There's Good News from the Countryside

To say to the captives, 'Come out,' and to those in darkness, 'Be free!' They will feed beside the roads and find pasture on every barren hill.
--Isaiah 49:9

Every time the skylab turns a bend in the long drive to the remote communities in Agusan, I have to hold my breath and make sure my heart does not leap off the cliff just right next to me.

Campaigns for our lands and our right to survive are like this ride. Sometimes hope is as thin as the line between the motor's tires and the edge which plunges into oblivion. But what has kept this hope in its place is the knowledge that united, we can never fail.

In launching an extensive campaign for advancing genuine land reform, the revitalized peasant movement in Northern Mindanao Region has won for its thousands of member families political and economic victories, concretely translated in terms of monetary and non-monetary benefits. This movement was carried out in the spirit of united action in addressing the peasants' problems of landlessness, livelihood, and the worsening marginalization of the sector considered the backbone of the nation.

RMP-NMR's advocacy work in support of the peasant struggle has so far gathered most inspiring outcomes. At the culmination of the October 2012 Peasant Month in Cagayan de Oro City, thousands of farmers, agricultural workers, and advocates marched as they proudly declared these victories fought arduously with their own blood, sweat and tears.

They are slowly coming out from feudal bondage, freeing themselves through collective actions

Let me bore you a bit with some numbers and statistical figures to give you a more concrete picture of these victories that are building up a better future for our communities.

Approximately 6,235 families have benefited from the widespread campaigns in 2012. The barangay , inter-barangay, municipal and inter-municipal peasant mass actions took various forms aimed at increasing wages of agricultural and farm workers, improving working conditions and obtaining reasonable benefits. These aims included increasing farm-gate prices of agricultural products, reduction of mill rates for rice and corn mills, as well as reduction in transportation charges.

In Malaybalay, Impasug-ong and San Fernando, Bukidnon Province, the farm-gate price of abaca fiber increased by P2 to P5 per kilo from its original price of P47-P52 per kilo. About 748 families who depend on abaca stripping as their main source of income have benefited from this. Still in the city of Malaybalay, five big land owners, rich vegetable growers and poultry farm operators increased the daily wage of their workers from P120 to P150. In addition to that, the workers are provided with free meals.
Also, thirty farmers from barangay Tugaya who worked as part-time garbage collectors for the city of Valencia in Bukidnon, hired as job-order employees have successfully negotiated directly with the mayor for the payment of their four month-back wages.

In Esperanza, Agusan del Sur, the daily wage for many farm workers selling their labor power in the vast irrigated rice fields of the Agusan river basin has been increased from P200 to P250 also with free meals.

In Gingoog City east of the province of Misamis Oriental, 542 families from six barrios have benefited from the price increase of their banana products. From P7 per kilo for lakatan and tundan varieties, the peasants were able to obtain a P1.50 increase, raising the price to P8.50 per kilo regardless of the kind. The news of this accomplishment spread like wildfire that also influenced not less than nine other neighboring barrios. The wages of the agricultural workers in the oil palm plantations in Balingasag, Misamis Oriental were raised from P90 to P150 a day. In seven barrios of the same municipality, the wages for upland farms were increased from P120 to P150 with free meals, while those of the lowland farms were increased from P170 to P200 a day. Farmers from Salay are now also entitled to P150 a day, with meals. In Claveria, Misamis Oriental, the P100 daily wage for farm workers in the vegetable growing district in three adjoining barrios was increased to P120 with free breakfast, lunch and snacks. They can opt for a higher pay of P150 but without food provisions.

A number of rice and corn mills have also reduced their mill charge. In fact, in some places, the farmers were able to negotiate with the mill owners to accept corn bran as milling fee. In Buenavista, Agusan del Norte, 500 families from four barrios have benefited from this. The mill rate was reduced from P2.75 to P2 per kilo. More than 400 families from six barrios in Carmen and Nasipit, Agusan del Norte have benefited from a P.25 reduced for every kilo of rice and corn milled. Similarly, 1,480 families from nine barrios in Quezon, Bukidnon have directly benefited from the P.50 reduction in the mill rate.

Achievements of these persistent and hard-working families are not reflected only in the increase of their income. They have also managed to lower family expenses by creatively planning as a group. In Lumintato, Quezon, a student usually requires P450 a month just for transportation to the nearest school. Most of the time, these children walk in the rain, under the heat of the sun, or in whatever condition, to cut on expenses. With 122 families – with 129 children enrolled – having this worry, it was not that difficult to come up with a solution. They hired a truck that now serves as the school transportation of these children. From the P450 per child, they now need to pay only P50 a month.

They are feeding beside the roads, find pasture on every barren hill they have collectively tilled

The 800 member-families of the Buffalo-Tamaraw-Limus in Dologon, Maramag, Bukidnon continue to produce rice, the country’s staple food, from the 400-hectare area of the Central Mindanao University they occupy until today. This is despite the May 2012 cut-off date ordering them to leave voluntarily. Thanks to the overwhelming support of peasant organizations, advocates, and solidarity groups from both national and international communities. The university administration cannot evict the farmers freely without inviting controversy.

The same is true with the Tindoga group of Quezon, Bukidnon; the Adtuyon Rural Farmers Association of Don Carlos, Bukidnon; Anghel Clan of Miarayon, Talakag, Bukidnon; Pangalasag of Opol, Misamis Oriental; three farmers’ organizations of Upper Puerto in Cagayan de Oro and other organizations of peasants. With initial victories they have already gained, they have every reason to remain hopeful and enjoy the produce from the lands that are rightfully theirs.

These partial victories achieved in the year 2012 will serve as an encouragement for the struggling peasantry in the countryside to further strengthen their unity and advance their struggle to a higher level. Only through this can they realize their quest for genuine land reform step by step and attain social justice in the long run. At this stage, their collective experience has taught them valuable lessons that with their organized strength and determination to succeed, the dead weight of feudal remnants that stand in their way to real emancipation is no mountain impossible to scale after all.

We are aware that while we are celebrating these magnificent achievements, the danger of politicking is as sticky as the glue that holds the politicians’ faces to the walls all over the country right now. This is indeed the time of sweet talks and the rain of promises is heavier than the occasional drops of water we get from heaven. We are absolutely wary of this and so are our supporters. We are equally engaging these politicians to become more accountable, challenging them to prove that the political landscape of our country can be made better. We make it known that we have the power to vote and we are voting for people who stand by their word in the face of bribes and personal financial gains. United, the people have the power.

All of these victories were pulled off due to the towering unity of organized communities to assert their right over lands and access to resources. These successes were fruits of the painstaking efforts of peasant organizations and leaders in arousing their respective communities of the need to unite and collectively address their problems. More or less 2,000 peasants from 60 barrios in at least twenty municipalities in the region massed up in clusters and engaged the buyers, traders, usurers, politicos and landlords in dialogue-negotiations in their respective localities.

Aside from this, we acknowledge and are deeply thankful for the support that our campaigns have been blessed with. A number of concerned professionals, students and church people gave their all-out support to this movement emphasizing solidarity with their personal presence in each of the events. Organizations which found it geographically difficult to be with us cheered us on with continuing messages of encouragement, helping us with our lobbying to various offices that had often snubbed local efforts of calling their attention to issues.

Because of these, we are encouraged to step up our efforts further, a smile on our face and a strong determination in our hearts. We take courage also from the examples of great dedication of our friends that we have lost along the way. We will follow fearlessly the footsteps of Father Pops and Pepe , and all other martyrs of the peasant movement in Mindanao and elsewhere who offered their lives so that others may live. And just like a ride on a skylab, we get on this campaign together and we get off it together when we finally reach our destination.

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a motorcycle tied with wooden bars to accommodate up to eight, sometimes twelve, persons. The wooden bars need to be loaded equally so that balance while in motion is achieved. Also, so that the vehicle will not tip, the passengers are required to get on together and get off at the same time.
village
Smaller cross-section of the village
Fr. Fausto Tentorio, PIME, an Italian missionary. Father Pops was an RMP member and IP rights advocate. He was extra-judicially killed on October 2011 for siding with the rural poor in their fight for land rights over large mining ventures.
Jose Manegdeg, an RMP lay worker from the Ilocos and Cordillera Region, extra-judicially killed on November 2005 by believed-to-be state forces.