schools-UP-Diliman, also a member of the mission, said the farmers’ plight is worsened by the depressed price of their produce. He added that farmers said that they would survive the effects of El Niño if they only earn enough.
“But they were not earning because their products were being bought at a very low price. Their poverty is aggravated by their losses in harvest resulting from the drought,” said Raymundo.
When there is no drought, a farmer can earn P1,500 ($33) to P2,000 ($43) a month from his produce. But because this is not enough to feed a family, a farmer has to work extra, as farm worker to earn an additional P120 ($2.60) a day.
When the drought came, their meager income was even reduced. They earn only P600 ($13) to P1,000 ($22) a month. They seldom get hired as farm workers because there is no more left to reap.
“I asked if their earnings can suffice for their needs and how they survive each day, the farmer just laughed at me and said, they just had to,” said Raymundo.
Merceditas Iyong, secretary general of Appo Sandawa Lumadnon Panaghiusa and a farmer from Magpet, North Cotabato said the income they get from rubber tree extract was reduced to only 12 percent at the most, or none at all because of the dry spell.
Iyong added that they usually take 15 days to harvest the extract from the rubber tree. Now, they cannot extract anything even if they wait for one month. The extract of the rubber tree is used as raw material for tires and slippers. In 2010, the extract sells at P100 ($2.5) per kilo, but now, they can only sell P14 ($.30) per kilo.
“It should actually fetch a higher price, because many products are made from rubber tree extract. But no, they keep the prices down,” Iyong told Bulatlat. She said rubber extract traders claim that their produce has low quality, so they they can buy at a cheap price.
She decried how hunger stalks the land in North Cotabato. They only eat once a day, because they have to make do with the one kilo of rice they can afford. Such meager food is shared by the seven members of the household including her family, her father and siblings.
Iyong said many women in her community are deep in debt, as they resort to loans to survive. The problem gets even bigger as they cannot pay for their debt because of a failed harvest due to the El Niño. But, Iyong said, they try to subsist on the extra income that her husband makes because she is terrified of the loan sharks running after her when she cannot pay.
“Hinahabol na nga ako ng mga pulis at sundalo, hahabulin pa ako ng inuutangan ko,” she said. Iyong is now here in the capital with other survivors of the bloody dispersal. She learned that the police and the military are after her and other leaders.
Lanuza quoted the words of young peasant Christopher Lumandang, 18, who sustained a gunshot wound in his throat. He said Lumandang recalled how he told his mother he was joining the barricade: “Nay, sasama ako kay tatay, magmamanimpalad na may bigas (Mother, I will join Father for a chance of getting rice).”
Lanuza said Lumandang has eight other siblings, but the family received only three kilos of rice as drought assistance from government.
“They were even maligned by the local government who told them, ‘mga patay gutom kayo hindi nyo alam kung pano pagtrabahuan ang mga ito. Dapat rice for work,’” (You starving to death people; you didn’t even work for this. We should have asked you to work in exchange for this rice.) Lanuza said.
Lanuza said Lumandang decided to join the picket rally because their family is starving.
“Where will get food when the vegetables and corns have dried up? They were pushed to the wall that is why they joined the rally,” said Lanuza.
Lanuza said Lumandang needed another operation so he can eat and talk. He recalled how Lumandang’s mother, Herma, embraced him tightly, as she expressed gratitude to the mission team whose compassion and support contrast with how the social workers of the Department of Social Welfare and Development treated them.
“Lalong hindi nila ito nakita sa mga pulis at sa kanilang gobernador (And neither did they get this from the police and their governor),” Lanuza added.
Lanuza said that CONTEND stands in solidarity with the farmers, as they also call for accountability and prosecution of “all corrupt officials from the local government to President Aquino — for his incompetence, ineptitude, lack of compassion and for being heartless to the plight of farmers.” The group also called for the prosecution of those who ordered the brutal dispersal, particularly, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza.
Lanuza said support to the farmers should be continuous until they achieve justice that is rooted to their landlessness. “Wala na ngang lupa, na-El Niño pa, sobrang dagok, binubusabos pa ng gobyerno. Kaya dapat lamang na maghimagsik ang mga magsasaka (Landless as they are, devastated by El Niño, and now even oppressed by government. It is only just for them to rise up).”