Negros farmers cultivate lands with their bare hands
The peasant movement in the country has been shaking up government institutions for decades to implement genuine land reform. Genuine land reform for peasants concretely means the free distribution of lands they have cultivated for generations but remained under the feudal control of big landlords, agro-businesses and foreign corporations. The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines) is continuing its waging of an all-out legal and democratic campaign at the national center for people from different sectors to learn that Philippine’s society has been long overdue feudal, the peasant majority under oppression and exploitation and agriculture remained backward. Since the 1980s, KMP has faced 2 publicly-witnessed massacres perpetrated by the state, particularly the Mendiola Massacre on January 22, 1987 and Hacienda Luisita Massacre on November 16, 2004. Human rights abuses, recently through extra-judicial killings have also targeted their leaders and members and countless have been displaced due to landgrabbing and land use conversion. KMP’s struggle for Genuine Land Reform is still vital and opportune.
“Land Reform” has been mystified by pseudo-peasant groups, landlords, lawmakers and other reactionary forces, depicting it as mere services to the Filipino peasants, while deviating from the main issue of control and domination over vast lands. The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), in its 22 years of implementation has served big landlords, agro-business and foreign corporations and kept peasants into deep poverty and misery. It is now stretched by CARP Extension with ‘Reforms’ or CARPer and remains to threaten farmers out of their lands.
Amidst the massive lies and deception launched by the landlord-dominated state, KMP affirmed that Genuine Land Reform is an attainable cause and only possible through the massive participation of landless peasants, through a strong and united peasant movement. The very concrete actions of the peasants are the only means to achieve Genuine Land Reform in clear contradiction of state-sponsored sham land reform program such as CARPer and other anti-peasant laws, program and policies. The argument that Genuine Land Reform is only a “fantasy” and impossible is shattered by the recent victories and gains of the peasant movement, particularly from Negros.
KMP Negros, who affirmed the correct line that peasants would only participate in a struggle if their very interest is at stake, which is land. Amidst the pluralist environment fuelled by reactionary institutions, Negros farmers have broken through the centuries-old domination and control of sugar barons, hacienderos and landlords and stood their ground that it is now time for them to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Negros lands have been chained to the world market dictated sugar industry for centuries, traceable since the Spanish colonial period. Through the long period, farmers have been brought up that there is no alternative to a feudal system, alongwith the constant repression of those who struggle and oppose. On December of 2008, Negros farmers smashed that outdated belief.
“Bungkalan” or cultivation is the centerpiece campaign of KMP Negros. It is the widely coordinated, organized and simultaneous cultivation of idle lands that used to be sugarlands and only serving the interest of Negros sugar barons and US imperialism. In the midst of constant threat and danger, farmers have pushed through their cultivation and came out successful in transforming sugarlands into productive agricultural lands, for the very first time.
Through the normal course of development, Negros farmers’ first attempt on December 2, 2008 to cultivate lands in Bago city has been marked as a setback as they were blocked by armed guards employed by landlords. Consequently, farmers assessed their weakness and limitations, learned that they lacked coordination and strength. Though unsuccessful, the December 2 attempt was a learning experience as it served as basis for their next course of actions.
On December 22, 2008, armed with the lessons learned from the prior attempt, farmers who are more agitated, bigger in numbers and ample readiness have again attempted to cultivate the lands. The farmers were triumphant. With only bare hands and feet, they have prepared the lands for rice farming. Everyone participated, including the women and youth. The armed guards were not prepared to prevent them from cultivation as they were overwhelmed by the peasant action. As the farmers have anticipated, they have set-up their camp-out, lived together organized and coordinated, added satellite tents that served as guard posts against incoming threats and maintained their committee and command structures.
On the first phase of their bungkalan, they were able to cultivate more than 40-hectares of the 81-hectares targeted lands. The lands were planted with rice and vegetables that more than 300 farmers have attended through an organized manner. Though initially successful, the farmers continued to educate their ranks as imminent deceptive efforts of the landlords, in collusion with the Dept. of Agrarian Reform officials were in the offing. On their 53rd day of bungkalan, they remained resilient and organized, thus, earning support from various sectors such as from the workers, youth, women, professionals and supporters. They were able to hold many solidarity programs and missions, some attended by foreign medical personnels. As the campaign shape to be fruitful and legitimate, the landlord-DAR camp continues to be on the defensive.
Within the first phase of their campaign, about 24 sites across Negros turned out a success. These sites involved hacienda lands that were idle as the demand for local sugar has long continued to dwindle down. The campaign totaled to cultivate 1,381-hectares, benefiting 933 farming households or more than 2,000 farmers.
From semi-feudal to Genuine Land Reform
As KMP Negros, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and other peasant groups were successful in realizing Genuine Land Reform, they have coincided their campaign with their full support of the passage of then-House Bill 3059 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB). Thus, during the maintenance stage of the rice crops, then-Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo visited their farms and participated in weeding out the crops. On October of 2009, then-Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod was able to participate on the first harvesting of the rice crops. The first harvest was a very significant period for the Negros farmers as for the very first time, Negros lands served the interest of the people and not the interest of landlords and US imperialism. This very moment was the real-life picture KMP aims to be realized across the country.
The first harvest was a real deal success as the farms yielded to about 80, 90 to 100 cavans per hectare. Their cultivation was also of less cost as labor has been through cooperative effort or “bayanihan.” In addition, the variety they have cultivated was not of those new high-yielding or hybrid, thus, required minimal input. For the very first time, Negros farmers have directly enjoyed the very fruits of their labor, a giant leap of difference from working on sugarlands.
As the farmers’ anticipated, landlords would not easily give up their control of the lands. At present, landlords and landowners launched to criminalize agrarian cases or the charging of petty crimes against the farmers. Farmers who burned left-over crops has been charged with arson, those who harvested with theft, those who cultivated lands with trespassing and other crimes. Under the leadership of KMP Negros, farmers would not step back from their victories. They arrived in Manila to further drum up their issue and seek support for their cause.
Leaders of KMP Negros and NFSW have joined the recent Lakbayan ng Magbubukid para sa Lupa at Hustisya (Peasant March for Land and Justice), the annual protest against CARPer coinciding the anniversary of Marcos’ bogus land reform program PD 27. They are also in camp-out in front of the DAR Central Office in Quezon City to pressure the department and expose local officials who colluded with the landlords. They were also able to dialogue with the office of Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to request the junking of the charges against them. The peasant leaders were also able to speak to forums organized by the church sector, hold a solidarity visit in Hacienda Luisita, discussion groups with different sectors and protest during the World Food Day and at Mendiola. They are in close coordination with their legal counsels that handle their agrarian case.
The Negros farmers are also challenging the presidency of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino. As they are aware of Aquino’s landlord stance on the issue of Hacienda Luisita, they are challenging him to work for the distribution of 11 hacienda lands controlled by his uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. They claimed that Danding Cojuangco is the model icon of feudalism, bureaucrat capitalism and US imperialism. KMP Negros and NFSW are campaigning to junk CARPer and SDO, Aquino’s Public-Private Partnership program and to pass the House Bill 374 or Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).
The Negros farmers are firm and determined to preserve their gains and victories. But as any chapter of the peasant movement, they need the support of many sectors who also aim for Genuine Land Reform and fundamental change in the country. They vow to maintain their organization as united and strong at the highest degree in the name of Genuine Land Reform. #