The bankruptcy of the Duterte regime exploded during the trying times of the pandemic, grossly impacting the peasantry who were plunged deeper into poverty.
On the first year of the pandemic, an estimated 2.5 million farmers, farmworkers, and fisherfolk were economically dislocated. Quarantine lockdowns and intensified militarization impeded farming activities. On top of it, the lack of support to farmers e.g., transportation, storage, and warehousing, etc., was highlighted when agricultural products were dumped and left to rot on the roadside amid widespread hunger in urban poor communities.
The pandemic did not give peasants a respite from repression and fascist attacks of the US-Duterte regime’s “counterinsurgency” program. On the contrary, it was used by the Duterte government as a pretext to intensify its dirty war against the people and to hound those espousing solutions to poverty, chronic crises, and to the centuries-old landlessness.
Since the pandemic, 55 peasants have been killed by police and military; 325 peasants in total since Duterte came to power. Some farming villages were turned into hamlets under military watch. The people especially of communities seeking land reform or defending the forests, minerals, rivers were harassed, red-tagged, and killed. Communities were bombed. People were forced to report to authorities to “clear” themselves. They were restrained from buying even their own food supplies on suspicion that they were supporters or members of the New People’s Army (NPA).
US-Duterte regime worsens poverty
The peasant masses still comprise the most numerous class in Philippine society. They work on the country’s principal means of production, the more than 13.5 million hectares of agricultural land which, through centuries, were owned not by the tillers but by few big landlords and their families.
Land reform programs since the US occupation and the succeeding regimes of US puppet presidents of the Philippine republic, including Duterte’s, were all sham and for show because the same big landlords occupy the lawmaking bodies in the country. Their land reform laws shielded the landlords from land expropriation and avoided free land distribution to the tillers. In the long run, the “expropriated” lands reverted to the landlords or government bureaucrats.
Decades of hard farm work hardly lifted the peasantry out of poverty nor improved the country’s backward agriculture. Because of onerous land rent they have to pay landlords and/or usurious lenders and traders for the farm inputs and supplies, their produce can hardly make ends meet much more invest on farming improvement. With typhoons and disasters and absence of aid and subsidies, farmers get mired in debts with every poor harvest. In time, they fall deeper and deeper into penury. This feudal exploitation is at the root of poverty of the majority of the Filipino population. Combined with semifeudal or introduction of some capitalist traits (such as the unequal import-export relationship) into the feudal economy, these kept our agriculture backward and consequently, kept our entire economy lacking in means to start industrialization.
The importation of capital goods such as machines, fuels, and even agricultural inputs, and the exportation of agricultural crops and other natural resources like mineral ores, characterize the semifeudal economy of the Philippines.
Not even the pandemic has compelled the Duterte government to stop implementing policies detrimental to farmers but beneficial to landlords, compradors, and foreign corporations.
The Duterte government has the least distributed land under the reactionary government’s CARP. Duterte minced no words in warning the tillers and indigenous peoples that their lands will be offered to highest foreign bidders. He intensified the “all-out” war against the CPP, NPA and the National Democratic Front that seek to solve the centuries-old problem of landlessness through the new democratic revolution. The agrarian revolution through free land distribution to the landless tillers is the main content of the CPP-NPA-NDF’s democratic revolution.
Like the previous puppet regimes, the Duterte regime’s centerpiece program the “Build, Build, Build”—consists of infrastructure projects that mean more land conversion and reclamation—only contribute further to the landlessness of and injustice to farmers, fisherfolk and indigenous people. All these they continued despite the pandemic; as do their programs to shift to high value crops, paid-for irrigation, and continued dependency on imported farm inputs and machinery. These further burdened the peasantry but delivered higher profits and rents to the big landlords, big compradors, and multinational mining, plantation, and energy corporations.
Taking advantage of lockdowns and hindrances to protest actions, Duterte allowed the destructive mining, quarrying and logging operations to resume despite the opposition of the locals. It has recently lifted the ban on new mining agreements.
Under Duterte, agriculture and peasant livelihood plunged to new lows as the regime continuously shrunk the already small budget for support to agriculture. Not even the pandemic prompted it to think of handing subsidies, aid or relief. Government support for facilities and subsidies have a budget share of just 1.6 percent in 2021, slashed further from what used to be 3.6 percent in 2017-2019.
While grossly neglecting the farmers and local food producers, the Duterte regime unleashed unfair competition to domestic agriculture, recklessly allowing agricultural imports to flood the country no thanks to its adoption of neoliberal policies and corrupt bureaucrats.
Peasant groups have opposed the rice tarrification law, warning it will destroy the local rice producers and imperil the nation’s food security. The law pushed rice farmers to bankruptcy while rice cartels and importers favored by the Duterte administration amassed more profits. Before the pandemic, the Duterte government negotiated with rice producing countries to beef up the country’s rice stocks—making us an agricultural country ironically reduced to becoming the world’s top rice importer. Duterte sought to import 300,000 tons of rice for stocks during the pandemic.
As if killing off local rice producers is not enough, other local food industries such as the hog industry are now threatened also by over-importation. The Department of Agriculture has reportedly been involved in multi-billion tongpats (price padding) corruption related to massive importation of agricultural products like pork, chicken and fish.
While all of the above dislocated and reduced incomes of farmers, farmworkers and fisherfolk, prices rose such that even the local food producers cannot afford to buy food.
In stark contrast to what the Duterte government has been doing, a sustained financial assistance and direct support for producers are very much in order especially during a pandemic. The government failed to strengthen, and instead, weakened the country’s agriculture and food production, which can be accomplished through genuine land reform. ###