#EDITORIAL: Tingga Butil

Editorial cartoon by Ramone Tumonong.

Last October 20, nine farmers in Sagay, Negros Occidental were killed by armed assailants. The farmers, who are members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), were gunned down while they were conducting a “bungkalan” (land cultivation activity). This incident harkens to previous killings of NFSW members such as Flora Jemola and Ronald Manlanat, with a total of 172 activist farmers killed under the Duterte administration.

With such a brutal massacre, the authorities have been scrambling to find someone to blame for this tragedy. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Philippine National Police (PNP), and Western Visayas police blame the massacre on the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA). At the same time, the farmers and NFSW themselves are tagged as part of the NPA, while the government claims that the massacre itself is part of the supposed “Red October” ouster by the CPP. Of course, the NPA blames the massacre on the AFP and landlords, meanwhile, the opposition pins the blame on the Duterte administration.

As usual, another tragedy has been co-opted and politicized in order to serve the machinations of the government. They parrot the massacre as a scheme by communists, their accusations a ploy to label the incident as yet another slight against the government. Both victim and perpetrator are labelled communist, a point of contradiction, the government trying to find a way to weave this incident as part of a grand, imaginary ‘Red October’ plot.

In this blame game, allegations are held without ever trying to find a solution to the dilemma. Once again, the government only reacts to a problem once it occurs, with no measures taking place to prevent it from happening in the first place. Sagay is but another in a long list of farmer massacres, and it seems inevitable that another crime similar to this will happen again. And why would it not, when the government is not concerned with protecting farmers and providing them with a platform to voice out their concerns? Instead they are ignored — worse, they are murdered — and the farmers rely upon themselves to make their voice heard and work towards revolutionary, mass-oriented progress in the state of Philippine land and agriculture.

Once farmers do take action, they risk being lambasted by the government and oligarchs, and are killed when they pose too much of a threat. Their protests are de-legitimized, framed as a cause by a vested party. When they try to employ drastic measures, they are said to be employing militant tactics. Yet what can they do, when the government refuses to grant them any boon yet allows hacienda owners to proliferate land amongst themselves instead?

As if to add insult to injury, any outcry is labelled as conditioning to vilify and destabilize the government, as vile propaganda of the red. They decree these statements as criticisms of the government, as a ruse to drum up sympathy for the opposition; any condemnation of the government, to them, seems to be nothing more than another method by the opposition to lambast them. This is an attempt to distract from the multiple human rights violations that occur under the Duterte administration. It’s only natural that the state deserves blame, when time and time again, innocent farmers, the backbone of our nation, are killed with no lasting, progressive solution in sight.

To this end, the working poor are yet again ignored. Their plight falls on the deaf ears of those who have the power to influence their situation for the better. In the wake of accusations thrown, the cause that they fight for — the simple desire to work in order to feed their families — is conveniently pushed to the side. These farmers did nothing except try to plant crops on unused lands in an attempt to stave off hunger. It is a cruel irony: that those who feed us are not being fed. Is it wrong to want a better life, in the face of abuse and starvation?

Editorial cartoon by Bianca Gepte.

It seems that in time, this massacre will be put to the wayside, like the murders of Flora Jemola and Ronald Manlapat before them. As long as the government continues to search for scapegoats for their own agenda instead of supporting farmers, it is inevitable that another massacre will happen again, another one to be added to the ranks of the Mendiola massacre back in 1987 under the Cory administration, all the way to the Sitio Bato Tausug massacre last September 2018 — all with no justice being served.

Yet it is with hope that those critical of the government’s ineptitude in standing up for the poor continue to speak out, reaching out to them and supporting them, encouraging them to speak out on their problems. The government needs to be reminded that farmers need to be compensated for the abuses conducted against them, and that they need to be given what is due to them. If the government continues to ignore these issues, it rests on the people to stand up and fight; contact their lawmakers, convince others, take to the streets in protest, all for whatever justice can be achieved. After all, no one deserves to be killed for what they believe in, least of all those who provide for us.

As long as the government continues in its selfish, obsessive crusade to label everything red, the fields will continue to be painted red.

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The Science Scholar

The Science Scholar

The official English publication of the Philippine Science High School–Main Campus. Views are representative of the entire paper.