By Harshita Singh and Nooria Alam
On Friday April 22nd, organizers from Filipino groups such as Anakbayan, Migrante and the International Coalition for Human Rights held a silent protest inside the office of the Philippine Consulate General of Toronto, condemning the killings of peasant farmers demanding food relief in the Kidapawan Massacre at the hands of soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Their shirts read “BIGAS HINDI BALA” – “RICE NOT BULLETS”, calling on the Filipino diaspora to pay attention to deaths of two farmers, Enrico Fabligar and Darwin Magyao, as well as the injury, starvation, and detainment of many more, including pregnant women and the elderly. This action was the third in a series of actions that have taken place over the month of April, all with the aim of informing the public about the violent undermining of basic human rights and exploitation of peasants in the Philippines.
The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had announced as early as September 30, 2015 that a ‘strong’ El Niño would disproportionately affect the Philippines. By January 20th, North Cotabato, a province on the island of Mindanao, had declared a state of calamity under which the Provincial Government is supposed to allocate at least 5% of its internal revenue as calamity funds to be given to those most affected by the drought. The Filipino state gave many declarations but no provisions for the starving farmers. Currently, no funds from the Calamity Fund have reached the farmers.
By the end of March 2016, 40% of the country had experienced the drought; by the end of April, it would be 85%. The Peasant Movement of the Philippines, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), which is part of a larger network of organizations known as Bayan, mobilized its chapters in Mindanao to compel the state to address the drought. From March 28th to March 29th, 6,000 farmers and their families from different towns protested near the National Food Authority Office and the Spottswood Methodist Center in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato.
The farmers called upon the government for the release of 15,000 sacks of rice to respond to the drought; the subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides until the drought ends; an increase in farmgate prices of agricultural products; the pullout of military troops in their communities; and the investigation and disbandment of the Bagani paramilitary group being formed by Rep. Nancy Catamco, who are used to terrorize and control the farmers.
Instead of providing them with rice and seedlings, the Philippine National Police and SWAT personnel violently forced the peasants to leave the area by gunning them down, hitting them with batons, throwing stones and blasting them with water cannons from their fire trucks. After the compound was cleared, it was surrounded by some 200 police and the 39th Infantry Battalion of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
The drought and violent treatment of farmers is connected to a pattern of reactionary state violence from the Filipino government, who depends on exploiting farmers at home with the aid of rich Western governments. Petronida Cleto, one of the organizers of the protest, connects the treatment of Filipino farmers to those who migrate to countries like Canada: “The system in the Philippines is very export-oriented. They facilitate the movement of people by forcing peasants to sell their possessions to pay multiple fees, forced to sell land to go abroad. And for what? To get Permanent Residency after two years of slavery?!”
Rich Western nations like Canada go to the Third World to extract the resources and labour power of countries like the Philippines. Due to the conditions in their country caused by this resource extraction, Filipino people are forced to leave their homes and families behind in search for work in order to survive. Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program is one way this exploitation takes place because it enables the Canadian State to exploit the labour of Filipino migrants, while at the same time stealing land from peasants, all for its own economic gains.
Organizers aim to raise awareness about the oppressive political climate of the Philippines, where “farmers are not allowed to own their own land, and are killed when they try to stand up and defend it,” said Jesson, one of the main organizers of Friday’s action in Toronto. “This action was about showing that the Filipino community condemns this State-sponsored terrorism and the stealing of land from peasants.”
According to the final report of the National Fact-Finding and Humanitarian Mission (NFHM) of Kidapawan City, it is estimated that 1% of the population in the country own 20% of the total 13.34 million hectares of agricultural lands. Farmers toil day in and day out to produce crops only to have them taken away by huge multinational corporations like Del Monte. They are unable to sustain themselves and are then killed when they ask for what is rightfully theirs to begin with. These are the types of inequalities that the private ownership of land and goods results in, where a small portion of the population profits from the exploitation of the majority who are farmers and peasants.
The state steals and sells the labour of the people to western multinational companies, but the Filipino people do not stand unorganized. The NFHM was conducted within a matter of days after the massacre. Bayan and the KMP mobilizes the peasants based on the fact that they are the farmers of the land. A third of the Philippines’ population is made up of agricultural workers – revolutionary organizations awaken the power of the masses, who already have the skills to maintain their own survival.
When the government watched their people starve, organizations within Bayan like the KMP mobilized 6,000 people to rise and demand that the state open up its stolen resources to the rest of the population. When Gov. Taliño-Mendoza refused to meet the farmers’ demands, offering only three kilos of rice per family once every three months, the peasant leaders unified to reject this offer. The peasants are not asking for charity or handouts; they are demanding the resources they produced from their own land and labour.
Landlords, just like the state, did not miss the opportunity to watch peasants starve. Some have even gone so far as to hoard tonnes of rice in order to drive up prices and increase their profits. The government of the Philippines has done nothing to address this issue, but the New People’s Army (NPA) has taken direct action to reclaim the rice that had been produced by the peasants who are now purposefully being starved by the government and shot at by its army.
The NPA strategically targeted Helen Bernal, who was hoarding more than a tonne of rice. They stormed her warehouse and confiscated 1,384 sacks of rice, along with CCTV monitors, sanding tools, and other electronic equipment in Valencia City, Bukidnon in the country’s southern region. The NPA then redistributed the stolen possessions directly to the places that were most affected by the drought, giving farmers the much needed rice that they had been demanding from the government but were denied, having been served bullets instead.
The deeply organized peasant class, in cities such as Kidapawan and Valencia, along with their comrades in Canada, have the power to hold the corrupt Filipino state accountable. This confrontation clearly shows that organizing and collectivist action is the only way for the peasants to survive and empower themselves during disasters, both “natural” and government-inflicted. The people, when united, will never be defeated. They will only grow stronger.
(Photo Credit: Nooria Alam)