How do we stop these killings? Government has to understand that there’s nothing wrong with fighting for social justice in this country.
One of the problems I see is that there is complete red-tagging once a farmer is for agrarian reform. I was trying to appeal that most of the soldiers were children of farmers, and don’t you think that the parents of the soldiers are also in the same position as the other farmers asking for land, or asking for something to till to get out of poverty? And if you are going to immediately red-tag them, then you put to the lives of the parents of these soldiers in harm's way. It is the right of anyone to ask for agrarian reform.
Going back to how do we stop these killings, government has to understand that there’s nothing wrong with fighting for social justice in this country. Why kill them? If you believe that they belong to any subversive or any underground groups, then arrest them. Bring out the facts, and file the cases in court. There was an NDF consultant that was killed [last January 30].
(*This interview was conducted on February 1. Since then there have been more cases of violence against peasant leaders. The current number of farmers killed under the Duterte administration stands at over 180.)
ESQ: Randy Malayao.
ET: Yes. Again, he was supposed to be in possession of a JASIG (Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees), a safe conduct pass, since the peace talks have not been totally terminated by the government, so those are live. So why kill people who have an understanding of famers’ issues and with safe conduct passes? So heto ‘yong problema.
Going back to problems of farmers, the problem is that government is only focused on production. Meet our production targets, the economic managers are happy, DA is happy, there’s a contribution to the gross domestic product. But the most important question that they fail to ask is whether the lives of farmers improved if they made those targets, and the general answer to that is no.
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If ever they earn it’s breakeven, because baon sa utang, and matagal nang baon sa utang ‘yan. Bakit hindi sinasagot ng gobyerno, paano natin tutulungan? We’re going to face a serious problem with regard to food security because our farmers are getting old; close to senior citizen age. You ask their children if they want to become farmers and they will say no. Why? Mahirap ang buhay, walang kinabukasan.
So, how do we address that? That should be the objective of government. How do we attract people to farm agricultural land? If we don’t do that, ang mangyayari sa atin, ang agricultural land natin ma-co-convert. That’s why it’s important that government look at ways in trying to attract the youth.
Ang overarching call ko ay trabaho. Trabaho sa kalunsuran. Trabaho sa kanayunan. Kung kaya nating maenganyo ang ating kabataan na bumalik sa pagtatanim, and, in order to do that, by guaranteeing a certain income to them, then people will go back to farm. That’s the easiest. You can’t wait for business to establish themselves there. Ang pinakamadali, kung kaya mo i-guarantee yung magsasaka na kung ano man itatanim niya, heto ang kita mo, at makita nila na maganda ang kita diyan.
The question is whether we have to subsidize, and people hate the word subsidy, but we have no choice. Subsidize the cost of fertilizer, if that’s a consideration that should be taken. I’m sure it will be met with resistance, but we have to bite the bullet. Food security is in danger. Our agricultural land is in danger.
We have to decide, are we going to be a Singapore where we’re just importing everything or are we still going to protect and fight for our agricultural sector? I believe we still have to because I believe our agricultural sector is our engine of growth. If we can develop it and harness it, that will later on spill over to farmers having money and build other industries.
ESQ: Going now to workers, last year, President Duterte talked about ending endo, but until now we still have cases of labor only contracting, and so on. What do you think happened?
ET: Well, there’s a law, and that law is still existing: The labor code and Herrera law, and those need to be amended. There has to be a realization that these laws are also being used to violate workers’ rights.
I’m not saying that any form of contractualization is bad. We know that the easiest example is janitorial services. So, ayun, puwede iyon. Ang mahirap dito, ‘yong iniikutan nila yung contractualization in such a way that alam naman natin na necessary and desirable para kumita ‘yong company, pero contractual pa rin ‘yong manggagawa, so kailangan higpitan iyan.
Pangalawa, there has to be a faster way in deciding cases. Kasi, sad to say, pero mayroon pa ring mga employer na ang sinasabi, “Kasuhan mo nalang kami.” In other words, pinapahaba nila ‘yong usapin, kasi alam nila na walang kakayahan ‘yong manggagawa na i-sustain yung kaso. Puwede umakyat all the way to the Supreme Court ‘yan e. At iyon ang nakakalungkot. These cases can go up to three years old; paano ‘yong manggagawa? So, the worker would rather settle than fight for what is his. That has to be reviewed also.
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