Peasant Day vs landlessness, poverty and hunger
The age-old issues
affecting the peasantry – landlessness, hunger and poverty – were
expectedly the main issues at the rally in observance of Peasant Day last
Oct. 21. The protest action, however, also became an occasion to air the
growing demand for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Peasant activists and
police in a tense moment at the Welcome Rotonda in Quezon City
"She assumed power through a people’s
uprising in 2001. But now, the people will boot her out of office for the
hardship she has inflicted on us."
Carmen Buena, chairperson of the
peasant women’s group Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women), was
obviously referring to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when she spoke at
a rally in Manila in commemoration of Peasant Day last Oct. 21.
Spearheaded by the Kilusang Magbubukid
ng Pilipinas (KMP or Peasant Movement in the Philippines), Pambansang
Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya or National Forces
of the Philippine Fisherfolk Movement), Amihan, and the National
Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), the Manila rally was attended by more
than 3,000 peasants from Southern Tagalog, Central and Northern Luzon, as
well as hundreds of activists from other sectoral groups. There were
simultaneous mass actions all over the country, involving more than 10,000
activists, the KMP told Bulatlat.
The peasant groups denounced, among
others, the government’s plan to privatize the National Food Authority (NFA),
an agency mandated to stabilize rice prices.
“Instead of allocating funds to raise
the NFA’s capacity to purchase palay at its mandated price for
peasant associations and cooperatives, (Macapagal-Arroyo) has aggravated
the manipulation of palay prices by landlords, businessmen, and the
rice cartel and thereby allowed the further sinking of the peasantry into
hunger and poverty,” read a joint statement by the KMP, Pamalakaya, Amihan,
and the NFSW.
The NFA currently purchases rice at
P10.50 ($0.19, based on an exchange rate of P56.315 per US dollar) per
kilo. However, according to KMP chairman Danilo Ramos, the agency has only
a one-percent market share due to lack of funds. The palay market,
he said in a recent interview with Bulatlat, is controlled by the
“rice cartel,” which usually buys palay at only P7.50 ($0.13) a
Ramos, a farmer from Bulacan, said
that because of this farmers usually earn only P2,000 ($35.51) after every
harvest season – which, he said, translates to P22 ($0.39) a day until the
next harvest season.
According to the National Wages and
Productivity Commission (NWPC), a family of six living in Metro Manila
needs P594 ($10.55) to fulfill food and nonfood requirements.
A carabao "wearing"
peasants' demand for an increase
in palay prices rests before a streamer calling for the resignation of
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Meanwhile Elmer Labog, chair of the
Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May First Movement), expressed support for the
farmers’ demands and lambasted the Macapagal-Arroyo administration for
recently reiterating its proposal to impose eight new tax measures that
have been already criticized for their being anti-poor.
“President Arroyo pleads for
understanding from (the people), and asks us to endure until 2010, which
is the deadline for her administration’s MTPDP (Medium-Term Philippine
Development Plan). This is great folly! It means we should die for the
meantime, and come back to life come 2010,” Labog said in a speech during
The Oct. 21 rally ended the four-day
activity of the progressive peasant movement. Peasant activists and other
groups earlier held a vigil at the Department of Agriculture (DA) office
in Quezon City starting Oct. 18.
The following day (Oct. 19),
accompanied by their mothers and a number of peasant leaders, some 30
children from Hacienda Luisita, a 6,000-hectare sugar plantation owned by
the Cojuangco family in Tarlac (about two and a half hours north of
Manila) picketed the house of former President Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino on
Times St., Quezon City to protest the retrenchment on Sept. 30 of 326
The Hacienda Luisita children and
their mothers refuted claims of the management that workers had to be
retrenched because the company was losing money. “If the company is indeed
losing money, (the Cojuangcos) should just give the land to us so we can
tend to it,” said Carina Espino, secretary-general of the United Luisita
Workers Union (ULWU).
Espino told Bulatlat that
Hacienda Luisita has been undergoing land conversion since 1995. Because
of this, she said, Hacienda Luisita workers and residents are being
A million signatures for president’s resignation
On Oct. 20, the peasant protesters
held a “Street Conference” as part of the program at the DA office in
which, among other things, they launched a “Manila Declaration,” a
petition aiming to gather a million signatures for the resignation of
“Based on data from the government
itself,” the declaration read, “481,000 peasants and fisherfolks lost
their livelihood within just one year, from April last year to April this
At the Oct. 21 rally, Apolinario
Alvarez, chairperson of Anakbayan (Nation’s Youth), scored the Macapagal-Arroyo
administration for causing the hunger of millions of Filipinos. He also
reiterated the Manila Declaration’s call for Macapagal-Arroyo’s
The declaration assailed the
anti-peasant and anti-people policies of the Macapagal-Arroyo
administration, including agricultural trade liberalization and the
absence of a genuine agrarian reform program.
Photos by Alexander Martin Remollino/Bulatlat
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