MANILA—Eastern Visayas farmers succeeded in pushing the Department of Agriculture (DA) to consider making Eastern Visayas regional peasant alliance Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma ha Sinirangan Bisayas (Sagupa SB) part of the technical working group that will validate the farmers’ claims and demands especially their issue on massive pest infestation.
Attended by twenty peasant-leaders from Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), a dialogue with DA was held last February 28 where DA Undersecretary for Operations Ariel Cayanan assured the farmers that their agency will further discuss the peasants’ five-point demands.
“This is a result of the three-day camp-out. Had it not been for our determination to travel all the way from Eastern Visayas to Metro Manila, the agency will probably not even care about our situation – the alarming pest infestation and the famine looming all over the region”, said Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas Secretary General Jun Berino.
The farmers are also set to have a dialogue with Philippine Fiber Industry Development Authority (PhilFIDA) on March 5 to “hopefully discuss steps on how to arrest severe infestation in abacas and on what the agency could do to ease hunger and poverty in the areas affected” according to Berino.
Zero aid leads to zero harvest
Samar farmer Maricris Rosco exposed that their harvest dropped from a hundred kilos of abaca to five kilos after their crops died due to the pest infestation which they lack knowledge on how to arrest. “We have no abaca to sell, not even a plant to harvest from and on top of this, no government support to fill our needs”, Rosco clamored.
Northern Samar, the region’s top producer of abaca has been suffering from the ill effects of the infestation of the bunchy top virus among abaca crops. Non-government organization Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program (EVRAP) revealed through a study they conducted that almost a hundred percent of abaca in Northern Samar particularly in the towns of Catubig and Las Navas have already been infested by the said virus.
Farmers’ accounts reveal that PhilFIDA Northern Samar adviced abaca farmers to burn their infested crops which Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA) lambasted as it “does not answer the root cause of the infestation as proven by the farmers themselves.”
“We did what they said on the early stage of the phenomenon but the virus continued pestering our crops and our harvests and income consequently declined to almost nothing,” Rosco attested.
According to the farmers, they could not even jump into planting coconut as it has long been infested by the coconut scale insect or the “cocolisap” while black bug has also been killing their palay.
“It is but accurate to say that the government neglect over the plight of Eastern Visayas farmers is killing not only our country’s crops and our nation’s wealth but above all, the very people who bring food to our tables,” Berino stressed.
Sagupa Sinirangan Bisayas revealed that no budget appropriated for PhilFIDA’s pest management has been disbursed. P100 billion coco levy fund supposed to aid coconut farmers, on the other hand, is still sleeping in banks and is dreading to be realigned into becoming a trust fund as proposed by lawmakers.
DA urged to act on EV farmers’ five-point demands
Eastern Visayas peasant alliance is also set to sit with DA in March this year to craft an agriculture rehabilitation plan in their region. “Our efforts gave us a louder voice. We guarantee our farmers that we will present our demands to the agencies during the crafting of the rehab plan,” said Berino.
Pest infestation-affected farmers demand the distribution of Emergency Production Assistance (EPA), immediate fifteen thousand pesos or ten sacks of rice subsidy and suspension of land amortization collection among farmers affected. Included in their demands is the scrapping of the anti-people agriculture and calamity rehabilitation plans.
Also, DA agreed to coordinate with Department of National Defense (DND) regarding the farmers’ plea on human rights violations especially the military encampment in communities which affects farmers’ livelihood.