Agricultural and Agrarian Situation of the Philippines and the Vital Necessity of Enacting House Bill No. 555 Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or GARB

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Agricultural and Agrarian Situation of the Philippines and the Vital Necessity of Enacting House Bill No. 555 Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or GARB
Input of Anakpawis Party-list Representative Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao on the
Forum for Genuine Agrarian Reform and Sustainable Agriculture sponsored by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pillipinas, Resist Agro-chem TNCs and National Anti-Poverty Commission
October 20, 2017, Quezon City

At this modern age, Philippine society remains semi-feudal. It is characterized by a political and economic system that majorly operates on a backward state of forces and relations of production, that features mainly exploitative and oppressive social relations against the peasantry and other rural-based sectors. Agriculture as shaped by past and present government not to serve the national requirements but to play raw materials supplier of the demands of capitalist countries to the extent of threatening the food security.


Backward means of agricultural production

Philippine agricultural lands are recognized as unirrigated or rainfed lands. Hence, rice production remains to reach full potential and among with access to irrigation systems, farmers are compelled to carry the burden of paying for irrigation, adding to the cost of production. In 2016, irrigation development is at 59% at 1.8 million hectares and with a backlog of near 1.3 million has.

Central Luzon which is recognized as the country’s rice granary, only have 65% of its rice lands serviced with irrigation. It has also the largest irrigated lands at 314,000 has. It is followed by Cagayan Valley with 188,500 has. but it is only at 64% irrigation development. With least irrigation dev’t are ARMM, Davao, SOCCSKSARGEN and Caraga regions at 30% to 43%.

In 2002, plow-tractor ratio employed on agricultural lands was at 6-4 or 2.7 million plows to 1.5 million tractors. Regions with most relative usage of tractors were Ilocos, Central Luzon, Cagayan Valley, Mimaropa, Western Visayas with 5-5 to 6-4 plow-tractor ratio. But on number of tractors used, Ilocos and Central Luzon each composed 16% of the country’s total, Cagayan Valley 14% and Western Visayas 13%.

Manual labor is also a coherent trait of country’s agriculture, particularly from planting, maintaining and harvesting of crops. It is evident in rice, coconut, sugarcane and other crop production. The rural population which is at 55% according to the government, serves as the producing class in agriculture. Mechanized transplanting which is exclusive in capitalist agriculture in developed countries remains a wishful thinking.

The lip-service program of past and present administration on the agricultural sector is principally promotion of liberalization. The government did not even food security on its proposed 2018 National Budget and only continued such programs such as the National Rice Program.

The National Rice Program, which is composed of promoting high-yielding, hybrid and even Genetically-Modified Organisms (GMO) varieties, failed to cause the attainment of rice self-sufficiency in the country. Amid being funded by at least P35 billion from 2011 to 2015, it still failed. From 2009 to 2013, rice utilization per capita fell from about 120 kg per year to 116 kg, that was about near 20 kg for a family of five.

The Department of Agriculture planned to introduce the harvester-combine since the past administration and it is promoted by the current leadership. However, farmers group in many provinces opposed the P1.6 million-machinery and labelled it as “halimaw” particularly in Nueva Ecija, when it was demonstrated in 2014. Its introduction is related to the generated opposition of farmers against the reaper farm equipment that cuts rice crops in a short period of time. It actually displaced farmworkers from their sources of income and it drove them to act directly and sabotage it by putting metal bars on the farm to damage it. The “halimaw” pose the same threat as expressed by Nueva Ecija rice farmers.

Moreover, mechanization, a development in the forces of production and an attribute of capitalist agriculture, if to be imposed on a semi-feudal economic set-up in the countryside will only trigger unrest. A development in the forces of production without the corresponding development in the relations of production will only generate a contradiction.

Furthermore, mechanized production is also predestined to fail as with the semi-feudal agriculture, where landlords and even compradors dictate the farmgate price, the cost of production, which will be enlarged by the added value of such machinery will put more farmers to more bankruptcy and landlessness. Therefore, any development in the forces of production, should require the development in relations of production and first eliminate the semi-feudal forms that enchain the farmers, as the producer class.

The Department of Agriculture boasts of its planned mapping of agricultural lands in the country, but not for the national interest, instead to allocate lands for foreign monopoly who are and are to engage in plantation businesses such as oil palm.


Regressing relations of production in agriculture

Social relations in agriculture is predominantly feudal and semi-feudal. It is regressing or retreating as a typical tenant-farmer is being displaced and transformed to mere farmworker.

(Displacement, from peasant to a semi-worker)
The peasant sector is also under the threat of being dislodged from agriculture, brought about by systematic land use conversion, mining, eco-tourism and other projects, consequently, it is driven to the commercial centers to do odd, contractual and irregular jobs and compose the swelling population of semi-workers or urban poor in town and cities.

As indicator of inadequacy of working on land as resulted by landlessness or small-land production, farmers get about 46% of income from working outside of their own farms, 30% of which is non-farm work. Thus, the Filipino farmer, after being displaced from his land, is not converted to an industrial worker, but to being a semi-worker or farmworker who are subjected to a more exploitative and oppressive relations in production.

(Land rent)
Farmers are usual victims of land rent. However, this archaic and exploitative social indicator is subject to the level of the consolidated strength and unity of farmers’ associations who regularly bargain for improved relations with the landlord. On areas with strong farmers’ group, land rent usually is at 13 cavans for every 100 cavans of harvested palay. However, an emerging “barok” system is transforming the tenant to a mere farmworker where is paid with P10,000 for his three to four-month work on the rice farm, that is capable of resulting an income of P75,000. Hence, his land rent skyrockets to 87% of the gross harvest, and essentially makes a slave out of him, a beggar for the landlord to keep him on the land.

In coconut areas, “tersyo” or 1/3-2/3 in favor of the landlord still exists, as well as 50-50. Still, this is subject to the farmers’ political strength, which in some parts of the country, “tersyong baliktad” which is favorable to the farmers, was already achieved and being enjoyed by poor coconut farmers. In onion production, there is also a 50-50 sharing system, but actually the bulk burden is shouldered by the farmer as it is capital and labor intensive and the landlord reaps the benefit, especially because it also acts as the trader of the harvest.

(Wage and slave-like conditions)
Farmworkers and agricultural workers across the country suffer slave-like wage levels. In 2011, nominal wage rate of farmworkers was at P207, but its real wage equivalent was P122, which is lower than real wages from 1998 to 2004. Real wages for crop lines palay, coconut, corn and sugar were all lower than its 1998 level. Thus, however much nominal increases farmworkers receive, it is inadequate to make them cope up with the worsening economic crises in the country and they are kept engrossed in aggravating state of poverty and hunger.

Low wages for farmworkers was exposed by the issue of globally-condemned Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004. Then, farmworkers take home a pay of P9.50 that led them to launch the massive strike, and was retaliated by the landlord Cojuangcos with a brutal assault on the picketline and massacre of striking farmworkers. This wage-level was the outcome of the bombardment of feudal and semi-feudal forms of exploitation, ranging from the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) that rid them of their rights to land that barred them to cultivate their own food crops, low wages at P150 daily rate for field work, usury where farmworkers even loan for salt, and absence of social protection from non-compliance of labor laws and standards.

A merciless form of low-wage scheme is “pakyawan,” particularly in sugarcane areas. It is a form of sub-contracting that demolishes the daily wage rate system, transforming the sugarworkers to slaves. In Negros sugar areas, pakyawan schemes could impose a P500 pay for a 15-day work or a daily average of P33. It makes farmworkers so vulnerable as it exonerates the landlord of any legal liability as it is brokered by an encargado, hence, social protection is nil.

Minimum wage level for plantation workers in Negros is set at P281.50 but the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) exposed that 98% of hacienda firms do not comply to the labor law, affecting at least 300,000 sugar workers.

Pakyawan was recently unmasked by the rescue of trafficked sacada from Mindanao by Cojuangco-Lorenzo firms Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and Agrikulto, Inc. to work in Hacienda Luisita. Hundreds of sacadas from Bukidnon were promised with P480 daily wage, alongwith benefits, but they were subjected to a pakyawan scheme that earned them a beggar-like pay of P38 per week or P5.47 a day. Naturally, they resisted and escaped, through the aid of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) through the progressive officials from the people’s movement.


Detrimental government policies and programs

Agriculture without genuine agrarian reform, remains a bankrupt sector. The absence of security of tenure of the farmers on the land, threatens their class as being producer, consequently injurious to production. It manifests in food security and its supposed social role of contributing to rural development and nationalist industrialization.

(Export-oriented agriculture)
Past and present administrations remained advocates of neoliberal economics, which is demonstrated in agriculture being shaped as export-oriented and without vital investments to keep farmgate prices at a low, or at competitive levels.

Vegetables, fruits, sugar products, agri-based oils composed bulk of the agricultural exports of the country at 6.1 million metric tons in 2014. It was valued at $3.8 billion, that crudely makes a kilogram worth $0.62. The cheapest was the vegetable and fruits category at $0.48 (P21.2) per kg, sugar products at $0.68, and oils at $1.06. Hence, agriculture with the bulky volume of production and intended for export to capitalist economies, suffer monopoly pricing and we are certain that the impact of this economic practice inherent to monopoly capitalism to the Filipino farmers are detrimental.

(Further expansion of plantations)
Plantations are characterized by cultivating permanent crops. Permanent crops are systematically eating up share in area harvested from only 1.8 million has. in 1960 or 23% to 4.2 million has. in 2002 or 44%. Almost all cash and export crops expanded area from 1990, 2002 to 2016. Oil palm increased by 40,000 has. or 201% since 2002, while cavendish banana by 42,000 has. or 97%, pineapple with 24,400 has. or 60% since 1990, and rubber by 137,000 has. or 159%.

It should be noted that plantations are usually imposed on agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs), via non-land transfer schemes as provisioned by the expired Republic Act No. 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), and is known today as agri-business ventures arrangement or AVAs. The bankruptcy of this scheme was bared by the Hacienda Luisita massacre, and recently by the ARBs demand for land distribution in Lapanday-controlled plantations, as well as the Tagum Development Corporation or TADECO in Mindanao. These AVAs protecting plantation and promoting its expansion has been promoted by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), instead of directly distributing the lands to ARBs.

The Duterte administration who promised reforms, is actually implementing the Philippine Palm Oil Industry Roadmap drafted by its predecessor. The present government is eyeing 1.6 million has. to be devoted to oil palm plantation. The government reported that the largest expansion of oil palm plantation were at Caraga region, at 35% of the 56,641 has. in 2012, and SOCSKSARGEN at 30%. Of the more than a million has. targeted, majority is located in Miindanao or 98%.

Obviously, this promotion threatens the rights to land of farmers, as already highlighted by the struggle of Lumad farmers in Opol, Misamis Oriental against the 1,000-has. oil palm plantation of A. Brown Energy Resources Dev’t., Inc. (ABERDI) that led to the extra-judicial killing of Gilbert Paborada in 2012. At present, his brother is being harassed by government forces and accused as a member of the New People’s Army (NPA).


The imperative for a Genuine Agrarian Reform and enactment of House Bill No. 555 Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB)

The legitimate demand of the Filipino peasant class for a Genuine Agrarian Reform has been elevated, as the Duterte administration promised fundamental reforms, but it is now apparent that it is not capable of doing so.

Farmers have been for decades demanded the repeal of CARP for its bankruptcy, protection of landlord interests and betrayal of farmers’ aspirations. It actually promoted SDO, leaseback and other forms of non-land transfer schemes that led to the displacement of farmers from the land and strengthened the feudal control of landlords over vast tracks of land.

Genuine agrarian reform is spirited in the legislative struggle by House Bill No. 555 – Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or GARB, and it is condensed as provision for free distribution of land to the farmers and Filipinization of plantation lands.

GARB, as contrary to criticisms is not a socialist legislative measure. It is a national democratic proposal that aims to transform the semi-feudal state of the countryside to a genuinely developed sector that will benefit the peasant class, as well as, contribute to the rural development and nationalist industrialization.

It even provisions just compensation to landlords, but divergent to the pro-landlord provision of CARP. Its confiscatory provisions are also bounded by the existing laws within the constitution.

The main trait of GARB that landlords and compradors heavily disapprove is its coverage, as it aims to distribute all agricultural lands in the country, without exemption. They view it as dictatorial and violation of their bourgeois right to private property. This is the main contention in the agrarian reform debate, as ruling classes in favor of the present exploitative and oppressive political and economic system, while the peasant movement demands a democratic and socially just reforms in the country.

GARB adheres to the social justice and morality of free distribution of land, as encoined by historical epochs in the country. Filipino farmers have been demanding land since the Spanish colonialism, then under American rule, towards the regimes subservient to the dictates of foreign monopoly capitalism or imperialism.

HB 555 is even inferior to agrarian reform struggles tracked by Western civilization via bloody revolutions, such as the European Revolutions of 1848, which predominantly demanded the abolition of the monarchial feudal power over vast tracks of lands. Anti-feudal struggles were also waged in Asia such as in Japan, China, Korea, Middle East, India and others. These social upheavals were national democratic and not socialist, as it was led by the growing bourgeois classes in their respective societies. Likewise, GARB does not propose any proletarian take-over of state leadership, furthermore, it does not advocate the violent means and constraints its provisions to achieve the most reforms from existing jurisprudence in the country.

It is simply pushing for the sincere emancipation of the peasant class from the feudal bondage enjoyed by the landlord and comprador classes. And this emancipation will benefit not just the peasant class, but all strata in Philippine society as the maximum potential of agriculture will be unlocked.

Small-and-medium enterprises or SMEs, or the petty bourgeoisie class will benefit from genuine agrarian reform, as the monopoly control of big hacienderos conspiring with big businesses will be abolished. SMEs could tap the liberated agricultural sector for abundant sources of raw materials at lower costs. With this, employment will flourish and more workers will be taken out from the unemployed sector or industrial reserve army. By Genuine Agrarian Reform liberating at least the 55 million rural population, massive poverty in the country will be dramatically reduced, and in a way their purchasing power to upsurge, they will be a bulk addition to the market of the local and national economy.

Subsequently, with intermediate industries connecting agriculture to industry, rural development and nationalist industrialization will cease to be an unreachable vision in the country.

With Genuine Agrarian Reform as trigger to social and economic progress in the country, it is worthy of much support from various sectors based in the urban centers and countryside.


Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.

Anakpawis Rep. Ayik Casilao at the NAPC National Forum on Food Security, Land Reform and Sustainable Agriculture for Women Farmers in Quezon City. Photo by NAPC.