Duterte’s SONA Spells More Misery for Agriworkers and Peasants

“President Duterte’s 5th SONA spells more misery for agriworkers and peasants with no mention of genuine agrarian reform but a further push for aggressive land-use conversion through the National Land Use (NLU) Bill,” according to Antonio “Ka Tonying” Flores, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) National Chairperson.

Towing the neoliberal line of past administrations, the National Land Use Bill has been consistently promoted by Duterte in his SONA speeches.

For agriworkers and peasants, the bill means massive landgrabbing and a food-insecure future dependent on imported goods.

Flores said, “Even without the NLU bill, Duterte expedited the conversion of agricultural lands to other uses in line with his debt-driven Build-Build-Build program that favors foreign investors through the Department of Agriculture’s Administrative Order 1 (AO 1).”

An example of this is the Cavite-Tagaytay-Batangas Expressway that will destroy vast sugar and rice farmlands in Nasugbu, Batangas for ease of travel and transport of goods by foreign investors.

The land-use conversion also emboldens landlords to file for reclassification of agricultural lands to exempt them from land distribution just like the 290 hectares of land in Hacienda Luisita now sold to Ayala Land Inc.

The fast-tracking of land-use conversion by virtue of AO 1 has also favored some of Duterte’s cronies.

For instance, there is the massive illegal use conversion of irrigated rice lands in Brgy. Putat in Nasugbu, Batangas by Camella Homes using local agents to convince farmers to sell their land and a dummy organization to apply for conversion.

Duterte doubly killed the country’s agriculture through land-use conversion and liberalization of importation of agricultural goods such as rice, sugar, and fish.

“This is not what we need especially now that there’s a pandemic that threatens the food security of whole nations. We cannot continue to depend on imported goods while our vast agricultural lands are converted to roads and subdivisions or factories and export-crop plantations owned and controlled by transnational corporations. What agriworkers and farmers need and have been clamoring for decades is genuine agrarian reform and free land distribution!” Flores added.

Finally, Flores said, “Lacking any concrete plans how to support agriworkers and the country’s peasantry except the DA’s Plant, Plant, Plant program that will only favor landlords and transnational corporations, Duterte can either step down or let the people do that for him.”