As President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his last report on the national situation and developments under his tenure thru the State of the Nation Address (SONA), farmer-scientist network Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) reiterates its call for a just, sustainable and farmer-centered food system and calls for support for people-led initiatives addressing gaps and issues in agriculture, food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition amid the pandemic.
The pandemic has effectively unmasked the current market-oriented, unsustainable and unjust food and agriculture systems, but was made worse by the government’s blind faith to neoliberal, techno-fix solutions peddled by huge corporations.
At the onset of the pandemic, with continued land grabs and worsening climate change impacts at the backdrop, Filipinos experienced record-high food insecurity. With mobility halted, the marginalized sectors of the society, such as working peoples and our farmers received the full brunt of the breakdown of our agricultural food chain. Early on, farmers report not being able to sell their produce due to restrictive conditions set by the government. In the latter parts of the nationwide lockdown, skyrocketing prices in oil and basic commodities brought about by relentless taxation of the poor burdened our farmers further. Farmers produce were left to perish due to dirt-cheap farmgate price despite a number of the population sleeping with hunger pangs.
Farmers also reeled from the continued implementation of neoliberal policies to food and agriculture such as the Rice Tarrification Law and the massive importations on pork which translated to economic hardships for both producers and consumers. Despite these conditions, relevant authorities delivered lackluster support when it was needed the most; while food frontliners struggled with their basic needs. The Department of Agriculture launched the Plant, Plant, Plant program to address market shocks but has left the producers without much help and public policy benefitting seed and agrochem companies, traders and importers.
Despite the health pandemic which is now translating into a hunger pandemic, corporations continue to make a killing. In fact, they exploited the health crisis by introducing and aggressively lobbying unwanted GM crops as solutions to food insecurity in the country. In collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, PhilRice and IRRI, corporations such as Monsanto, Syngenta and philanthrocapitalists such as Bill Gates continue to dominate our food systems by declaring BT Talong as safe to eat, lifting of GMO-Free ordinances in Bohol and Negros, and the unrestricted use of GM corn and poisonous herbicide Glyphosate wreaking havoc in our environment and the farmers health and livelihoods. The worst is that the Department of Agriculture approved the commercial propagation of Golden Rice which will spell disaster to our country’s staple crop!
None of these actions resolve issues of hunger and malnutrition. These problems persist because of the lack of access to sufficient, nutritious and safe food simply because the people are simply poor. With salient farmer issues left unresolved for decades, problems in our agricultural system holds back farmers and agricultural workers. With our abysmal situation in our right to land, resources, and overall lack of government support, farmers till our soil with their feet shackled and have their fruits of their labor taken, without just compensation.
But when farmers act from these injustices, their voices are being repressed. In the past years, the network had its share in the grieving from our collective loss from the swathes of attacks against our farmers through grave human rights violations. Last December 30, 2019, MASIPAG network member TUMANDUK and the Tumandok community were at the receiving end of the military’s brutal operation which left 9 IP dead and 17 detained. Farmers and advocates were also victims of unjust detention through unfounded allegations, Nelsy Rodriguez and Joseph Canlas, from Camarines Sur and Pampanga respectively, were detained after being red-tagged by authorities, in which the latter suffered and died from health complications rooted from his time in detention. MASIPAG will also never forget the loss of Atty. Ben Ramos, a then-member of its board of trustees, a champion for the farmers and a progressive human rights worker. Atty. Ben was killed last November 6, 2017, amid the handling of the ‘Mabinay 6’ case.
The pandemic coupled with the government’s reliance on corporate solutions, however, has pushed the farmers and the public to rely on themselves and find solutions to their problems. From binhian to bungkalan and bahaginan, small farmers, the working people and the public are making efforts to counter the market-oriented, fragile and ‘business-as-usual’ food and agriculture system. Bayanihan or community work is brought back from rural to urban communities, from seed sharing, collective tilling of the land and to community pantries. The amendment of the Organic Agriculture Act which recognizes the role of organic agriculture and the Participatory Guarantee System to achieve food security is a realization of what small farmers can do to ensure that public policies serve the poor and marginalized.
There is not much to celebrate in president Duterte’s SONA. The people are poorer and hungrier than ever, corporations continue to rake in profits and repression continues to shrink available democratic spaces. But in the continued sharing of seeds by farmers, we continue to persist, with every collective tilling of our land we continue to assert our rights, and with the sharing of the produce we continue to put people first before profit.
MASIPAG is one with the Filipino people’s fight for a just, sustainable and farmer-centered food system.###