Peasant sector continues to bear the brunt of neoliberalism

By APRN | October 30, 2023

As the Philippines peasant month commemoration concludes, the Filipino peasantry continues to bear the brunt of the food crisis, inflation, and neoliberal oppression under the current Marcos Jr. regime. Despite being at the forefront of the country’s agriculture sector, they continue to suffer from the worsening socio-economic crisis, and the intensifying state terrorism and fascism in the countryside.

More than half of Asia Pacific Region’s population are employed in agriculture. It accounts for a quarter of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the region and employs approximately 60% of its population. But despite this staggering contribution, farmers and their respective families are condemned to further destitution across the region.

Small and marginal farmers who constitute 85% of farmers globally, have been confronted with issues of chronic landlessness, environmental degradation, and food insecurity since time immemorial. They continue to suffer abject conditions due to backward agriculture and all-out liberalization that continues to kill local agricultural production. Moreover, 560 million people continue to live on less than $1.25 a day while food prices continue to rise steeply in all sub-regions of Asia Pacific. 

Land grabbing and land use conversion has been contributing heavily to the steady decrease of agricultural lands globally. The increase in large-scale land acquisitions by transnational corporations over the years has immensely contributed to the current dilemma of food insecurity that greatly affects Asia Pacific. 

The highest number of land deals could be found in the Asia Pacific region particularly in Cambodia, Indonesia, India, Laos, Vietnam, and the Philippines. These huge acquisitions pose a threat to small-scale farmers who remain to be the majority in the region. This situation is aggravated further by the existence of landlords and compradors that own and control thousands of hectares of agricultural lands. 

For instance, farmers in the Philippines continue to suffer from paltry wages that do not even suffice to live through each day. According to the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Union of Agricultural Workers), the latest wage hike announced by the National Wages and Productivity Commision has added a mere 30 pesos to the minimum wage of agricultural workers in Cagayan Valley; 40 pesos in Central Luzon; and 35 pesos in Central Mindanao. This amount could barely purchase a kilo of rice in the Philippines at present. 

It should be noted that during the 2022 electoral campaign, Bongbong Marcos promised to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo. A promise that is yet to be fulfilled as the rice inflation rate increased to 17.9% last month

The Marcos Jr. regime has also approved Executive Order 39 that puts price caps on rice prices pushing the palay to be bought at an incredulously low rate in a desperate attempt to lower food prices and allegedly solve the food crisis. However, this puts the Filipino farmer in further jeopardy given that at least 60% of farmers in the country own lands that are less than one hectare in size while more than 50% of its arable land are owned by only 11% of its population.

Moreover, the imposition of neoliberal policies by the Global North on the Global South, continues to affect the most vulnerable nations like the Philippines. Due to the increasing unpaid foreign debt, capitalist nations are able to exploit land and natural resources; operate all kinds of businesses; and further open nations in the Global South to accelerated environmental plunder and environmental degradation. 

The unabated exploitation of land and natural resources, and the skyrocketing prices of basic commodities have forced farmers and small producers to become dispossessed of their land. It has compelled them to migrate to urban areas to seek lucrative jobs. On the other hand, capitalist countries and their corporations have replaced traditional agriculture with vast monoculture plantations. 

Aside from a multitude of economic woes, farmers in the Philippines are also the primary victims of the government’s counterinsurgency program. According to human rights organization Karapatan, most of them were brutally killed and were projected to be members of insurgents that were killed in armed encounters with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. As of June 2023, there have been 6,391 victims of bombings of communities in the Philippines, 13,352 victims of forced evacuation, and 7,712 victims of indiscriminate firing. These state perpetrated attacks force families to evacuate their homes, communities, and productive lands. 

The farmers, whose hard work continues to feed the rest of the world, remain relentless in asserting their rights against the onslaught of the global economic crisis, policies of exploitation and oppression by monopoly capitalism through its local cohorts, and state terror. They remain steadfast in the struggle for freedom from exploiters and oppressors, and ultimately, in creating a society where justice and genuine progress is experienced by all people. 

The Asia Pacific Research Network extends its utmost support to the struggle of rural communities, grassroots organizations, and civil society organizations in upholding the rights of farmers, agricultural workers, indigenous peoples’, and all the working peoples’ towards genuine land reform, food sovereignty, and social justice. #

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