Peasant women stand at the forefront for a self-sufficient future

If there is one lesson in agriculture the pandemic has taught us, it is that food security through sustainable agriculture is crucial in ensuring the most vital needs of the entire population amid crisis. Small farmers are most affected by the government’s failure to concretely respond to the pandemic. In the beginning of the lockdown, strict quarantine restrictions and travel bans have prevented farmers from transporting agricultural products to markets and trading centers.

In addition, further militarization in the communities have even prevented them from going to their fields without interrogation and intimidation. In addition, farmers have suffered very low prices of agricultural products at the beginning of the lockdown, while enduring the continuous rise of prices of commodities. Relief goods and cash subsidies from the local and national government are limited, especially in far-flung rural communities, where actual government support is seldom felt. Instead of providing much needed support for farmers during the lockdown, the government prioritized Build, Build, Build, its flagship infrastructure project, through foreign loans, at the expense of farming communities. In the middle of a pandemic, farmers are in constant threat of eviction and demolition to pave ways for roads, train lines, and commercial establishments that ultimately ensures profit for local and foreign elites. Peasant women have carried the multiple burden of caring for the health and safety of their families and being the primary educators of their children as classes have gone online or modular, while ensuring their daily needs and seeking means to augment daily income in the middle of the pandemic.

State neglect amid worsening crisis

The inept, unsystematic, and unscientific response of the Duterte administration to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the government’s lack of preparedness in disaster response have resulted in a decline of 3.8% in the value of agricultural production in 2020. Value of crop production dropped by 0.4%, livestock by 12.9%, poultry by 5.5% and fisheries by 4.7%.

According to the Department of Agriculture, around 14,759 farmers and fisherfolks lost more than 326, 566 metric tons of crops, fish, poultry and livestock and a total of Php 9.9 billion in agricultural facilities and infrastructures due to Typhoon Quinta, Rolly and Ulysses. A total of 274, 000 ha of agricultural land were damaged. Demands of release for calamity funds for affected communities have fallen into deaf ears.

Agricultural liberalization is poison to PH agri growth

Two years after the implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law, prices of palay from local producers have plummeted to Php 18.78 per kilo, from Php 21.45 in 2019 and Php 24.74 in 2018 according to the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics. However, in conversations with peasant women in the Cordillera Administrative Region, they have reported that palay prices go as low as Php 10-12 for “wet palay” and Php 13-15 for “dry palay.” But because most small farmers do not have their own drying facilities, they are forced to sell their palay at much lower prices. Palay prices in Quezon, Cavite, Bicol and Cagayan Valley also go as low as Php 10 per kilo. Noting the fact that these four provinces were worst hit by recent typhoons, peasant communities are faced with ballooning debts and constant threats of being driven away from the meagre parcels of land they till.

Agricultural liberalization results in an increase in commodity prices because it removes the government’s power to regulate prices, while allowing cartels to monopolize and set the price that they want. Towards the end of 2020, pork prices rose to Php 400-430 per kilo. Instead of supporting local hog raisers affected by the African Swine Flu (ASF), the Department of Agriculture pushed for tripling the amount of imported pork in the country, from 54,000 MT to 162,000 MT. Instead of supporting local production, the government is pushing for an “economic cha-cha,” which in essence, is a unilateral, and complete surrender of our economy to foreign ownership, as well as increasing foreign direct investments, as a measure to rebuild the country’s economy. In a separate statement, CWR have explained that Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) have little to do with the much needed sustainable and genuine development in the countryside.

Citing IBON, CWR discussed that in 2017, agriculture only received 0.6% of total FDIs. Relaxing the economic provisions in the constitution to allow foreign ownership of land and other resources will only be detrimental to peasant communities. In addition, landlessness and massive land-grabbing continue to drive away peasant and small farmers away from agricultural production. CWR also noted that in ten years, from 2007 to 2017, the number of Filipino women engaged in agriculture has decreased from 2.9 million to 2.25 million, or a decrease of 675,000.

Peasant women as frontliners, community leaders

At the height of a global health and social crisis, peasant women have stood at the forefront of ensuring food security in their communities, managing collective gardens and their bungkalan, leading organizations for consultations and protest actions. Their urgent demands include Php 10,000 social amelioration and Php 15,000 agricultural production subsidy. If there’s any actual seriousness in the government’s pronouncements of rebuilding the economy, it must focus on the immediate needs of the people, especially, that of Filipino farmers. A sustainable and self-sufficient future is possible. The collective efforts of peasant communities to ensure their needs have proven that enough support for local production and food security will ensure economic progress for all. Thus, we must continue to push for an alternative economic framework, one that prioritizes local agricultural development instead of ensuring profit for landlords and foreign corporations through programs and policies. Furthermore, we must continue to demand government accountability for its continued subservience to US and China imperialist masters, at the expense of the majority of the Filipinos. Peasant women, along with their communities have collectively created mechanisms to respond to their daily needs amid fear of the COVID-19 pandemic and constant threats and intimidation by landlords and state forces. More importantly, farmers, along with different sectors supporting the call for genuine agrarian reform, have continued to stand together, clamouring unwaveringly from their fields to the streets, to make their demands realizable. #

Sources:

Arcalas, J. (November 2020). Harvest loss from Quinta, Rolly may have already reached P8.4 billion. Business Mirror

Center for Women’s Resources. (2020). Filipino Women in Agriculture: The Hands That Feed Center for Women’s Resources. (2021). Press Release: Cha-cha will only worsen pandemic impacts on women

Center for Women’s Resources. (2021). Ulat Lila 2021: Kalagayan at Pakikibaka ng Kababaihang Pilipino sa Panahon ng Pandemya at Militaristang Lockdown

IBON Foundation. (June 2018). Stop over-relying on foreign investments, government told

Lazo, N. (January 2021). PH agricultural output down 3.8 pct in Q4, down 1.2 pct in 2020. ABSCBN News

Ocampo, K. (December 2020). Palay price slumps to low of P 10/kilo. Inquirer.net

CWR opens Women’s Month 2021 with report of Filipino Women situation during pandemic

The Center for Women’s Resources presents the plight of Filipino women in different sectors in the time of the COVID-19 global pandemic in Ulat Lila 2021: Filipino Women in the Time of COVID 19, its annual contribution to the commemoration of International Working Women’s Month on March 1, Monday.

On it’s 19th year, Ulat Lila goes online as it discusses the social realities being faced by women during the world’s longest lockdown under the Duterte administration. The lack of concrete, comprehensive, and scientific plan to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside the implementation of multiple neoliberal policies favoring local and foreign corporations, imperialist countries, intensifies the economic and political crisis experienced by women and the people.

Before the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, CWR has reported that already 16 million Filipino women are economically insecure. Women further suffered multiple burdens of ensuring health and education of the family, while seeking means to augment meager income amid loss of jobs and livelihood.

CWR also notes that the current administration has committed grave human rights violations through its militarized lockdowns and relentless suppression of dissent through numerous attacks against rights defenders, activists, individuals and organizations.

The Center for Women’s Resources stands in solidarity with the call to a concrete and comprehensive plan and implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination program and demands regarding human rights, health and livelihood. Everyone is invited to attend the webinar via Zoom and Facebook Live and to know more about the relevant issues concerning women from various sectors of the society in the time of COVID-19 and lockdown.#

On the death of political prisoner Nona Espinosa’s newborn baby Carlen

Only a few months after we wept a river for Reina Nasino and her newborn Baby River, another political prisoner has lost her newborn again. We condemn the violence and cruelty of the Duterte administration that has allowed the deaths of innocent children in their own hands.

Nona Espinosa, a peasant rights advocate in Negros Oriental was around five months pregnant when she was arrested on trumped-up charges by the 62nd Infantry Battalion, along with 8 other advocates including her husband, in the early morning of September 20, 2020 in Brgy. Buenavista, Guinhulngan City.

Early on, human rights group Karapatan has immediately called for her release on humani-tarian grounds, as she was in need of pre-natal care and jail conditions will be detrimental for her and her child. However, such calls were not heeded, and she has not been provided with proper medical attention while in detention.

During delivery, she had experienced labor complications and had to undergo emergency Cesarian Section. Her baby was born with a cleft palate and was experiencing difficulty breathing. Instead of ensuring “Unang Yakap” and initiating breastfeeding, the baby was immediately handed over to Nona’s family, and Nona was sent back to jail only three days after a major surgery. Nona was left with no postpartum care, while her newborn had to fight to survive without his mother holding him close.

In 2018, the Nutrisyon at Kalusugan ng Mag-nanay Act (RA 11148), was enacted to ensure facilities and services for mothers during pregnancy until 2 years from birth. Furthermore, the Philippine government has committed itself to adhere to the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders. The rules state the needs of pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, their entitlement to receive qualified advice on health and diet, adequate and timely food, a healthy environment and regular exercise opportunities, as well as their post-natal medical and nutritional needs. We demand the government to uphold such policies.

We do not forget how anguished we are at how Reina and baby River were treated. We are reminded of Andrea Rosal and her newborn baby Diona in 2014 who suffered the same fate. The cruel treatment of women political prisoners and their newborns clearly exemplifies how ruthless this government is to women and mothers who take a stand for human rights.

We reiterate our call to release Nona Espinosa and all political prisoners. We condemn the continuing imprisonment of activists and rights defenders on baseless charges, created to stifle the fight for the people’s democratic rights.

Pandemic Tales: Women and Work in the Time of COVID-19

More than a month passed since the implementation of enhanced community quarantine in many parts of the country. Millions of Filipinos, especially those in the margins, have suffered from suspension of work, loss of income and livelihood, and insufficient relief from the government.

Worse, this COVID-19 pandemic has posed disproportionate impact on women workers as many employed women workers are at the frontline of COVID-19 response. Seven out of 10 health care jobs in the Philippines comprise of women, while thousands of women also work in the service sector and continue to provide services amid the pandemic. In this light, the CWR hosted an online discussion on the situation of women workers in the time of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

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