UNLIKE President Duterte’s promise to end contractualization, which Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello seem set on defying in the name of making sure capitalists are happy (who cares about workers?), the President’s Men who have anything to do at all with agriculture and agrarian reform are probably the best men for their jobs.
Yet not even the appointments of Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano and Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol have forced landlords and big business to start respecting farmers’ rights. Recently we were reminded of the systemic oppression of our farmers and how, regardless of agrarian reform, feudal lords still reign over agricultural lands and abuse farmers with impunity.
For some farmers, change has yet to come.
The Cojuangcos’ Hacienda Luisita
On December 4, news broke of armed guards at the Cojuangcos’ Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac shooting at farmers and peasant families, to forcibly evict them from their homes.
While the history of the land crisis at this hacienda is well-documented, more recent history–say, since President Duterte won–is telling of what the Cojuangcos have gotten away with all these years.
In June, with news that Mariano was going to be the new agrarian reform secretary, the Alyansang Manggagawang Bukid ng Asyenda Luisita (Ambala) reported the machinations against the farmers of Luisita, with policemen keeping farmers from going to portions of the land still being claimed by the Cojuangco-controlled Tarlac Development Corp. (Tadeco) (Philippine Star, 3 June). This happened at a time when farmers would have been preparing the land for planting.
In July, members of Ambala reminded us all about the injustices at Hacienda Luisita with a petition asking newly appointed Secretary Mariano to, among other things, nullify the process of land distribution via “tambiolo,” revoke the 1996 conversion order of 500 hectares at the hacienda, ensure the audit of the P1.33 billion shares of farmers from the sale of hacienda assets, and the removal of military troops from the Luisita (Inquirer.net, 8 July).
In August, the Department of Agrarian Reform ordered the distribution of 358.22 hectares of Tadeco land to farmer-beneficiaries at Luisita, a case that had been pending at the DAR for three years (Inquirer.net, 26 August).
The Cojuangcos had asserted that these lands were non-agricultural and that DAR had failed to “serve notices of coverage.” Secretary Mariano declared that the land remained agricultural and that notices of coverage were issued within the effectivity of CARP (Inquirer.net, 26 August).
It is telling that even DAR officials could not enter this part of Hacienda Luisita, as the Cojuangcos have built a barbed wire fence and hired armed guards to keep farmer-beneficiaries away.
The Lorenzos’ Lapanday Foods
On December 12, news broke about the armed security guards of Lapanday Foods in Tagum, Davao del Norte shooting at banana plantation farmers.
According to Monico Dayahan of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai), his group was walking towards the plantation to do their harvest when 10 security guards approached them and fired indiscriminately (Inquirer.net, 13 December).
Seven farmers, including a 16-year-old, were wounded and brought to the hospital. Two days after, on December 14, two more Tagum farmers were wounded in another attack by Lapanday guards. Two of the nine farmers remain in critical condition (Interaksyon.com, 14 December).
The Marbai farmers had camped out near the plantation on December 9 to take back from Lapanday the 145 hectares of land that had already been awarded them by government in 1996 (Mindanews, 13 December).
Lapanday insists that the armed guards were not acting on their orders, but that this was a problem between Marbai and the farmers’ cooperative Hijo Employees Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Cooperative 1, or HEARBCO-1 (Inquirer.net, 13 December). Members of Marbai had separated from HEARBCO-1 when the latter “entered into a banana sales marketing agreement with Lapanday in 2010.” The agreement would have farmers earning approximately P2,000 pesos a month working their own land (Sunstar.com.ph, 16 November).
In reality, whatever conflict there might be between HEARBCO-1 and Marbai does not absolve Lapanday of any wrongdoing. It is clear that at the center of all this is Lapanday, as it has ultimately maintained control over these lands awarded to farmers in the 1990s.
Using “growership contracts,” Lapanday has continued to manage these lands rightfully owned by farmers, keeping farmers at the mercy of purported demands of the world market. Under this contract, Lapanday buys a box (approximately 13 kilograms) of bananas from farmers for $3 dollars (Mindanews.com, 13 December).
In April this year, 13 kgs of bananas from the Philippines would be bought by Japan at approximately $12.32 dollars (Nikkei Asian Review, 2 June). That’s four times the amount Lapanday was buying these bananas for.
For the past six years, Marbai farmers have been disallowed from entering their own land, after they refused to sign what they considered as “onerous, deceptive, exploitative, and oppressive” contracts with Lapanday.
It is this land that they are fighting for today.
That iron fist
By December 15, Secretary Mariano had already prohibited Lapanday Foods and its security guards from evicting farmers who are reclaiming their 145hectares of land (Inquirer.net, 15 December).
Yet the past six months with Secretary Mariano has reminded us that it will take more than a decisive, pro-farmer policy to get our farmers out of the clutches of oppression.
It will take a President who will declare in no uncertain terms that he is going to war against the abusive policies of landlords, feudal lords, and big business. It will take a President who will stand squarely on the side of our farmers, towards liberating them from the clutches of the elite. It will take a President who has courage and daring, who will use an iron fist in making real agrarian reform happen.
Good thing President Duterte has proven he’s got all that. Now to make it happen before it’s too late.