By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — Babes Marcelino, a farmer in North Cotabato, is a mother of five. She plants rice and corn in one hectare of land. Her family earns nothing during the three months before harvest, and she is usually forced to borrow money to help her family get through each day. Each harvest season, she gets to keep only a maximum of four to five sacks of rice, while the rest of what she reaped goes to pay for the loans acquired in the past three months.
Her situation is similar to many farmers in the Philippines. Doubly burdened are the women in rural areas who are victims of sexual harassment being committed by the military and of discrimination in employment as agricultural workers in plantations.
Marcelino, a member of the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries One Movement (ARB One Movement)-Southern Mindanao Region, joined other farmers in a protest at Mendiola Bridge on Oct. 16 to commemorate the 72nd year of the United Nations (UN) declaration of World Food Day, which farmers have dubbed “World Hunger Day.” As landlessness and other root causes of poverty are left unaddressed, the greatest irony persists: that those who work hard to produce food have nothing to put on their own plates.
In a statement, the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (PAMAKALAYA-Pilipinas) cited recent data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) which said farmers and fisherfolk are the country’s poorest of the poor, with 34 percent poverty rate.
State negligence and export-oriented production
Anakpawis partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao joined the farmers and other sectors in the Mendiola mobilization. He said the protest commemorates two international events: World “Hunger” Day on October 16 and the International Rural Women’s Day on October 15.
“On these two significant days, Anakpawis, Amihan, and other peasant organizations would like to register their worsening situation of food insecurity, that those who till the land have nothing to eat. It is clear, on this internationally-declared commemorative day, that there is food insecurity and hunger among their sector,” Casilao said in Filipino.
He reiterated the call for genuine agrarian reform to break land monopoly. Some 200 haciendas in the Philippines are controlled by only 18 families, he mentioned.
Instead of prioritizing food security in the country, the government has, over and over again, recycled its export-oriented policies. The Department of Agriculture (DA), which should be the lead agency in providing quality and affordable food for the people, instead pushes for the expansion of agribusiness plantations of foreign and local corporations.
The P11-billion ($214 million) DA project called Inclusive Partnership for Agricultural Competitiveness combines public-private partnership (PPP) and agribusiness venture agreement (ABA), which aims to expand agricultural lands to be used to plant high-valued crops for export.
Although the project is yet to start, the number of plantations has grown, the expansion of plantations has continued to displace small farmers.
The double burden of peasant women
On International Rural Women’s Day, the United Nations (UN) supposedly commemorates the role of women in agricultural work. In the Philippines, it is a reminder of the double burden women carry as a woman and as an agricultural worker.
“Women are doubly burdened, as they mainly shoulder the domestic work, while they also take part in production work,” Casilao said.
Zen Soriano, chairperson of Amihan Peasant Women, explained that women suffer from two levels of oppression: one due to their socioeconomic position as farmers, the second due to the low treatment and discrimination of their sex. She said that in varying in degrees, female farmers experience the same problems.
Insufficient income brought by farming due to loans acquired before harvest season, further reduced by parts claimed by the landowner, farmers and farm workers are often forced to take on other jobs. For women, they work as laundry washers, domestic workers, and agricultural workers in plantations.
“Dahil sa kawalan ng lupa at sa mga land use conversion na nangyayari, ang mga babae ay nauuwi sa trabaho na hindi na sa pagsasaka — labandera na, mamamasukan na katulong, at iba pa,” Soriano explained.
(“Because of the want of land to till and massive land use conversions, the women are forced to look for work not related to farming — laundry washing, domestic helpers, and others.”)
Women are sexually harassed by soldiers. Sometimes, military officers also court the daughters of leaders, in the hope of getting information about the farmers’ activities.
Soriano mentioned how this happened in Samar after seven battalions arrived in the farming community. When the residents protested the presence of the military, the military resorted to different tactics, but occasionally maintained their presence in the area.
“‘Yong kaakibat na problema ng kababaihan ay ‘yong sexual harassment. Dahil yung mga dalaga, nililigawan ng mga militar tapos ‘yong iba, kunwari kinukumpare o kumare ng mga militar para makakuha sila ng mga impormasyon tungkol sa mga tao. May mga pagkakataon pa nga na mga anak ng mga lider ang kanilang nililigawan,” Soriano said.
(“A related problem for women is sexual harassment. Maidens are courted by the military, and sometimes the military pretend to be friends of the farmers and other women so they can get more information. There are even times when they court the daughters of farmer-leaders.”)
Women are also discriminated against, especially in terms of the wages they receive. Soriano explained that whenever women work as agricultural workers in plantations, they always get paid less than the male workers. For example, as agricultural workers, women will get paid P100 ($2) while men will get paid P200 ($4), despite exerting the same effort in the same job.
Duterte’s hollow promises
Marcelino expressed dismay over Duterte’s unfulfilled promises and continuous killing of farmers. At least 50 farmers have been killed in the Southern Mindanao Region alone. Four of those killed were women. He said it is upsetting that Duterte, a Davaoeño himself, has allowed this to happen in his own region.
In Davao Del Norte, the Floirendo family, who owns the Tagum Agricultural Development Company, Inc. (TADECO), also owns vast agricultural lands in the province, mostly planted with Cavendish bananas for export.
Marcelino cited a 5,091-hectare land estate in Arakan, North Cotabato which was covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and should have already been distributed to the farmers. He said the survey should have been conducted in June this year, in accordance with an Order of Execution from the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). Without a survey, the land distribution could not proceed.
With an export-oriented agricultural economy, the farmers foresee that in the near future, Filipinos will suffer the lack of available and quality food.
“Pundasyon ng pag-unlad ng ating bansa ay ang agrikultura. Ngayon, kung hindi mo susuportahan yung mga magsasaka para magkaroon ng sariling lupa, at ang mangyayari ay mako-control lamang ng malalaking panginoong may-lupa, hindi uunlad ‘yong ating bansa kasi ‘yan ang pundasyon ng industriyalisasyon,” Soriano said.
(“The foundation of the development of our country is agriculture. Now, if we do not support the farmers so they can till their own land, and what will happen is only a few big landlords will control the lands, our country will not develop because agriculture is the foundation of our national industrialization.”)