A YEAR-long protest by small farmers in India against three laws passed last year to supposedly introduce "market reforms" and "modernize" India's agriculture had an unexpected, triumphal ending a few days back. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an unbending authoritarian and stoker of ethnic conflicts, backed down and promised to repeal the three laws on pricing, sale and storage of farm products. He blamed "poor messaging" for the farmers intense opposition to the three laws and obliquely admitted defeat for his supposed farm modernization push.

The three laws passed essentially ended the government price support for grains and other major crops — similar to the floor price for palay procured by our National Food Authority (NFA) before the Rice Tariffication Law in 2019 — and opened up India's agriculture to commercial and corporate buyers.

Modi asked the protesting farmers whose resolve to scrap the "market reforms" led them to makeshift camps in New Delhi (and suffer from Covid, death, starvation, suicides and a brutally harsh winter) to "go home" in peace. In his seven years in power, Modi surrendered to nothing and bended to no one. It was a rare admission of defeat for a strongman who ordered the brutal annexation of the Kashmir region, then cut off the Internet connection of Kashmir to the world after a global uproar over the annexation. And whose political party, the BJP, often incites its followers to carry out mosque-burning and the harassment of non-Hindus to prop up the BJP's fortunes in a Hindu-majority nation of 1.4 billion people.

Small farmers across the world celebrated with the small Indian farmers after their totally unexpected win over one of the world's unbending authoritarian rulers. But as we, the small Filipino farmers celebrated the victory of our fellow small farmers in India, we also took note of one tragic fact. The victory of the small farmers there trained a harsh spotlight on our cowardice. Yes, our impossible and unbearable cowardice.

In many ways, the Modi and Duterte governments have identical policies on "agricultural modernization." This is to introduce "market reforms" and corporatize the agriculture sector. Even the jargon and rhetoric used in pushing for the so-called market reforms have identical rings and tones. The mendacious agriculture secretary, William Dar, has been the primary abettor of these cruel anti-farm policies.

But there was a divergence of reaction between the Indian farmers and Filipino farmers. Protests and action on the part of the Indians — and the willingness to suffer and die just to oppose the so-called " market reforms."

But from our end, only silence and full-blown cowardice. Acceptance and surrender. All of us, from the beaten-down, long-suffering small farmers and small animal raisers to the fake farmers now representing us in the phony party-list groups at the House of Representatives. This small farmer-typist whines and groans from time to time. But what can a few paragraphs do to alter the neo-liberal course of our harsh, anti-small farming policies? Nothing. As I plunged my hoe into the half-moist earth (yes, farming is still the 19th century version) to plant vegetables and clear the unruly weeds, I fully owned up to that cowardice and the lack of an elementary will to protest the cruel anti-small farm policies of the Duterte administration.

The anti-farm policies imposed by the Duterte administration make up a long list, and they are definitely more brutal on small farmers than three laws that the Modi government propose to repeal.

In early 2019, the Duterte-controlled Congress succeeded where previous government had failed — end the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports and approved a rice tariff law that dumped 3.1 million metric tons of rice into the country in just 10 months of reckless, exuberant importation that year. A review made by the Federation of Free Farmers only validated what the small farmers feared — that only traders and importers benefited heavily from the reckless importation. Very little gains went to rice consumers and the small rice farmers were driven to bankruptcy and poverty.

We were the world's top rice importer in 2019, the second biggest last year, and we are contending with China on who will be on top this year, with our 2021 rice imports estimated at 2.5 million metric tons. As with the 2019 story, the only big winners from the rice tariff law last year were the importers and traders. It will be the same tragic narrative this year.

As the African swine fever (ASF) ravaged farms big and small in the major hog-raising regions, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, starting in 2019, the government's knee-jerk reaction to the pork shortage was the usual stuff — tariff cuts. The introduction of ASF into the country was due to government neglect, yet the solution to the pork shortage was not ASF control but tariff cuts to usher in pork dumping on a massive scale. The move was a severe blow to the local hog industry, which before the ASF rampage was the eighth biggest in the world.

The reaction to the fish shortage was cut from the same "open up" cloth. From October 2021 to March next year, more than 200,000 metric tons of fish would be imported, on top of the 60,000 MT already ordered. Like pork, fish prices remain high, despite the "opening up."

The Philippine Corp Insurance Corp. has been restructured, to do away with the subsidy mandate and run it like a corporation with a "business model." This is a country battered by brutal weather year in and year out and subsidy is the imperative, given the harsh climactic realities and the lack of production support.

There is a law that mandates the banking system to allot 25 percent of their yearly loanable funds to agriculture. The implementation has been weak and toothless since the time of Marcos in the 1970s and toothless up to the time of Mr. Duterte.

The banking system pays at the very least several billion pesos a year in fines, the penalty for violating the Agri-Agra Law. The true measure of compliance to the law is the 10 percent that is supposed to go to loans to agrarian beneficiaries (the poorest farmers ) a year. Historically, the yearly loan allocation to the agrarian sector has been less than one percent a year.

There is a plan to merge the Land Bank of the Philippines, whose original mandate is to support small farmers, with the Development Bank of the Philippines to create a state-owned superbank and erase whatever traces remain of LandBank's original farm-centric mandate.

Like India, whose small farmers make up 82 percent of the total farmer population, majority of our farmers are old, barely productive and living in grinding poverty.

Like India, whose millions of barely productive small farmers just contribute 18 percent to India's GDP, roughly 30 percent of the Filipino workforce live off small-scale agriculture, yet contribute just 8 to 10 percent to the country's GDP year in and year out.

The similarities end there. Indian farmers fought for their rights and many died in the fight for those rights. We, the small Filipino farmers, are stricken with unbearable cowardice.