“ Farmers should not underestimate the power of their vote during election.
Agriculture-dependent regions such as Region 3, Region 5, Region 6 and Region 7 have a total of 16.2 million votes. This is 30% of the country’s total voter population, which is 50 million.”
IPANALO ANG MAGSASAKANG PILIPINO The Philippine Peasant Sector Agriculture is the main source of livelihood for the 60% of Filipinos residing in the rural areas. Over the last decade, more than 30% of the labor force has belonged to the agriculture sector. A little over half of the underemployed, or those who work less than 40 hours a week, belong to the agriculture sector as well. Of 12 million Filipinos dependent on agriculture for livelihood, only 2 million own the land they till. The farmers fight to death, literally, with the abusive landowners in order to till their own land and decide how to utilize the land best. In 2009, agriculture accounted for 18% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Although agriculture largely contributes to economic growth, farmers themselves do not feel the impact of any positive change in the economy. According to the series of Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys on self-rated poverty, more than 50% of rural folks consider themselves poor. Official data from the 2006 poverty studies of the National Statistical Coordinating Board (NSCB) show that 26.9% of Filipinos are poor. Peasants vulnerable to inequality Peasants are victims of unequal distribution of land. The rural elite monopolizes vast lands while peasants are left to work all day in lands they do not even own. The rich families abuse poor farm workers in order to support their thriving businesses and vices.
Visayas is home to sugar-milling families owning vast estates. These lands are developed and tilled by landless farmers. According to data from the SWS, self-rated poverty is highest in Visayas over the past years, with about half of the families seeing themselves as poor. They subsist on less than P6,000 a month, as indicated in the September 2010 survey. According to the same survey, the region is also home to the most self-rated food-poor in the country with 50% of the respondents saying that they think their families lack food. Food and other basic requirements are out of reach for most peasants. These problems are made graver because of macro-economic problems – unemployment, poverty and the rising cost of living. But the situation is worse for women who, aside from experiencing socio-economic inequality, are victims of gender inequality. Women farm workers are finding it even harder to obtain land rights. Institutional discrimination against the rights of women is prevalent despite their important role in agriculture and food production. Many women in rural areas are uneducated and less aware of their rights than their urban counterparts because in the country’s “macho culture,” males are chosen to go to school over females to earn a decent living. Land and opportunities equity needed In order to correct the problems of unequal distribution of wealth and resources, land must be redistributed to the rightful farmers. The distribution of land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) will help the rural poor generate more income for themselves because farmers would have more control over crop production. Lease payments will be eliminated as well. Redistribution must be completed before land values surge. CARP used up to P162-billion in public funds from 1998 to 2008. The P150-billion budget for the full implementation of CARP until 2014 may be insufficient if swift government action is not realized. There are a total of 6.2 million hectares of CARPable land. Of that total, 5.16 million were distributed in the last 20 years. The bulk of the remaining 1.6-million hectares is concentrated in the Visayas region. In the Negros provinces alone, more than 100,000 hectares of land have not yet been distributed. Most lands in Region 5 (Bicol region) are also still in the hands of the rural elite. Farmers in Tarlac (in Region 3) are still struggling to win land rights in Hacienda Luisita, a sugar plantation owned by the family of President Benigno Aquino III. If farmers assert their rights during election season and vote for a government official who truly represents peasants, then land distribution completion may be possible. Farmers should not underestimate the power of their vote during election. Agriculture-dependent regions such as Region 3, Region 5, Region 6 and Region 7 have a total of 16.2 million votes. This is 30% of the country’s total voter population, which is 50 million.
Support services for peasants Land workers should not only own the land they till, they should also be provided support services in order to make their lands fully productive. Instead of prioritizing militarization and debt-repayment, the government should empower farmers by allocating funds on agriculturally productive programs and policies. Although there are a number of programs for agricultural development in the country, these programs are not geared towards sustainable development. The programs provided for by the government in recent years, for example, are concentrated on food purchases. The programs do not help the country become selfsufficient in food production. These are ways on how the government can help peasants: Prioritize agriculture by providing more funds in the General Appropriations Act. There should be investments in farm and rural enterprises to achieve food security, sustained productivity and more equitable economic growth. Government must do away with food importation. The government should support modernization of the agriculture sector: Support should not stop at food production. Product management and marketing must be taught to farm workers as well. Post-harvest facilities should be built, given away and utilized. Irrigation systems must be constructed and rehabilitated. Only 46% of the 3 million hectares of irrigable land is being utilized. Instead of providing seed subsidies, the government must expand access to credit to the agriculture sector with minimal interest charges for farmers to develop a crop that is appropriate for their land. Farmers must be provided with linkages to markets. Not only should there be more farm-to-market roads, there must also be closer cooperation between producers and the agri-business sector. There should be better implementation of land use policies in the Philippines – not just covering agricultural areas but also tropical forests and grasslands.
Empowering laws To be fully empowered, peasants must assert their rights and know their laws. For the objectives peasant-empowering laws to be realized, implementation and political will is key. 1) CARP extension with revisions (CARPER): Provides a budget of P150 billion for land redistribution to farmers with support services for 1.2 million farmers. 2) Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997 (RA 8435): Aims to accelerate the development of agriculture and fisheries through policies and programs for modernization of the sector. 3) Magna Carta of Small Farmers (RA 7607): Aims to give the highest priority to agricultural development and equal distribution of benefits and opportunities to small farmers. The statute recognizes the role of women and youth in rural and mainstream development and shall be required by law to develop their skills and acquire productive employment. Sustainable land use and water is also highlighted. 4) High Value Crops Development Act (RA 7900): Aims to accelerate the development of agriculture and also to enhance productivity and income of farm
workers. The law promotes the harvest of “high value crops” like coffee, fruits and vegetables. It also states that idle land, or land not used for economic purposes for three years before the government gives a receipt of acquisition, shall be eligible for CARP. Sources: Project Development Institute, “Rural Empowerment through Agrarian/Asset Development”; Social Weather Stations survey bank; National Statistical Coordination Board, National Statistics Office, Department of Agriculture Bureau of Agricultural Statistics; Philippine Human Development Report 2008/2009; National Agricultural and Fishery Commission; Commission on Elections.