“The Duterte government should ensure affordable and accessible food supply especially to the poor and marginalized to guarantee the Filipinos’ survival against COVID-19 and hunger.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farmers and agricultural workers called on the Duterte administration to undertake measures and provide support to cushion the impacts of Luzon-wide enhanced community quarantine on their livelihood.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared the Luzon-wide lockdown on March 16 to address the threat of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Public transportation has been suspended, mass gatherings prohibited and strict home quarantine has been imposed. Checkpoints have been set up in boundaries.
Rice farmers urged the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy palay directly from them as the suspension of public transportation has limited their economic activities. Reports from Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Bataan (AMGL-Bataan) said that palay prices are at P14 per kilo as traders could not procure palay from farmers due to truck ban. In Licab, Nueva Ecija, meanwhile, palay farmgate price is at P15-16 per kilo.
The National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) and Bantay Bigas said the lockdown “has made farmers more vulnerable to exploitation by traders.”
“This is why it is necessary for NFA to enter farmers’ communities,” Cathy Estavillo, Amihan secretary general and Bantay Bigas spokesperson, said in a statement.
Estavillo said the NFA may coordinate with the barangays and local farmers’ organizations to set schedule of purchase. She said the measure will also ensure the stable supply of affordable rice especially in Luzon which is under community quarantine for a month.
The NFA reported that it has 9.636 million bags equivalent to 14.5-day rice consumption of the whole country.
The group also called on the administration to pull down the price of commercial rice to P25 per kilo to make it accessible to poor sectors. “The Duterte government should ensure affordable and accessible food supply especially to the poor and marginalized to guarantee the Filipinos’ survival against COVID-19 and hunger,” Estavillo said.
Waive land rents, stop exploitative measures
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Amihan called on Filipino farmers and peasant women to unite and call for the waiving of land rent and a stop to what they called as “exploitative measures.”
The group said that land rent of rice farmers in Central Luzon is nine to 13 cavans of palay, or equivalent to P7,200 to P10,400 during harvest seasons. While the interest in loans on pesticides, fertilizers and other farm inputs is usually 20 percent of the harvest. The private trader also imposed a rental fee of nine cavans of palay in every one hectare, amounting to P7,200 for the combine harvester, the group revealed.
Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chairperson, said, “..[i]n the countryside, it is urgent for these exploitative practices to stop, to lessen the vulnerabilty of the sector and to keep them into producing food for the country. Landlords should contemplate that the more they exploit farmers, the worse the impact of the pandemic would be.”
“While health workers are frontliners in treating the virus, the peasant sector is our frontliners in [ensuring] the country’s food security,” Soriano said.
Agricultural workers need aid
Meanwhile, agricultural workers in sugarcane plantations find it difficult to go to work.
According to Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), some sacadas in Batangas are losing a day’s wage of about P250 to P300 when they are not allowed to pass through a checkpoint to get to the next sugarcane farm. Truck drivers who haul sugarcanes to mills are also not allowed to pass through checkpoints if they do not carry a load.
UMA said that more than a thousand contractual workers at the Central Azucarera Don Pedro, Inc. in Nasugbu, Batangas are at the mercy of their employment agencies as management only provides transportation for its regular workers.
UMA said agricultural workers, especially cane cutters and contractual workers are paid below the minimum wage.
In Cagayan Valley, farmers and farm workers are prohibited or prevented from harvesting rice, UMA said. Even those who need to buy farm inputs, sell vegetables, fruits, and rice cakes to augment their income are not able to do so.
The Kaisahan ng mga Manggagawang Bukid ng Batangas (Kaisahan) called for “a people-centered approach in addressing the pandemic.”
“This means keeping people, especially poor and marginalized agricultural workers safe from Covid-19 while they are at the frontlines of keeping our economy alive and our country food secure. This means that they are paid the minimum wage, given hazard pay, provided with personal protective equipment, protected from layoff if they cannot report to work, receive at least P10,000 financial assistance while on quarantine; and have access to free or affordable healthcare,” the group said.
Guillermo Hernandez, Kaisahan secretary general, said the P13-billion contingency fund, P16-billion disaster risk reduction management fund, and the P4 -billion confidential and intelligence funds of the Office of the President would be enough to respond to the needs of sectors hardest hit by the pandemic.