For peasant mothers, the best ayuda is land

Peasant mother Lea Jordan of Barrio Bisaya, San Jose Del Monte (SJDM), Bulacan, was among the farmers most affected by the economic crisis induced by the government’s continued failure in addressing Covid. 

Since the beginning of the lockdown last March 2020, Nanay Lea and her family faced added logistical difficulties and costs in transporting their agricultural products. Her husband also lost his other job as a truck driver. As millions more lost employment and incomes crumbled, Nanay Lea faced decreasing sales not just of their farm products but also from their small convenience store, which she was forced to close after six months of lockdown. Their only son would also be compelled to stop schooling as they can no longer afford the expenses for online and blended learning. “Life is two times- no, three or even five times harder today,” Nanay Lea laments.

The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) estimated that the Philippine economy lost P1.4 trillion last year due to the lockdown, while 4.5 million Filipinos lost jobs. Most recently, the government meant to distribute P1,000 ayuda to 18 million households after the reimplementation of an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) last March 29. By April 30, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) reported a 75% accomplishment.

Nanay Lea, however, never received government ayuda. Not this year’s P1,000 ECQ ayuda, not last year’s P8,000 Social Amelioration Program (SAP), not the Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) one-time P5,000 workers’ ayuda. “We lined up for ayuda several times but they just say that our names are not on the list. Most people from our community no longer see the point in lining up, and see it as just a waste of time,” she says.

The distribution of ayuda has long been filled with controversy. Particularly in SJDM, reports even surfaced of ayuda recipients being coerced to sign waivers declaring that they already received sufficient aid and can no longer ask for more nor complain. 

Nanay Lea’s next-door neighbor, Gemma Sala, was somehow more fortunate. She also did not get ayuda but got some shares from the several packs of vegetable seeds and a bag of fertilizers which her mother received from the Department of Agriculture (DA) early this year.

Nanay Gemma, however, says it was grossly insufficient. “It was better than nothing, yes, but that was a one-time event! They never came anytime last year, not during any of the harsh lockdowns, not after any of the destructive typhoons. They have also never returned since. The ayuda was not even for my own family!” Like Lea, tens of Gemma’s banana trees were knocked down by last year’s Typhoon Ulysses. 

Nanays Lea and Gemma are members of Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Bulacan (AMB), provincial chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). Nanay Lea farms with her husband several distant plots of land totaling to about half a hectare in Barrio Bisaya. They patiently cleared and made it productive as part of AMB’s Bungkalan or collective farming campaign. 

AMB has also scaled up its Bagsakan direct farmer’s market program since the lockdown. The program, by eliminating commercial profit, allows AMB farmers to sell their produce at up to three times the farmgate price.

To further augment their incomes, Nanay Lea’s husband also took on different jobs, such as in construction sites, as a vendor in wet markets, or more frequently as a driver. But the couple never left farming. “Being able to ensure your own food is really necessary. We could lose jobs, we could lose incomes, but as long as we planted some vegetables, at least we are certain that our family can eat – all that’s left to buy is rice,” Nanay Lea explains. 

They also occasionally did wage work (at about P200 per day) for other farmers with excess land. “We really wish that we could work more land for our own. But, aside from the hard work needed to clear and prepare land for planting, we also have to consider the continuing threat of eviction,” Nanay Lea explains. 

Barrio Bisaya is among the several agricultural communities affected by the MRT 7 construction project. The placement of MRT 7’s commercial depot in SJDM brought with it real estate speculators who raced to acquire more and more nearby lands from the locals, expecting these properties to gain higher values as the train construction proceeds. SMC President Ramon Ang recently announced that MRT 7 is expected to be 50% complete by December 2021.

Threats and harassment against AMB farmers in relation to land disputes continued under the pandemic. Since last year, its members faced goons cutting off or local government personnel bulldozing their crops. Armed military men also patrol their communities and red tag their organization and leaders. More recently, the home of at least one farming family was burned down. AMB members in Norzagaray also faced arbitrary arrests, coercion attempts, and an extrajudicial killing earlier this year.

“We really still need ayuda, of all forms – cash, goods, seeds – but of what use will these ayuda be if we are taken off our land?” Nanay Lea asks. Indeed, land remains the main means of livelihood for farmers. 

AMB continues to consolidate its membership to more actively defend and advance land rights. #

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