At the crack of dawn in the Philippines’ rural areas rich in vast fields to farm and boundless seas to trawl fish from, farmers and fisherfolks could already be seen preparing their carabaos and dilapidated fishing boats, respectively.
Heading to their destination to work for hours, days, and weeks, farmers and fisherfolks have a similar goal in mind: to harvest bountiful crops and fish.
These people, however, face day-to-day impediments that affect not only their harvest and the agriculture sector as a whole but also their families’ lives.
On top of feeding a country’s growing population while earning just a small fraction of their hard work, farmers are harassed by oppressive landowners, while fishermen, specifically in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), are bullied by the Chinese coast guard and militia force.
On the eve of the official start of the campaign period for the presidential elections in 2016, the then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte met up with farmers in Tarlac City.
Unlike his usual speeches on fighting crime and corruption, Duterte went to a ricefield and told farmers in “Aquino country” that helping out the agriculture industry was among his priorities should he occupy the highest office in the land.
The farmers told him about their problems in water supply, to which Duterte answered back that he would see to it that irrigation would be free for farmers. Another problem raised was financing, to which the presidential candidate said he would solve by coursing credit access through cooperatives.
At the height of the still worsening pandemic, the now President Duterte assured in March that those who put food on Filipinos’ table, farmers and fisherfolks who are also among the poorest, will receive assistance from the government.
“To our farmers and fisherfolks, we have not forgotten you, and the government is now employing quick response measures to help you during the crisis, as well as ensure food productivity, availability, and sustainability during the period of the pandemic. Andito ang gobyerno para sa inyo,” said Duterte.
Farmers and fisherfolks, however, were among those who protested when Duterte delivered his fifth and penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July. They stressed how their struggles continue to be “ignored” under the present administration.
In their State of the Peasant Address, groups including the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) pointed out that the lack of government support has made farmers go hungry in the middle of the pandemic. Many farmers were forced to throw away unsold vegetables that got spoiled amid lockdowns.
“Farmers are growing hungry due to the carelessness of the Duterte regime,” said Amihan Secretary-General Cathy Estavillo.
Even before the pandemic, agricultural laborers were “barely recognized” by the Duterte administration, said Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura Chairperson Antonio Flores.
Farming leaders stressed the dropping prices of vegetables, the rice tariffication law, and the displacement of indigenous peoples to build New Clark City as proof of how their situation has worsened.
Pamalakaya-Pilipinas Chairman Fernando Hicap also slammed what he said was the Duterte administration’s failure to defend fisherfolk’s rights in the Philippines’ territorial waters.
Hicap cited the sinking and abandonment of fishing boat Gem-Ver by a Chinese vessel in 2019 and the recent collision of fishing boat Liberty 5 with a Hong Kong-flagged cargo vessel as instances where Filipino fishers needed protection that the administration failed to provide.
“Malinaw po kung bakit ganito ang pagtrato: Alam nila na ang Pangulo ng Pilipinas ay hindi kakampi ng mga mangingisdang Pilipino, siya ay kakampi ng mga Chinese fishing vessel at Chinese cargo ship,” said Hicap.
As these roadblocks continue to make the lives of farmers and fisherfolks more difficult, the current administration must intervene and help little by little to at least lessen the weight these sectors are holding on their backs every day. These struggles shouldn’t be ignored and must be addressed now.
Duterte, who recently bared that his work starts at 2:00 PM, referring to himself as a “night-person,” should wake up early in the crack of dawn just like what farmers and fisherfolks do every day, contemplate on his government’s shortcomings in terms of extending a hand to the agriculture sector, and make his promises happen.
Abundant crops and sea products are what these farmers and fisherfolks want, Mr. President. They don’t need your false promises. Help them feed their families so they can help in feeding the entire nation with dignity.