Protests mark anniversary of presidential decree to 'emancipate tillers'
Photo shows militant farmers calling for justice for slain farmers.
Protests mark anniversary of presidential decree to 'emancipate tillers'
Franco Luna ( - October 21, 2019 - 9:12pm

MANILA, Philippines — Farmer and peasant groups on Monday marched from the Department of Agriculture's Central Office in Quezon City to Welcome Rotonda to protest what they said was a lack of government action on issues like low palay prices.

Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chairperson, said the government's seeming silence shows it cannot address problems faced by millions of Filipino farmers.

"Ang batas niyang pinirmahan, ang RA 11203, Rice Liberalization Law ang mismong nagpabagsak ng presyo ng palay at nagbaon sa utang sa mga magsasaka."

(The law he signed, Republic Act 11203, is precisely what caused the drop in the price of rice and sank our farmers in debt.)

The protests coincided with the anniversary ousted dictator Ferdinand Marcos' 1972 Presidential Decree No. 27, which provided for the “the emancipation of the tiller of the soil from his bondage”

Activist groups consider October as Peasant Month with protests peaking on the 21st.

Throughout the week before, peasant groups from as far as away Ifugao, Kalinga and Benguet also held demonstrations in key spots in Metro Manila.

“Farmers protest[s] sent the message clear, Duterte [doesn't] give a damn about their dire situation,” said Ariel Casilao, former Anakpawis party-list representative.

"[O]nly one word slips through his frothing mouth, [and] that is kill, kill, kill the poor," he claimed.

He also called Duterte, who had early in his term referred to himself as a socialist and leftist, the "main representative of the landed few and oligarchs" because of government policies and projects that he said were the "anti-thesis of the peasant struggle via mass land grabbing and conversion of agricultural lands."

Joseph Canlas, leader of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon, meanwhile warned that “the effects of rice liberalization could further worsen and may even become irreversible if the government persists with the implementation of RA 11203.”

'The only easy day was yesterday' 

RA 11203 removed import limits on rice but also imposed tariffs on those imports. The revenue from those tariffs are meant to help farmers modernize rice farming and to help cushion the effects of lower palay prices.

The price of rice ballooned to as much as P70 per kilo in 2018, prompting Duterte to address the "urgent" need to prevent rice shortages. Farmer groups have long been protesting that only investing in local production will afford the Philippines stable rice prices and supply.

Groups also protested the continuing violence against farmers over what they said were trumped-up charges. "We cannot go to our farms for fear that we would be summarily executed on false accusation that we are [New People's Army] or NPA supporters,” said Andres Wailan of a Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chapter in the Cordillera Administrative Region.

Violence in rural areas is no longer news these days. According to rights group Karapatan, some 216 farmers have already been slain in targeted killings since Duterte took office. 

In a 2017 statement, Karapatan said that farmers were being rampantly "targeted because of their active involvement in peasant organizations to push forward the struggle for genuine land reform."

"Kung hindi man kami mamatay sa gutom, papatayin naman niya kami sa extrajudicial killings at human rights violations," Soriano said.

(If we don't die from hunger, we'll die either way from extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.) 

"Statistics aside, farmers’ discontent is ever-rising and broadening," Kilusan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairman Rafael Mariano said. "It is justified given the fact that farmers have endured successive economic and political blows under the Duterte administration."

Fisherfolk's federation Pamalakaya on Monday also vowed to continue their campaign against the Bulacan aerotropolis project on a nationwide scale. The federation, along with residents of Bulakan town's Brgy. Taliptip, have long been resisting the Bulacan airport project over uncertainties raised by possible displacement and damage on the environment and livelihood. 

On paper, the former dictator's presidential decree was looking to be the most comprehensive land reform program in the history of the country. However, it was generally considered to be a failure after less than 20% of land was covered by the program. 

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