“What we have seen so far is that the government is not serious in improving the agricultural industry in the country.”
By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA – The irony is not lost to agricultural workers that comprise at least 75 percent of the country total labor force.
This was the prevailing sentiment as agricultural workers under the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national progressive center of unions, federations and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines, gathered for the National Conference on the Expansion of Plantations through Agribusiness Venture Arrangements (AVA) on March 20 to discuss their plight these days.
These arrangements dubbed as AVA enables agri-corporations to expand their plantations for export products to the detriment of the farmers.
“What we produce, should be for ourselves,” said Rosario Bella Guzman of Ibon Foundation. said to the farmers gathered.
Farmers are being misled
Oscarv Serohijos of the Dolefil Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries and Cooperative (DARBC) expressed his dismay at the current treatment of growers in South Cotabato.
According Serohijos, the cooperative of pineapple growers tending to a more than 7,000-hectare plantation were misled into signing a lopsided contract that decreased their earnings from almost P84,000 ($1,600) per hectare per year to P50,000 ($940) per hectare per year. They, however, still need to deduct the production cost, and cough up the 30 percent lease share from each member. Basically, he added, farm workers will only receive a measly P1.50 ($0.028) per hectare per year.
Meanwhile, as farm workers live way below the poverty line, Dolefil has earned and accumulated P61 million as of 2015, according to Serohijos.
“I told them that this is a contract bound to fail. We were already earning that much in the cooperative,” he said in Filipino, “But officials did not utter a single word. They could not deny it. We have a strong basis.”
Serohijos has already filed a petition before the Cooperative president, asking for the abrogation of the contract. He added that farm workers are being misled because those who sit in their cooperative board are puppets of the agri-companies.
“All the progressive leaders were removed,” he said, adding that trumped-up charges were filed against them.
Serohijos believes that they should not be taking this fight alone, urging the government to intervene as this is supposedly part of their agrarian reform program.
Government should take agrarian problems seriously
Farm workers pointed out that the government’s agrarian reform program should not merely distribute land but to also provide subsidiary support to poor local farmers to aid their production.
A farm worker noted that indigenous farmers from the Cordillera region are forced to accept lopsided contracts with agri-companies due to their impoverished living conditions.
He said during the forum, “What we have seen so far is that the government is not serious in improving the agricultural industry in the country. It is only concerned with getting profits from our natural resources.”
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(This report has been edited after a correction has been pointed out by UMA regarding the 30% deduction.)