By RUTH LUMIBAO
MANILA — On October 17 to 20, around 5,000 Visayan farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolk will gather in Cebu City to demand food security, justice and end to repression. Dubbed as ”Lakbayan ng Visayas 2017,” the three-day activities will be held simultaneous with the Lakbay Magsasaka, the Luzon peasant protest caravan in Manila.
John Ruiz, coordinator of Bayan Muna Central Visayas, explained that massive hunger and extreme poverty brought by the intensified neoliberal policies of the Duterte administration drove the people in Visayas to embark on this campaign. As part of its program, a Visayas Rural Poor Summit will be held. This aims to consolidate all the issues and demands of farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolks all over Visayas to be forwarded the concerned government agencies.
The Lakbayanis target to set their camp in Plaza Independencia, along with other satellite camps around Cebu City. This is the second Visayan-wide protest caravan to be held. The first was in December 2016 when progressive groups led by Yolanda survivors and peasants traveled to the National Capital Region where they staged a series of protests.
One of the compelling reasons for Visayan farmers to protest is tiempo muerto, or “dead season,” generally referring to the period from April to August when sugar lands are least productive. Sugar workers earn less than a dollar a day during the tiempo muerto — not even sufficient to buy a sack of rice, not even sufficient for them to eat three times a day.
But with the worsening poverty and landless, poor farmers experience tiempo muerto all year round.
“Currently, more than 300,000 sugar workers and more than 2 million of their dependents are going hungry as they experience the tiempo muerto or dead season,” said Michael Dela Concepcion, Secretary General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Negros, in a statement.
Intensive land and crop conversion in the Visayas also adversely affects farmers as the productivity of agricultural land is destroyed.
“Because our government has abandoned its responsibility to develop our agriculture, the most important source of food, majority of us farmers cannot afford to feed ourselves three times a day,” said Nick Abasolo, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Cebu.
Widespread rights abuses
Similar to the plight of members of the peasant sector in other parts of the Philippines, Visayan farmers, farm workers, and fisherfolk are victims of harassment, intimidation, and other human rights violations done by state agents.
In a statement, KMP highlighted that eight cases of extrajudicial killings have been recorded in Guihulngan City, Negros Oriental just this July. The victims were members of progressive peasant and people’s organizations.
On September 21, the peasant group Kapunongan Alang sa Ugma sa Gagmay’ng Mag-uuma sa Oriental Negros (KAUGMAON) – KMP filed a complaint in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) regional office after receiving various threats and harassments from suspected members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Almost a month later, they have yet to receive any response.
There are also records of human rights violations against members of local peasant groups in Bohol and Samar.
“No significant change”
Jaime Paglinawan, chairperson of Bayan-Central Visayas, said that the Duterte administration is waging three kinds of wars: the war against drugs, the war against revolutionaries, and the war against the Moro.
“The victims of the all-out war are always the poor, the vocal critics of the government, and Filipino people,” he said. “Martial law is implemented in Mindanao but it seems that we are also under Martial Law because of the spate of killings and human rights violations in Visayas.”
While the government largely spends on guns and ammunition, Paglinawan observed that it pays little to no attention to the needs of the agricultural sector.
Similar to past administrations, Ruiz explained that the Duterte administration failed to produce any significant change for the benefit of the Filipino people. The interests of the majority but marginalized sector are still put aside in favor of the interests of landlords, oligarchs, and businessmen. He cited the proposed Tax Reform Acceleration with Inclusions (TRAIN), which will impose added tax on basic commodities, adding great burden to the Filipino people, especially members of the peasant sector.