On The Ground Where They Struggle: The Streets and The Lands –

October 22, 2023

For years, Filipino farmers have endured a plethora of challenges. All while holding onto their unyielding hope for the social justice they were promised. Unfortunately, the government’s agrarian reform initiatives meant to secure the land they rightfully deserve have repeatedly failed them.

That’s why it shouldn’t surprise anyone that peasants are once again marching unwaveringly toward Mendiola in the streets today. Their goal is crystal clear: to bring attention to the painful stories of their fruitless efforts to secure their own lands. These narratives act as a rallying cry to be heard widely— a call to action to stand together in solidarity to support them in their quest for justice. For their struggle is our struggle, and their rights are our rights.

Now, as they marched from UP Diliman to Mendiola, they carried the cries of our generations, focusing their determination on an intense plea for justice that reverberates throughout the streets of Manila.

March to Mendiola: Why it matters?

The streets of Mendiola were filled with echoing voices from various groups of farmers and other sectors who joined the protest held on October 20, Friday, in commemoration of Peasant’s Month.

While they marched on the streets, there were people who passed by inside their cars and people going about their usual routines, watching them and witnessing the struggles of the farmers who had come to Manila from their provinces to voice their demands and be heard. It is their hope that, as people watched, it crossed their minds that these are the farmers who produce the rice and the food they eat.

They are the country’s farmers who suffer from poverty, injustices, attacks, and threats. Threats which include red-tagging, harassment, land-grabbing, and killings. The farmers who also have to endure long walks under the heat of the sun while carrying their weighty placards, running from time to time during the protest march, and continuously chanting at the top of their lungs.

Nevertheless, with an unyielding spirit and relentless marches, the program held in Mendiola was a success.

As Danilo Ramos, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), noted, “Binabati natin matagumpay ang pagkilos ng mga magsasaka, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao, tagumpay sa panawangang tunay na reporma sa lupa, ipaglaban ang karapatan sa pagkain, itigil ang pamamaslang at tutulan at labanan ang makadayuhang program ni BBM kasama na, stop red-tagging, buwagin ang NTF-ELCAC at Anti-Terrow Law.”

[We congratulate the successful action of the farmers from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. We are successful in our call for true land reform, to fight for food rights, and to stop, resist, and fight the foreign programs led by BBM. This includes stopping red-tagging, abolishing NTF-ELCAC and the Anti-Terror Law.]

“Pinapasalamatan po natin yung mga magsasaka, mamamayan, kasama natin mula kahapon dahil naniniwala sila ang isyu ng magsasaka at pagmulat ng agrikultura ay people’s issue,” Ramos added.

[We thank the farmers, and the masses, who have been with us since yesterday because they believe that farmers’ issues and opening their eyes to agriculture are people’s issues.]

More than just land, a lifeline

A strong-willed 62-year-old farmer from Dasmariñas, Cavite, Marisa Elarde shared why she participated in the protest caravan. Her source of income for 14 years was cultivating guyabano, santol, langka, and bananas. However, the Department of Agriculture voiced uncertainties about the ownership of the land they till, potentially leaving them landless.

“Sa panawagang ito, sana tulungan kami na ang aming mga lupa ay hindi maagaw ng mga mayayaman. Kawawa naman kaming mga mahihirap,” she said.

She then went on to reveal that the Villar family was going to take their land, a scenario that left her and her fellow farmers fearful for their future.

[Through this call of ours, we hope we can get help so that our land won’t be stolen by the rich. How pitiful the situation of poor people like us.]

For her grandchildren, their land is a lifeline that provides access to an education. It stands for more than simply soil; it also symbolizes their family’s hopes and aspirations.

She further pleaded for justice and the basic right to keep the land they had taken care of with such diligence as their concerns were heightened by the imminent possibility of the Landbank’s intervention, which also heightened the urgency of their struggle to reclaim their proper place on their land. This makes their story—like so many others—a testament to the dedication of individuals who refuse to be driven from their lands, fighting not just for their families but also for the brighter tomorrow of this society.

Cry of the Youth

Along with other youth organizations that act as representatives of the Southern Tagalog peasant groups, one of them was Kyle Barber, 23, a National Network Agrarian Reform Advocates – Youth (NNARA – Youth) advocate, in which they used their voice to shout for genuine land reforms as a call for action. Despite the long and tiring march, he strongly hoped the farmers would be granted the land that they rightfully deserved along with the decrease of price and increase in wages, and the right and just subsidy for the Filipino farmers.

However, as an Agriculture student at the University of the Philippines – Los Baños, Kyle’s purpose in joining the protest caravan is to raise awareness about the problems that Philippine agriculture is facing, which greatly affects the farmers of the country as well as its residents.

“Napakaraming problema ang hinaharap natin sa pagsasaka. Andyan yung presyo ng bilihin, presyo ng mga gulay, presyo ng bigas, at lahat-lahat. Andyan ang pagbagsak-presyo ng mga magsasaka, na oonti lang ang ibinibigay sa mga magsasaka,” he said.

[We are facing so many problems in farming. There is the price of goods, the price of vegetables, the price of rice, and everything. Farmers are also forced to drop their prices, and farmers get only a little of the proceeds.]

Based on his studies, Barber believes that the root cause of these problems is the land problem that the Filipino farmers are facing, from the reclamation of land and the aggressions they endured for a long time. As such, he emphasized that the farming or agriculture sector will not reach self-sufficiency without the genuine land reforms they are shouting.

Nevertheless, as a youth advocate and an agriculture student, Kyle Barber also hopes for a simple rallying cry.

“Ang panawagan ko mula sa hanay ng mga kabataan na nag-aadvocate ng tunay na reporma sa lupa ay i-forward yung mga calls namin.”

[“My call as a youth that advocates genuine land reforms is for our calls to be shared.”]

The march of the farmers from Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Central Luzon, and Negros regions provinces will continue until their pleas are heeded. Their pleas will continue to be heard until a change will occur and their problems will be solved. Generations after generations of farmers will march—and it is then that the people will be reminded that social justice remains elusive.

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