“Approaching a state of famine and on the threshold of humanitarian crisis” were the terms used by Northern Samar Small Farmers Association (NSSFA), the provincial alliance of peasants in Northern Samar to describe the economic and political turmoil happening in their part of the country today.
NSSFA has made headlines in recent months after slamming the Duterte administration time and again for failing to address the massive drop in agricultural production in Northern Samar especially in Abaca due to the spread of the bunchy top virus. The alliance has also been noted for raising red flags over military abuses in the last year.
In a bid to help resolve the alarming state of the province, Anakpawis Party List together with the rest of the Makabayan bloc sponsored House Resolutions numbered 1548 and 1549. The resolutions intend to bring the dramatic decline in Abaca production and the spate of human rights violations in the province before committee hearings in Congress respectively.
Livelihood in a state of deterioration
Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao called on both the Committee on Agriculture and the Committee on Poverty Alleviation to convene jointly in order to probe the state of Abaca farmers in Northern Samar. NSSFA reveals that there have been 31,871 of these farmers who abandoned Abaca production in 2015 due to pervasive crop infestation. Meanwhile the Philippine Fiber Development Authority (PhilFIDA) has estimated a 20,000 Metric Ton drop worth of Abaca from 2003 but was unable to expand their pest management program beyond Leyte, leaving the decline of Abaca plantations in Northern Samar unattended to by government agencies.
Despite having been repeatedly raised by regional peasant alliance Samahan han Gudti nga Parag-uma Sinirangan Bisayas (SAGUPA-SB), as an urgent concern in 2016 dialogues with the Department of Agriculture (DAR), the Abaca crisis in Northern Samar remains largely unresolved. The victims of bunchy top have also sought redress from local government units but has so far received inadequate response. The Makabayan bloc referred to the sorry state of agriculture in the province as an example of “apparent government neglect” over its farmers.
Farmers: Stop burning our homes, bombing our fields!
Just days after the illegal arrest of three peasant leaders from Palapag in November 2017, Anakpawis took a stand and exposed growing militarization in the province after the Philippine Army announced it would augment existing troop deployment in the region by another four battalions.
In its resolution, the Makabayan bloc directed the Committee on Human Rights to hold an inquiry over how Duterte’s anti-insurgency program, OPLAN KAPAYAPAAN, has adversely affected the lives of peasants and civilians in Northern Samar by way of massive incrimination efforts and actual military operations targeted at unsuspecting communities and designated zones of peace.
Sometime between May and August 2017, Katungod-Northern Samar was able to document the 43rd Infantry Battalion dropping more than 2,500 leaflets among interior barrios in the province. The leaflets were found to be forms for surrender meant to be used against the said villages once accomplished. Meanwhile, NSSFA reports of multiple cases where the 20th Infantry Battalion have made minors the target of their violations in the form of brutal interrogations, encampments in school grounds and illegal arrests. Earlier in January, NSSFA also alerted Eastern Vista that the same battalion open fired on barangay San Miguel, Las Navas and ended the gunshots by detonating land mines near the barangay plaza driving holes down some of the structures.
Regionalizing the call for “bread and peace”
Peasant alliances and human rights groups from different provinces are now embarking on efforts to raise awareness over food insecurity and combat additional troop deployment in civilian communities. SAGUPA-SB secretary general Jun Berino meanwhile said in a statement that “the Duterte administration can expect sustained regional steps against his counter-insurgency program if its main objective is to deprive us of our rights when we call on aid for the agriculture sector militantly”.
Berino warned the Duterte administration the local mass movement in Eastern Visayas wouldn’t back down to a challenge, especially if they had “nothing to lose and everything to gain”. #