By Chito Chavez
Members of the militant farmer’s group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) on Wednesday belittled the 121 years of Philippine Independence asserting “this is nothing but an illusion under a semi-colonial and semi-feudal system in a country where agriculture is bound to neoliberal policies’’.
Backed by agricultural workers, UMA chairperson Antonio “Ka Tonying” Flores stressed there can never be freedom and democracy until its export-oriented import-dependent agricultural system is completely overhauled.
He noted the “Filipino people will only be truly liberated if the majority of its populace, who are farmers and agri-workers gain total ownership and control of the land they have long been tilling to meet domestic demand and ensure food security’’.
Flores insisted the event has become a “hollow celebration of independence since the country remains shackled by policies legitimizing land grabbing and corporate slavery’’.
UMA said an indubitable example of these policies is the Agribusiness Venture Arrangements (AVA) scheme which enabled transnational corporations (TNCs) to force or deceive farmers into onerous contracts and turn them into agri-workers under slave-like working conditions in export crop plantations such as oil palm, Cavendish bananas, and pineapples.
The group added AVAs have also allowed TNCs to expand and convert vast lands growing subsistence crops into high-value or export crops.
According to UMA’s research, in 2017, the lands occupied by agribusiness plantations reached about 782,116 hectares or 19 percent of the 4.1 million hectares of agricultural lands in Mindanao alone.
It added the Philippine government aims to claim 1.6 million hectares more, mostly for the expansion of oil palm plantations.
“Poor peasants and agrarian reform beneficiaries are being lured into AVAs not just by illusory promises of higher income but, more apparently, by the government’s lack of support services and subsidy to poor farmers and its insincerity in implementing agrarian reform,’’ UMA said.
UMA noted that fake land reform programs of different regimes did not in any way alleviate poverty in the countryside as statistics remain the same—7 out of 10 farmers are landless.
Meanwhile, UMA claimed landless farmers turned into agri-workers in haciendas and foreign agribusiness plantations endure back-breaking work for wages that can barely sustain their families.
Aside from this, UMA said the rice liberalization and sugar importation are also being promoted by the Duterte administration.
The group noted such policies will further worsen the plight of the toiling masses of peasants and agricultural workers as these neoliberal policies will destroy what is left of the country’s local rice and sugar industry.
“National independence will not be genuinely possible until the decades-old system of a semi-colonial and semi-feudal system of Philippine society is finally abolished by the toiling masses through their perseverance to struggle for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization,” Flores concluded.