#Journeyto30 Bullets for rice
Epi Fabonan III (The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – As of this writing, news of the violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan City has filled the headlines of major news outlets. 

As details came in, it became clear that some 5,000 farmers and indigenous people converged at the Cotabato-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City to protest the alleged delay in the release of rice subsidies for farmers affected by the El Niño dry spell. They have been blockading the area since Wednesday, March 30 and had a permit to rally until Friday, April 1. 

With the lapse of the deadline, Kidapawan Police, upon instructions from the City’s Crisis Management Committee, began dispersing the protesters. The dispersal turned violent, with protestors hurling stones and pieces of wood at policemen, who responded with water cannons and gunfire. Three farmers were killed while scores were injured, including 40 policemen. 

It is truly heartbreaking that people merely asking for rice were met with a hail of bullets from authorities. Seemingly, anguish over the lack of local government assistance during this extended dry spell has left rural communities with no choice but to resort to civil disobedience to air their grievances. It reflects the harsh reality that rural communities face amid the new normal called climate change.

Moreover, it reflects a far greater issue - the overall plight of farmers in this agricultural nation.

This brings us to today’s featured throwback front page from June 11, 1988. Former President Corazon Aquino signing into law the historic Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) during the previous day was the day’s headline. 

Designed to significantly address poverty among farmers in the country, CARP orders the redistribution of 10.3 million hectares of public and private agricultural lands within 10 years to landless farmers and farmworkers irrespective of tenurial arrangement.

It also seeks to provide support services to the beneficiaries such as infrastructure facilities, marketing assistance program, credit assistance program and technical support programs, as well as deliver agrarian justice by facilitating dispute resolution between landowners and beneficiaries. 

It was hailed as a triumph for the farmers who were still reeling from the previous year’s Mendiola massacre, where 13 farmers were killed in clashes with police while demanding genuine land reform from the Aquino administration. 

But almost 28 years since the CARP was signed into law, farmers have yet to experience a deliverance from poverty. According to the Department of Agrarian Reform’s annual accomplishment reports, only 4,677,382 hectares have been acquired and distributed from 1988 to 2013. 

While it was Cory who passed the CARP Law, her administration acquired and distributed 848,518 hectares in six years or 21 percent of the total lands distributed under the program. The succeeding Ramos administration fared better (and remains the record holder) at 1,900,035 hectares in six years or 43 percent of the total.

In its two and half years in office, the Estrada administration managed to distribute 222,907 hectares. Meanwhile, the Arroyo administration, which was the longest in office during the implementation of CARP, distributed 954,408 hectares in eight years. It was under her watch that the Hacienda Luisita massacre occurred, where 14 people, including two children, died in clashes with police. 

With the impending end of life for CARP in 2008, Arroyo ordered all land distributions to be stopped pending deliberations in Congress about CARP’s fate. Congress later extended and reformed CARP through the passage of the CARPER Law. However, even with the extension of the CARP until 2014, the succeeding administration of President Aquino distributed 751,514 hectares in four years.

What prevented the full implementation of CARP are its many loopholes that landowners utilized in order to evade distribution, such as offering stock options to farmers instead of land reclassification and land conversion.

It is also worth noting that around two million hectares of the distributed lands were from the government, while only 326,140 hectares were from compulsory acquisition from private landowners. Instead of addressing poverty among farmers, it has created a new class of marginalized people, the so-called “landed poor,” who do not have access to infrastructure, technical, financial and calamity assistance to help them sustain their lands and achieve growth.

With the continuing marginalization of farmers and agricultural workers and the lingering effects of climate change, more clashes such as those in Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita and Kidapawan could happen in the future. If only we could elect people who will exercise strong political will and who will put the interests of farmers above that of landowners. 

For when every stalk of rice, ear of corn or sugar cane has gone from the face of our earth, that’s the time we will realize that we cannot eat bullets.

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