Philippines, 5 March 2014 — On Ash Wednesday, more than 100 farmers from the Save Agrarian Reform Alliance (SARA) dramatized their grievances over the neglect of small farmers under the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, with a “Kalbaryo ng mga Magsasaka” protest.
As a symbol of their worsening hardships under the “Matuwid na Daan” (“straight path”) government, farmers from Quezon, Rizal, Pampanga, Bataan and Tarlac carried heavy crosses across Elliptical Road, where the offices of key agriculture and rural development agencies are located.
“Under P-Noy, small farmers have been systematically neglected,” said Jaime Tadeo, SARA spokesperson. “The state of implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) is deplorable. Rice smuggling continues unabated. Even worse, land grabbing through illegal land use conversions by real estate developers such as the Villar-backed Vista Land in Bulacan and Ayala Land in Porac, Pampanga are the order of the day.”
“What makes this more ironic is that 2014 has been declared by the General Assembly of the United Nations to be the International Year of Family Farming,” asserted Tadeo. “We are suffering from worsening poverty and the denial of our most basic rights to land in the Philippines, when the rest of the world is saying that promoting small family farms is the key to ending rural poverty and improving food security.”
Despite the Philippines’ celebrated growth rates in 2012 and 2013, there is now widespread agreement that recent economic growth has failed to benefit the rural poor.
No less than Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan asserted during a January 16, 2014 speech, that, “We are aware that recent economic growth, at least in the Philippines, has yet to be felt by the poor, particularly small farmers.”
This is despite a 2011 United Nations resolution that small family farms across the world provide, “an important contribution… in providing food security and eradicating poverty in the attainment of the… Millenium Development Goals.”
The same UN resolution declared 2014 to be the International Year of Family Farming, and encouraged member states to undertake activities within their national development programmes in support of the small farmers’ sector.
With now less than four months remaining before the June 30 deadline of CARP’s land distribution component, SARA is urging President Aquino to make helping small farmers a top development priority— beginning with drastically accelerating and overhauling the implementation of the national land reform program.
According to SARA leaders, the importance of land reform to promoting small farmers’ welfare has been stressed explicitly by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“Land reform stands at the very heart of promoting small farmers’ rights and productivity, and DAR’s terrible performance is a signal of President Aquino’s lack of commitment to the small farmers who grow most of the food on Filipinos’ plates,” said Trinidad Domingo, another SARA spokesperson.
“If PNoy fails to personally act on behalf of small farmers now, he will be condemning our sector to death, when the rest of the world is celebrating our importance,” she added.
“We demand a full set of actions by President Aquino, including putting a stop to land-grabbing and rice smuggling. But the most urgent and pressing intervention that we ask of him is to immediately order DAR to fast-track the issuance of all Notices of Coverage (NOCs) within the next four months. Today there are still 206,536 hectares of lands with no NOC’s, and the DAR leadership, who is the alter-ego of the President, has again and again demonstrated that it lacks the political will to effectively implement land reform,” Domingo said.
Without President Aquino’s direct involvement, SARA is tagging the government’s present agrarian reform direction as one of “slow death”— given the sluggishness of DAR and its inability to protect small farmers from land-grabbing.
Contact: Mary Ann Manahan, +63-9062983206, [email protected]