“We have exhausted all means to raise our issues to the local DA (Department of Agriculture) and Samar LGUs (local government units) but our demands fell on deaf ears.”
By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — Typhoons, militarization, pests, land-grabbing, state neglect — these are the issues that farmers from Eastern Visayas have to face.
About 50 farmers from different provinces in the Eastern Visayas region trooped to Manila to demand aid from the government amid the continuous ravaging of typhoons and other natural calamities in the region, and for an end to militarization.
“We have exhausted all means to raise our issues to the local DA (Department of Agriculture) and Samar LGUs (local government units) but our demands fell on deaf ears,” Jun Berino of the Sagudti Han Ngan Parag-uma-Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB) said in a statement.
“Ayaw naming mamatay sa gutom kaya nandito kami para kalampagin ang gobyerno ni Pangulong Duterte,” he added. (“We do not want to die of hunger, so we are now here to air our grievances directly to the Duterte administration.”)
‘The second poorest region’
Eastern Visayas is the second poorest region in the Philippines, and three of the provinces in the region are part of the top 10 poorest provinces in the country: Eastern Samar (2nd), Northern Samar (9th), and Western Samar (10th).
Ironically, as is the case in the entire country, Eastern Visayas is a region rich in natural resources. There are rich deposits of coral, adobe, salt, gravel, earth, boulders, cobbles, high-value minerals like Bauxite and Chromite. Northern Samar, despite being the 9th poorest province, is abundant with agricultural land — with a plantation of 16.8 million coconut trees.
Being composed of many islands, Eastern Visayas is also known for having abundant fisheries. In Northern Samar alone, 24 of its municipalities are situated along the coasts, and 19,592 of residents are fisherfolk. Northern Samar also accounts for 65 percent of the total 5.16 kilotons of abaca produced by the Eastern Visayas region.
Despite all these resources, there is a recorded 56.2 percent poverty incidence in Northern Samar, and independent think-tank Ibon Foundation has recorded that the annual average family income in the province amounts only to P80, 114 ($1,500) or P 222.50 ($4.27) per day in 2008 — way below the annual average income of P 653 ($12.55) in the rest of the country on the same year.
The Eastern Visayas region, however, has been prone to natural calamities and pests, doubly burdened by the “anti-people policies” passed by the Duterte administration and the intensified militarization. In fact, claims of the Duterte and Aquino administrations that the region has already recovered from the ravages of typhoon Yolanda are belied by the stories of farmers and residents.
“It’s like the national government has neglected and forgotten us. We exist. Northern Samar is a province of the Philippines and our people are the poorest. Years of rehabilitation efforts are not felt by poor farmers,” Berino said.
It has been five years since the government has claimed that Leyte and Samar have been rehabilitated after typhoon Yolanda.
Plague of pests, calamities
Successive typhoons from Yolanda, Glenda, Ruby, Seniang, to Nona have struck Eastern Visayas and hindered their full rehabilitation.
According to Marissa Cabaljao, Secretary of People Surge, an alliance of typhoon and calamity survivors, aside from neglect, the inability of the government to render aid or assistance to them is a manifestation of the lack of disaster preparedness of the Philippines.
But aside from being calamity-stricken, the farmers of the Eastern Visayas region also have to face the infestation of their crops. Abaca crops are heavily infested with bunchy top virus (BBTV). This has led to the stunted growth of abaca, thus the dwindling amount of abaca produced, the main source of livelihood of farmers in Northern Samar.
Rice or palay crops are also prone to the Bacterial Leaf Blight pest, which causes the wilting of seedlings and drying of leaves. Coconut, one of the major products of the region, are also prone to being infected with cocolisap or coconut-scale insects. The cocolisap eats the leaves of the trees, cause stunted growth and defoliation, and damages the fruits.
Thus, one of the campaigns for the #StandWithSamar lakbayan is the demand for immediate financial relief to all families with damaged crops. The farmers are seeking a dialogue with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, but have yet to receive a proper response.
Rights violations, militarization
Eastern Visayas farmers, however, are also victims of intense militarization.
According to SAGUPA-SB, no less than four cases of extrajudicial killings have been recorded from February to November 2017, 8 cases of military encampment in barrios and schools, the forcible evacuation of 2,423 individuals, 8 cases of illegal arrest and detention, continuous psywar and surveillance, and other various cases of human rights violations.
In Brgy. San Miguel, Las Navas, Northern Samar, elements of the 8th Infantry Battalion held camp inside schools, barangay halls, health centers, and churches, and placed landmines and cannons.
“Militarization in the country has triggered mass trauma, affecting the psychological and physical health of peasant women and children. This has generated abuses such as threats, rape, sexual harassment, consistent with military presence in communities,” Zen Soriano, national chairperson of the National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), said.
“The deaths of farmers in the region are due to hunger and by the bullet. Military presence in the barrios is aimed at silencing them, not to air their grievances, while being branded as members or supporters of the New Peoples Army (NPA). The Duterte government is limiting their opportunities to voice out and demand their right to social services and aid,” she added.
Jemmar Tenedero, People Surge Provincial Chairperson, once said, in a closing speech during the Provincial Disaster Survivors Conference last November 2017, while the residents of Eastern Visayas have to recover from the wrath of typhoons, ‘human-induced disasters like militarization are within government’s sphere of priorities while our basic needs for recovery have been relegated to the backseat’.
Farmers of Eastern Visayas are set to stay in Manila until March 8. Their campaigns, aside from asking for immediate financial relief for all families with damaged crops, include the crafting and implementation of a Pro-People Agricultural Rehabilitation Program, the junking of the anti-people Typhoon Recovery Plan, and an end to militarization.