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Community groups observe peasant month

Community groups observe peasant month
Lourdes de la Pena, a member of Migrante Ontario, describes how his brother struggles to provide for his family's needs in the Philippines due to the high cost of planting palay.

The predicament of Filipino farmers and farm workers in the face of climate change and food justice was the subject of a forum held in person and online on October 28 at the Filipino Centre in Toronto (FCT). “Ang Lupa ay Buhay”, a Kamalayan-themed event was a collaboration between Anakbayan Toronto and the Philippine Advancement Through Arts and Culture (PATAC). Anakbayan Toronto’s Kamalayan event organizes and carries out cultural, political and other significant activities for Filipino youth in Toronto.

Migrante Ontario member Lourdes de la Pena, whose father was a farmer in the Philippines, gave a speech that more accurately captured the hardships faced by Filipino farmers. During her talk, de la Pena explained how her brother, a Filipino farmer, loses money from planting seeds to selling the harvest. The lack of adequate government support for farmers and agricultural labourers in the Philippines is to blame.

“It’s been a tough year for farmers in the Philippines. Like my brother, the high cost of planting rice leaves them with nothing after harvesting palay (unhusked rice) due to its low market value,”de la Pena declared.

Participants at the AB Kamalayan and PATAC event “Ang Lupa ay Buhay” discuss the impact of climate change and food insecurity on Filipino farmers and agricultural workers as a result of unjust government policies.

“The market price for harvested palay is so low that it does not cover the costs of cultivation. Farmers have nothing left after the harvest is divided. They didn’t have enough money to buy food for their family. Our farmers are in a dire predicament. They need help because they’ve fallen into extreme poverty due to landlords’ exploitation and the government’s inability to maintain farmgate prices of palay, which has led to the sale of palay at ridiculously low prices,” Pena continued.

Migrants Resource Centre of Canada (MRCC) participant Jesson Reyes talked about how Rice Tarrification Law (RTL) has affected exploited farmers and farming communities in the Philippines, and how this is linked to the neoliberal policies of the capitalist system that continue to exploit the agricultural working class and Canadian farmers.

The previous Duterte administration’s and a current policies include the RTL , has resulted in a glut of inexpensive imported rice in the Philippines, causing farmers like Lourdes de la Pena’s family to struggle. For Filipino farmers like de la Pena’s, the permitted increase in rice imports has meant lower prices for their product in order to compete with cheaper imports.  “Tariffs or incentives do not translate to increased funding for public and social programmes but rather remain the pockets of corrupt officials and bureaucrat capitalists,” Reyes said.

Since it became law in 2019, RTL has been implementing a number of initiatives to boost agricultural productivity, but to no avail. Unfortunately, de la Pena family is just one of many Filipino farmers who are still struggling in the face of declining prices for their rice and scant government support.

Landlessness is also a major problem in the Philippines, compounding the already high cost of growing and selling palay. Most farmers have no land of their own to farm and must rely entirely on their landlords, who reap the greatest financial rewards from their tenants’ labour.

According to a number of forum participants, landlessness can be easily resolved if the Philippine government (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) continue their peace negotiations (NDFP). The Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER), which outlines procedures and guarantees for the free distribution of land to farmers, is one of the most important documents signed before the Philippines government terminated peace talks with the NDFP in 2017.

“One of the primary motivating factors for Filipinos to leave their homes and look for a better future for themselves and their families outside of the Philippines is the lack of genuine land reform in the country as well as the crisis in the agriculture sector. This is one of the primary motivating factors for Filipinos to leave the country,” Reyes said.

When the topic of CASER was raised during the forum, Reyes stated that because the country lacks a robust agricultural sector based on a genuine land reform programme on which our national industries can be built with both light and heavy industries, the government instead prioritizes the labour export programme.

Farmers in the Philippines would benefit from genuine agrarian reform and agricultural development that contributes to the nation’s industrialization if CASER were implemented as intended. This will not occur, however, so long as the government, including the regime currently led by Marcos Jr., continues to reject peace talks with the NDFP.

Representatives from Anakbayan Toronto and other community organizations in the Greater Toronto Area, including solidarity groups, migrant groups, and advocacy groups, attended the forum. Going forward, it hopes to work more closely with other community groups in the Greater Toronto Area on a wide variety of events.