“The perennial problems of landlessness and rural poverty have made farmers more vulnerable and helpless in times of calamity.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Thousands of farmers have gathered in Davao City to demand calamity aid and other concrete solutions to their problems – hunger, landlessness and rights abuses.
The Farmers’ Campout for Food, Land and Justice, which began Jan. 24 and will end Jan. 27, gathered 5,000 farmers and indigenous peoples from Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Davao Oriental.
Two provinces and four towns in Davao region are under state of calamity due to heavy rains since last week that inundated farmlands. Based on initial damage assessment by government, agricultural damages in Davao del Norte have reached P7.42 million as of Tuesday. Initial data from the Department of Agriculture-Davao Region said the floods damaged over 2,320 hectares of land across five municipalities in the province. Banana plantations, which include cavendish, cardava, and lakatan, were the hardest hit by the flooding with damages amounting to P4.17 million.
Antonio Flores, secretary general of KMP, said many peasant families have yet to recover from damaging effects of last year’s drought or ‘hulaw’ then the rains and flood came.
“The perennial problems of landlessness and rural poverty have made farmers more vulnerable and helpless in times of calamity,” Flores said. “Walay bugas, walay pagkaon ang mga mag-uuma.”(The farmers have no rice, no food.)
In his privilege speech in support of the Mindanao farmers Jan. 24, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao lamented that Mindanao, touted as the “Food Basket of the Philippines” is home to millions of hungry farmers and indigenous peoples.
Government statistics shows that 11 of the 20 poorest provinces are in Mindanao.
As of the first half of 2015, poverty incidence in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao stood at 59 percent; Caraga 44 percent; Soccsksargen, 44 percent; Davao region, 27 percent; Northern Mindanao, 41 percent; Zamboanga Peninsula, 41 percent. The national poverty incidence in the same period was 26 percent.
Farmers are asking for 15,000 cavans of rice (approximately 940,000 kilos of rice) as immediate relief assistance. They are also demanding the agriculture department to provide production subsidies such as farm tools, seedlings, farm inputs, among others.
Compostela Valley farmers want a peso-increase in the buying rate of banana from the current rate of P4 per kilo, which traders sell at P8 per kilo. More than 30,000 families were displaced in the province due to the flooding.
“The farmers’ demands are all the more justified now. They have lost everything to the flood,” Flores said.
Members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Incorporated (Marbai) who were forcibly evicted by Lapanday Food Corporations and those from Cotabato Foundation College of Science and Technology (CFCST) have joined the protest.
In December 2016, Marbai farmers occupied the 145-hectare banana plantation awarded to them in 2010. LFC security guards opened fire at them twice, wounding ten farmers.
Farmers from CFCST demand their official installation in the more than 4,611-hectare school reservation site. They have been calling for the cancellation of the order that classified the land that they have tilled since 1967 as a school reservation site.
The protesters are calling for the enactment of House Bill 555 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, which seeks free land distribution to the tillers.
Pedro Arnado, KMP Southern Mindanao regional chairperson, called on the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the NDFP to come up with concrete solutions and a significant Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser).