The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) lambasted the US-Duterte regime for continuing neoliberal policies of previous regimes.
These neoliberal policies threaten the country’s food security. In a media conference today to highlight #LakbayMagsasaka: Pambansang Lakbayan ng Magsasaka Para sa Lupa at Laban sa Pasismo from October 16-25, speakers from UMA said that, “This is vastly different from what the President is saying that the main threat to food security is caused by terrorism and armed groups. This might just be a ploy to clamp down on peasants asserting their rights to the land including resisting expansion of agribusiness plantations, and increasing the wages and benefits of agricultural workers.”
According to UMA Secretary General John Lozande, who is currently in Visayas to prepare for the Cebu leg of #LakbayMagsasaka from Oct 17-20: “President Duterte stated that we should not rely on the agricultural products of ASEAN neighbors forever, while at the same time not doing anything to get out of the dictates of the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) which imposed the lowering of tariffs of imported sugar to just 5% on January 1, 2015 from the previous 38%.” Lozande also represents the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).
“This would increase the importation and even smuggling of imported sugar into the country. At the same time, the government has not done enough to curtail the importation of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which even the hacienderos are complaining about,” Lozande added.
The government also has only extended the quantitative restriction on rice purchases as imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in place for three more years instead of totally rejecting it. The import restriction should have been implemented on July 1 this year, but at the same time the country’s private traders are still allowed to import 805,200 tons of rice yearly until 2020.
But more than that, food security cannot be attained by the country if the peasants including agricultural workers do not have control over the land that was supposed to be distributed to them through the bogus Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). And as long as policies associated to it, among others, like allowing Agribusiness Ventures Agreements (AVAs) to function remain in place. A new law such as the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) should instead be enacted.
In Negros Occidental alone, 70% of the lands supposedly distributed by the DAR have already been leased to financiers and hacienderos. While in Hacienda Luisita, the DAR then headed by Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano determined through its validation process that 83% of the lands allocated for distribution have either been leased or sold back to the landlords through deception and coercion.
According to the Network Resisting Expansion of Agribusiness Plantations in Mindanao (REAP Mindanao Network), there are already 1.2 million hectares of lands that are under different AVAs such as joint ventures, lease contracts, built-operate-transfer, management contracts, service contracts and production, and processing and marketing agreements with the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs).
These agreements eventually reduce ARBs back to their status as farmworkers with low income and insecure land tenure. AVAs became extremely favorable for agribusiness TNCs like Dole and Del Monte, because these gave them control over CARP lands.
Duterte targets up to 1.6 million hectares more for the expansion of corporate plantations, most of which are in Mindanao. But these only covers rubber, sugarcane, oil pam, Cavendish banana, cacao, and pineapple. These do not include farms under contract growing with agribusiness (e.g. Nestle in growing coffee Robusta on 57,000 hectares and coffee Arabica on 15,000 hectares), rice and corn plantations for corporations (e.g. hybrid rice plantations of SL Agritech), and flower plantations.
“Duterte’s recent statements that he wants to reduce plantations and increase lands for food crops ring hollow. This is not what is happening on the ground. His neoliberal economic policies are contrary to his statements,” said Lozande.
“Peasants asserting their rights to the land, for better wages and benefits, also become victims of the US-Duterte regime. Peasant leaders are killed and ordinary folk are intimidated. As of Ausgut, 81 peasants have already been killed by the US-Duterte regime, including some leaders of UMA. Martial law has been declared in Mindanao to sow terror among peasant and lumad communities who are asserting their rights to the land, and even against workers on strike like those from Shin Sun Tropical Fruit Corp. in Compostela Valley.
“The situation of the peasants including agricultural workers will further be exposed to the general public during #LakbayMagsasaka. Farmers from the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus associations of Bukidnon, who are striving to keep their vast bungkalan, and the TADECO ARBs from Davao del Norte are currently on their way to Manila. We call on the public to stand in solidarity with farmers against neoliberal policies and suppression of their rights by the US-Duterte regime,” ended Lozande.
For reference, please contact:
Aurello “Gi” Estrada