By JON ERNST PASCUAL
MANILA – For months, the family of Genalyn Avelino brushed aside the accusations hurled against the peasant leader in the disputed estate in Rizal, Occidental Mindoro. They knew these were baseless.
“My mother did not pay attention (to the red-tagging) because the rumors were false but then police officers in plainclothes arrested my mother after a couple of months,” said Jenny Avelino-Llaban, daughter of Genalyn Avelino, a political prisoner in Occidental Mindoro.
Jenny was among those who spoke in an online forum on June 4, where farmers’ rights and advocacy groups have called on the Duterte administration to put a stop to attacks against women peasants, saying these human rights abuses are exacerbating their already dire conditions.
The National Network of Agrarian Reform Advocates (Nnara Youth) said that under the Duterte administration, 42 of the 326 farmers killed and 63 of the 80 political prisoners jailed are women.
Women farmers, the group said, are also subjected to sexual harassment and threats.
Women farmers at the fore of defending communities
Women farmers are usually at the forefront of struggles in communities under threat.
Prior to her arrest on Feb. 24, 2021, Genalyn was an active peasant leader in the disputed Saulog Estate in Rizal town, Occidental Mindoro. She was the chairperson of their grassroots organization Samahang Kababaihang Magsasaka sa Mindoro and former chairperson of Samahan ng Magbubukid sa Kanlurang Mindoro.
She was also active in the national organization of women farmers, Amihan, where she attended its meetings in 2016 and 2018 and assisted on its 2019 research on the impacts of El Niño on the lives of women farmers. In 2018, she participated in the two-day National Capability Building on Rural Women’s Empowerment spearheaded by the government’s National Anti-Poverty Commission.
For her advocacy, Genalyn was tagged as a New People’s Army fighter and was accused of being part of an armed encounter with government troops on Jan. 23, 2021. Her daughter Jenny, however, said her mother was working in the fish market near the police station on the day of the supposed encounter.
Like Genalyn, many women farmers who are defending their communities are being arrested. State forces would arrive at their homes in the wee hours and conveniently “find” guns and explosives that victims decry as planted.
Grace Perocho, daughter of political prisoner Maria Lindy Perocho of the National Federation of Sugar Workers Network in Negros shared that her mother was sleeping when armed men woke her, held her at gunpoint, told to lie on the ground, and forced to admit to having firearms in their house.
“If you are labeled as a New People’s Army (NPA) member, automatically you would be considered a terrorist,” said Faye Cura of Defend Peasant Women Campaign Network.
Apart from the politically motivated threats and rights abuses, basic services remain inaccessible for women farmers. Pregnant women in rural communities are prohibited from giving birth at home, even when they do not have access to medical services in these far-flung communities.
Zen Soriano, chairperson of Amihan, said pregnant women and those with young children still need to work in the fields to earn a living for their families.