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Commentary

Postscript to Peasant Month

05:03 AM November 14, 2018

October ended without any mention of “Peasant Month” in both the Department of Agriculture’s and the Department of Agrarian Reform’s press releases. That’s because the government has its own “Farmers’ and Fisherfolk’s Month” every May, covering Labor Day and coinciding with the scorching summer heat, “Flores de Mayo” and other town fiestas. Progressives, however, would rather call its October version Peasant Month, because “peasant” is more reflective of the reality on the ground—the farmers are poor, enslaved to rents and technologically backward.

So in this year’s Peasant Month, Imelda Hayahay, 53, a member of a farmers’ organization in Compostela Valley, was abducted. Still in martial law Mindanao, Leonardio Mision, 62, a member of Nagkahiusang Mag-Uuma ug Lumad sa Laak, was found murdered in his farm. Nine farmers, meanwhile, two of them minors, were massacred in Sagay, Negros Occidental. As a postscript, Benjamin Ramos Jr., a lawyer assisting the Sagay 9 and was a founding member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, was shot dead on the night of Nov. 6.

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It has always baffled me how the government claims being perplexed when it comes to the younger generation’s growing disinterest in farming. I grew up in Manila and studied in Ateneo through my auntie’s generosity and the school’s grant-in-aid program, and for 12 years I sat beside the children and grandchildren of landlords, cronies and politicians. Most of the time, I would be sandwiched in between two unmistakable last names of a former colonizer and a still-prominent Filipino family. But inside classrooms then, it was all just fun and games.

Only a handful of us would eventually venture into farming. In my case, I’ve been biting my nails for one year and a half as I try to put up a cacao farm and learn the ropes: clearing the few hectares my Lolo bought with his retirement money when he was still alive; observing rainfall patterns here in Agusan and praying hard for the absence of drought; and making sure my salary as a writer and private school teacher can somehow pay the two farmers I hired to tame the weeds and to keep carabaos away from the coconut saplings we planted.

It is with a bit of misplaced pride whenever I say that I pay the two farmers higher than most landowners do, and way higher than the pittances the wealthy sugar barons of Negros and Tarlac toss to their “sacadas” every Tiempo Muerto. I haven’t received any returns yet, but there is comfort in knowing that I have not turned into a typical landlord.

Just a few days after the nine farmers were massacred in Sagay, “lumad” folk from the southern parts of Caraga climbed up north to our regional capital, Butuan City, to join the Mindanao-wide mobilizations against martial law. It was an event planned even before the unthinkable massacre. There I met fellow UP alumni who could have chosen to receive high salaries as engineers and actuaries but have, instead, moved to the mountains to teach the lumad.

They told me about farming methods which would not require me to purchase chemicals manufactured by Bayer-Monsanto. “It’s a cycle,” Kenneth Cadiang, a teacher from Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development told me. “Sure, you’d have bigger vegetables, bigger fruits, but to maintain the same yield, you would need to keep spending big for those chemicals, too. Your entire farm would be dependent on it. In the end, you’d earn more from an organic and native setup.”

Indeed, the lumad are posting higher gains now and are keeping miners out by showing how they’ve kept their ancestral lands productive.

The short conversations I had with the lumad teachers and community members put Peasant Month in a nutshell: It is a necessary yet inconvenient contradiction. In the current Dutertian political landscape where laws are black and white, according to presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo, and the President’s word is equivalent to the barrel of a gun, Peasant Month comes as a reminder for nuance.

It is hard to believe all these stories of cheaper rice, rice sufficiency and the abolition of cartels when peasants still exist—worse, when peasants are being killed, doused with gasoline and burned alive, for “squatting,” and when those who defend peasants are being deported or assassinated. And this is why the choice to farm, to grow something from the land, is, in this country, a life option looked at with trepidation.

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DLS Pineda teaches at Father Saturnino Urios University, Butuan City. After finishing his undergraduate and master’s degrees in UP Diliman, he decided to reside in his father’s hometown in Agusan del Norte. Tweet the author @dlspineda.

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TAGS: agriculture, Benjamin Ramos Jr., DLS Pineda, Farming, Imelda Hayahay, Inquirer Commentary, Leonardio Mision, Peasant Month, Sagay massacre
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