There was nothing surprising about the farmers in Kidapawan coming out to the streets to demand for food. To me, it did not even need to be about climate change and drought. This was long in coming, a product of band-aid solutions to real problems that have to do with farmers tilling land not theirs, with land being owned by a wealthy few, with the lack of a real pro-people, pro-farmer program of agriculture.
That the farmers of Kidapawan were violently dispersed would only be surprising to anyone who thinks this government respects the people’s right to peaceably assemble, which would mean being blind to all those instances when rallies have been violently dispersed by matuwid-na-daan.
That farmers were killed during the dispersal, that more than 70 were illegally detained including senior citizens and pregnant women, that police were injured too in the process, that no high official has resigned – not even the good governor who had refused to distribute the 15,000 sacks of rice available for the farmers to take home – such is the story of the past six years with this government.
Long in coming
Of course The President’s Men can always say: this is not solely his government’s fault. They would be correct. We have not had a President really who has had an agricultural program that seeks to make our farmers productive citizens, earning enough to live decent lives and fend for families, supported by a government that knows what they need given the changing climate and environmental degradation, the fact of globalization and the influx of foreign agricultural products.
The President can say, “Look at my mother! She instituted the agrarian reform program!” We, of course, all know what happened to Cory’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) – it has smaller landowners giving up their land, thinking that this was what the new democratic government was about, only to find in the end that it would be Cory’s Cojuangco family who would evade the program altogether. Using the stock distribution option (SDO), Cory’s (and Noynoy’s and Kris’s) family transferred “stocks instead of land” to farmers, on the premise that this would make them “stockholders” or “co-owners” of the hacienda.
In fact, this only allowed landowners to evade real land distribution. It also left farmers poorer, with those who have raised valid issues about the SDO being threatened and harassed for refusing to cooperate up to now.
And because the President likes to accuse the Marcoses of making us forget, here’s something to remember: in 2004, 14 farmers were killed; 200 were injured, 30 with gunshot wounds; 130 were arrested after farmers staged a strike calling for the reinstatement of their union members. One thousand policemen, two armored personnel carriers, fire trucks and water cannons were brought in. Tear gas was thrown at protesters, the army shot at the picket line.
This happened in Hacienda Luisita. It happens in many other haciendas in the country until now.
Now layered with the fact of drought and climate change, certainly the President can say that it’s all just a matter of luck. Malas lang, sa kanya nangyari ang malalaking trahedya.
But this drought is something that’s expected, wasn’t it? This was not the strongest storm to ever make landfall, the magnitude of which no one could’ve prepared for. This is no earthquake. This is El Niño: predicted and expected. Government agencies predicted it would be this bad, and provinces were being declared under a state of calamity at the tail-end of last year and early this year. Before that, we were all being told that it would go from bad to worse for our farmers.
For our farmers. Not the landlords whose land they till. Not the big plantation owners and capitalists. It was going to be bad for our farmers. Because they are the ones who already earn and live with so little. As with any tragedy, it is the poor who suffer the most. Sure, the big capitalists and plantation owners might lose out on their investments, but it is not equal to the hunger of their families, not equal to eating rats just to survive.
Not equal to a farmer committing suicide in the face of his dried, cracked land.
In the present, the President and this government could have done many things, other than what it has already done. I do not erase the value of cloud seeding and whatever assistance they provided via calamity funds to the local government. I do question the idea that this was enough, I do abhor the excuse that maybe farmers just couldn’t be reached by those who distributed rice subsidies because, you know, our geography makes it difficult to get to every place in need.
Please. Those are excuses that have no place in a government that promises that it cares about the poor as much as it does about foreign investments and credit ratings. It has no place in any government that has the time and the team of people, and most certainly the money – billions in savings, billion in the President’s discretionary funds – to arrest this situation.
Voting for farmers
That Kidapawan happened when it did is telling of this government’s neglect. It did some things, sure. It does not mean it did things right – or that it’s doing it right by farmers now that over 60 of them are still in jail.
What is sad, of course, is that it does not seem like we’re demanding anything at all of this new slate of candidates for President. Who has a real agricultural platform that is pro-poor, pro-farmer? More than just giving us promises of budget allocations and infrastructure, have we asked these candidates questions about the bigger picture? About the how they’re going to solve this crisis, instead of what they plan to do?
All the presidential candidates trumpet foreign investments. All of them are pro-mining, and have yet to truly speak about what responsible mining looks like. No one has decisively spoken against Lumad lands being militarized in the name of big plantations and mining companies.
Mar Roxas’s Bukid Revolution has as centerpiece giving out loans to farmers – which is not at all what they need or deserve after years of neglect. Jojo Binay seems to be the one who has a real platform for agriculture, one that is about subsidies and assistance specific to farmers’ needs, but no one has cared to listen. Grace Poe is all script at this point. Rodrigo Duterte has nothing but a platform of peace and order – he is also pro-coal-fired power plants, which can only make climate change worse.
We don’t ask questions, and we don’t demand real doable feasible programs. We do get the governments we deserve – matuwid-na-daan included. Meanwhile, Kidapawan reminds us that no government has ever cared for our farmers and peasants, and while we imagine that voting for a President is about changing our lives, what about thinking of which President will change these farmers’ lives for once.