The Landless Peasant Movement in the Philippines

By: Ndidiamaka, T. R.

Today, I would like to take the time to interview a group of people in the Philippines who have been organizing for awhile now. The group is known as UMA Philipinas, and they been organizing against the Duturte Regime; as well as pushing for land reform and the protection of landless peasants. UMA Philippines, also known as the Federation of Agricultural Workers, ‘the national progressive center of unions, federations, and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines.’ Today, we interview General Secretary John Milton Lozande and it’s coalition about the landless peasant movement, and try to see what we can learn from the Phillipines.

What were the material conditions that brought you all to form the landless peasant movement? What were some of the first steps that were taken to form the coalition?

We have not formed a landless peasant movement. What we are saying is that most peasants including agricultural workers are landless despite various bogus land reforms of the Philippine government, the last of which was the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which ended in June 2015.

The existence of agricultural workers is an affirmation that they don’t own and/or control the land and land monopoly by landlords, oligarchs and multinational companies is still prevalent in the country.

Haciendas which were formed during the Spanish era and plantations which started during the American occupation still exist in the country, with the latter targeted for further expansion. And traditional landlord tenant relationships still exist. The mandate of UMA is to organize agricultural workers in haciendas and plantations and together with the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) are calling for its dismantling and cultivation by the peasant masses.

Could you explain what a landless peasant is, and how being landless affects Filipinos in their daily lives?

When CARP was implemented in June 1988, there were many exemptions and non-land transfer schemes in its implementation. Among such schemes was that the landlord can turn the land into a corporation and make the agricultural workers into co-owners by giving them stocks. This is called the stock distribution option or (SDO) which existed in Hacienda Luisita (HL), owned by 2 former Presidents families, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino and Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino.

The government was forced to distribute the land in HL in 2013 only after a successful and bloody strike in 2004 and the relentless campaign of the agricultural workers there to assert their rights to the land and the support they got from advocates. But the Supreme Court never declared SDOs as unconstitutional and 13 still exist in the Philippines. Other then that, CARP allowed the proliferation of Agribusiness Ventures Agreements (AVAs) whereby landlords, oligarchs, and transnational corporations are allowed to rent the land of Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) through various arrangements like leaseback, growership, etc.

Essentially farm lots are awarded to beneficiaries in paper but control over land use and production remain with companies or private entities. In sugarcane areas, arriendo or leaseback arrangements is prevalent. In Negros Occidental, around 70% of the lands are such, while in Hacienda Luisita, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) is 83%, but some say even more.

There are many reasons for this, one of which is that the govt. does not provide support services and subsidies to the agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARBs) once the lands are “distributed”. The other is the landlords have dummies who act as financiers or even companies whose main function is to lease land from ARBs to ensure that sugarcane is planted to supply sugar mills.

There are two main problems with CARP. It is the landlord who will determine who is the ARB, and the peasant has to pay for the land in yearly amortizations for 30 years. And the data from the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) where the peasants need to pay for the land, state that only 10% of the ARBs were able to pay in full for the land. Which means that the 90% would be foreclosed.

How many groups make up the current UMA Philipinas coalition; what do you all have in common? What may distinguish you from one another?

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) is the national progressive center of unions, associations, federations, and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines. Established in January 20, 2005, UMA was formed based on the united call of agricultural workers from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao to collectively fight for their right to land, decent wages, secure employment, humane working conditions, and employment benefits in the name of social justice, genuine democracy and national sovereignty.

UMA’s target groups include agricultural workers in haciendas and plantations of sugarcane, pineapple, banana, palm oil, rubber, mangoes, tobacco, and other commercial agricultural products. Agricultural workers include sacadas (migrant farmworkers), regular and seasonal farmworkers, and workers involved in food processing such as milling and packaging. Their children also become part of the workforce as their wages are simply not enough for daily subsidence.

UMA’s members are the Following:

UMA Regional Chapter — Cagayan Valley Region
Hacienda Luisita Farmworkers Alliance — Hacienda Luisita, Tarlac province
United Agricultural Workers in Batangas — Batangas province
Sugarcane Farmworkers Unity — Batangas province
National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) — national including Negros island
Organization of United Poor Workers in Bukidnon — Bukidnon province
United Strength of Workers in Agusan Plantations, Inc. — Caraga region
Filipinas Oil Palm Plantations Workers Union (FPPI-WU) — Caraga region
United Workers for Genuine Development Association from the Socsksargen region
UMA Regional Chapter — Socsksargen region
Banana Workers Association (BANWA) — Davao Region
Misamis Oriental Farmers Association (MOFA-UMA) — Northern Mindanao Region
Piansay Pantukan Landowners and Workers Association from Pantukan, Compostela Valley
Tambobong Banana Workers Association from Baguio District, Davao City

What is it like to organize under martial law? How do you fight for justice in a political climate that is hostile to drug addicts and current shellings against ISIS?

Even without the formal declaration of martial law in Mindanao, there has been a de facto martial law in the Philippine countrysides. long before the US-Marcos dictatorship that was overthrown in 1986. In all regimes after the US-Marcos dictatorship, there have been many cases of extrajudicial killings, desaparecidos, political detainees and various other human rights violations committed against the Philippine progressive movement that is fighting for national democracy with a socialist perspective.

When I asked some of our members from Bukidnon province, what is the effect of martial law in Mindanao in their organizing work, she said at first there was a terror effect on their members. This initially resulted in their members who do not want to go to protest actions. In Caraga region, also in Mindanao, the military would go house to house and ask known leaders of peoples organizations to lie low or else. One of their leaders had already been killed, while others had to be taken out of their communities for their safety. There are also more checkpoints in Mindanao and there is a no-ID, no entry policy. Even those joining rallies are required to show their IDs to state security forces.

In one banana plantation which had a strike, Korean-owned Shin Sun Tropical Fruit Corp. in Compostella Valley, when Pres. Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao, a few days later on March 26, soldiers and police barged into their strike area and threatened them with violence if they do not halt their strike. On June 2 said state security forces forcibly dispersed the striking workers and their supporters, and arrested and beat up 14 of them. Their reason was that martial law was already declared.

Many Filipinos now do not believe the propaganda of the Duterte regime on the drug war, but more efforts are needed to enlighten the people on the destruction of Marawi City because of the so-called war on ISIS. But most Maranaos who live in Marawi and Muslim Filipinos are angered what was done to their city.

For those of us who are progressives and socialists, what can we do to help your movement?

Support the Filipino peoples struggle for national freedom and democracy with a socialist perspective, by different means. Principally to expose and oppose the so-called war against drugs, against the people in the government’s counterinsurgency program, and against the Moro people in the guise of war against ISIS. The latter war also is a very good excuse and opportunity for the US government and military to intervene in the internal affairs of the country. Other than that it would be good also for our solidarity friends to visit our country and see for themselves the struggle of the people against tyranny and oppression.

If there was one thing that you could tell the everyone about the people and groups you organize with, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid, Struggle! or in our language, Makibaka! Huwag Matakot!

We now take the time to thank General Secretary John Milton Lozande for his responses, as well as his advice. You may follow UMA Philipinas on Twitter as @UMApilipinas. You may also read original articles, keep up with news, and find additional contact information at their Wordpress.

Ndidiamaka, T. a upcoming freelance journalist, fiction writer, artist, and Leftist. They enjoy making coloring books and making knitting & crochet crafts for charity. To see more of their works and to provide financial support, you can become a Patron on Patreon, or donate to their Paypal.