The lack of support to agriculture has forced farmers to accept low pay, insecure informal work or odd jobs.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Anakpawis Partylist representative Ayik Casilao announced November 8 that a big protest by farmers in the Visayas is bound to happen soon. Next in their priority, he said, is the building of a class suit against four or five government officials of the Aquino government who allegedly exhibited criminal negligence on the plight of typhoon survivors. He warned that the farmers and people commonly at the “frontline” of disasters in typhoon belt Visayas will also be compelled to take action if the Department of Agriculture did not follow through with promised reforms to farmers and disaster “frontline” communities.
Farmers and typhoon victims have delayed filing a collective action suit expecting results from the Duterte administration’s early assurances and promises. Casilao said that at the start of the Duterte administration, the farmers held out against pushing such a case hoping the new administration will indeed take to task the Aquino administration for its “criminal negligence” regarding relief and genuine rehabilitation.
Anakpawis is coordinating with People Surge, an alliance of typhoon survivors in Eastern Visayas, in preparing the class suit. Casilao agreed to the Ibon research findings that much of the positive statistics and regional growth reported in the Yolanda-ravaged region is “just drawing.”
“Go to the barangay and sitio-level and you’d see it is not being felt by the farmers,” he said.
Duterte administration continuing Aquino administration’s faulty ‘rehab’
Rep. Casilao said the farmers’ plight in the Eastern Visayas has grown worse and the Duterte administration only renamed the anti-people projects began by the Aquino administration. “The strategy and core effect are the same,” he said.
At the Ibon assessment of four years of rehabilitation, reconstruction and recovery in the typhoon-ravaged Eastern Visayas, the worsening plight of farmers in the region was discussed. They put the blame on this “tragedy” to the government’s flawed rehabilitation which they said not only neglects agriculture but also seeks to separate the people from their sources of livelihood.
IBON executive editor and research head Rosario Bella Guzman said the government’s Build Back Better program facilitated full neoliberal or market-oriented reforms in the rehabilitation of Yolanda-stricken areas. “Declaring the shores as no dwelling zones (NDZ) mandated clearing so-called hazard areas of survivors’ homes and livelihood in favor of business structures such as hotels and resorts. Additionally, the land use policy favored conversion of agricultural lands to other uses,” she said.
It is plain and simple forced demolition, Guzman added.
The NDZ declared by the government in provinces of Eastern Visayas calls for clearing of structures 40 meters away from the shoreline purportedly due to its being a danger zone. But as Jam Pinpin, spokesperson of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, said, it seems the government response is harsher than the natural disaster.
Ibon and many groups with projects helping the typhoon survivors said this mode of rehabilitation has aggravated the hardships of recovery and the survivors’ vulnerability to future disasters. Guzman said: “The so-called rehabilitation projects, in fact, worsen the people’s diminishing access to resources, livelihoods, public utilities, and social services.”
Not even the glowing government reports on regional productivity could change their assessment that the Yolanda rehabilitation has been in its fourth year of tragedy in Eastern Visayas.
“Although the region posted the highest growth rate in terms of gross regional domestic product (GRDP) at 12.4 percent during 2016, there was an increase in informal work, stark landlessness, and acute poverty,” Guzman said.
She also clarified that the government has been “moderating” statistical reports to suit their desired projection of Eastern Visayas. Data on the employment situation and landlessness are practically doctored, she said, because from 2014 to 2015 it excluded employment data of the typhoon-ravaged provinces. The lack of support to agriculture has forced farmers to accept low pay, insecure informal work or odd jobs. Guzman said Eastern Visayas has the highest underemployment rate in the country.
If the government pushes ahead with its current mode of rehabilitation, Casilao foresees an eruption of what he described as a looming political and social volcano.
He said the government must not “forget” that Eastern Visayas is an agricultural region. That amid reports of high productivity, its production of coconut, rice and corn have been down since Yolanda. Until now, Casilao and Guzman said, its production has not approached, and will not likely approach, the pre-Yolanda levels of productivity without government support to farmers through land reform and agriculture.