MANILA—Eastern Visayas farmers’ Stand With Samar: Caravan for Rights and Justice kicked off on February 22, Thursday, as the fifty-farmer delegation arrived at the national capital after a day of travel from their region. Progressive groups under Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, who marched from Far Eastern University to the Mendiola Peace Arch, welcomed the delegates and joined the farmers in a program denouncing the National Food Authority’s importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice.
Regional peasant alliance in Eastern Visayas Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) secretary general Jun Berino pressed that the region is the country’s second poorest despite being one of its top rice granaries. “We, the farmers, are the ones who plant rice, harvest them and bring them to your tables yet we are the ones who have nothing to eat”, Berino claimed.
Carrying scarecrows with the call “hands-off our farmers, our land, and our people”, the delegates criticized government inaction over demands to rehabilitate the agriculture sector in the region. Prompted by a steadily declining contribution of farming production to the regional gross domestic product (RGDP), Berino explained that the Caravan is part of a year-long thrust to resolve Eastern Visayas’ five-year agriculture slump.
Based on data from independent think tank Ibon Foundation, Eastern Visayas has the highest land tenancy rate nationwide indicating that most farmers plant crops on land they only lease on. In addition, Sagupa estimates that over 60 percent of all peasants in Samar island have no access to irrigation and are reliant on rainfall for their crops amid the free irrigation bill lapsing into law earlier in February. Eastern Visayas farmers are approaching a state of famine as “the crows of government are killing them” says Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas. “We have no land to plant on, no irrigation to water our crops, no food on our tables. This is not just hunger, this is death”, Berino stressed.
Pests in the government cause hunger
The delegates likened the state to the bunchy top virus, coconut scale insect or “cocolisap” and black bug or “kumaw-kumaw” that “take advantage of their ailing crops and livelihood” citing the recent importation of 250,000 metric tons which, according to them, will “render locally produced rice uncompetitive and far too expensive”
In a statement, alliance for disaster survivors People Surge said that the government’s neoliberal policies aimed at deregulating the agriculture industry and opening it up to the private sector are crow-like attempts to feed on what little the peasantry have after years of government neglect.
“You could not expect harvests from our rain-fed agricultural fields with very little to no aid from the government to be able to compete with state-supported imported rice arriving in tons. This will paralyze our livelihood and the region’s economy”, said People Surge spokesperson Marissa Cabaljao.
In year 2016, Eastern Visayas also held ‘Lakbayan ng Visayas II’ primarily calling out the government for the intensifying hunger, poverty, and fascism in the region three years after the biggest typhoon in history devastated the region.
This year, the delegates are highlighting the major decline in crops production due to the pests infecting abaca, coconut, and palay – three of the region’s major produce. Eastern Visayas, in fact, is the country’s second top producer of coconut next to the Davao region.
Surge of calamity victims to ‘shake the crow’s nest’
Until the 8th of March, the fifty-farmer delegation will hold protest rallies and dialogues with several government agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Philippine Coconut Authority and the Department of National Defense to air out their demands covering agriculture and human rights abuses.
In the course of the Manila caravan, they will “shake the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ headquarters Camp Aguinaldo to condemn the humanitarian crisis being instigated by the 8th Infantry Division deployed in the region” after the Marawi seige, two of which are assigned in Northern Samar alone.
Included in the list of their demands are immediate rice subsidy for the farmers who are greatly affected by massive pest infestation, Emergency Production Assistance under a pro-people agricultural rehabilitation program, and the immediate pull-out of troops from their communities and homes.
Meanwhile, the farmers from Eastern Visayas are inviting all sectors and groups to integrate and immerse with them at UCCP Gastambide where they are currently housed.