Rice not bullets: Social and climate justice for Filipino farmers

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Art by Andrei Venal, April 1 2016

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After three long months of El Niño drought and famine, 6,000 farmers and Lumads formed a barricade at Kidapawan City, Philippines demanding food and calamity relief. On April 1 2016 they were met with gunfire by the police and military.

Filipino-Canadian grassroots organizations and their supporters were quick to respond. On April 3, emergency vigils were held across the cities of Montreal, Toronto, Quebec and Vancouver.

April 8 was declared the Global Day of Action for Kidapawan, and protests were staged worldwide to condemn the violence. In Vancouver, Migrante B.C. held a gathering outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Filipino farmers and chronic poverty

The people growing our food are the hungriest. This painful irony has been reported by the Institute for Food Development Policy or Food First as the unchanging prevalence of poverty and undernourishment in the world despite the rising levels of global food production.

Scarcity is certainly not the problem, but a systemic injustice in the ways abundance and wealth are distributed across political and socio-economic systems.

Like many agrarian countries in the Global South, the Philippines remains in a state of "permanent crisis," according to political economist, Walden Bello. Our landless farmers are locked in chronic cycles of poverty by persisting feudal economies, oligopolies in the rice and coconut industries, and the stronghold of landed elites.

The over 6,000-hectare Hacienda Luisita sugar plantation in Tarlac for example, remains a sore case for the ill failings of the country's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

A blockade of striking farm workers of Hacienda Luisita demanding higher wages and the implementation of land reform were gunned down by police and soldiers in November 2004. Seven farm workers were killed, 121 were seriously injured, including children, and hundreds were arrested.

Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in favour of the farmers, majority of the Cojuangco-owned estate remains unreturned in 2016. A more recent historical movement is the "KM71 Martsa ng Magniniyog" or the 1,750-kilometer long march of 71 coconut farmers representing nine national farmers' federations. They walked on foot from Davao City for Manila to demand a just redistribution of the 71 billion-peso Coco Levy Fund.

Our farmers are the face of the poorest. Their hands and feet attest to struggles that are centuries old. As a deep paradox, hunger is known to many of them who grow food for a living.

Farmers and the climate crisis

Today our farmers are not only the victims of feudal oppressions, but are increasingly made more vulnerable in the context of climate change.

On November 8 2013, super typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) -- the strongest storm in recorded history -- ravaged through the central region of the Philippines. This plunged the Eastern Visayas, a region primarily of fishers, rice and coconut farmers, into deadlier levels of poverty. Farmers lost 33 million coconut trees in a single day. When entire landscapes lay dead with headless coconut trees, it is not surprising that such desperation has formed what is now ranked as the poorest province in the country.

Yet, why does armed violence always follow such crises of survival? The IBON Foundation reports that Yolanda is "the most militarized disaster response." Although the army is dispatched to oversee order and security in the chaotic times of post-disaster, reports of ongoing militarization prove how disaster response are often acts of State counterinsurgency in disguise.

But are these just riots, or uprisings?

Farmers of North Cotabato have been suffering from three months of drought and famine since January 2016. In fact, a case of suicide was reported to be linked to the drought.

As victims of the El Niño heat and the local government's neglect to disburse its calamity fund, over 6,000 farmers demonstrated in Kidapawan City on April 1 2016 to receive their promised rations of rice. They were met with gunfire by the police armed with M-16s. The starving do not have the leisure nor the privilege to riot chaos without purpose. The starving engage in mass demonstrations when they are left with close to no other means for survival. When will those in power recognize one clear fact: Bullets do not feed the hungry. #BigasHindiBala #BugasDiliBala [Rice Not Bullets].

Urgent call for solidarity action

Our farmers remain in Kidapawan, and we remain with them ever vigilant. As members of the Filipino global diaspora, we invite everyone to join solidarity actions spreading all across Canada organized by Migrante B.C. and its allies.

These public gatherings serve to:

1. condemn the violence inflicted upon the farmers at Kidapawan,

2. remember with candles those who were killed, and

3. resound a loud call for justice.

While political and economic oppressions remain headstrong in the Philippines, intensifying weather conditions create greater vulnerabilities for our farming communities who work directly on the land and subsist from their harvests. Social and climate justice will only be served when Filipino farmers are given ownership to the land they are due; paid right for their harvest and labour; and receive calamity fund and assistance in times of climate crisis.

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