By SARAH RAYMUNDO
On April 16, 2016, fifteen days after the Kidapawan massacre, 76 out of the 78 Kidapawan farmers imprisoned for direct assault have been released on bail.This hard-won freedom, albeit temporary and still within the mechanisms of repressive state powers, should teach us something about a “democratic government” hijacked by the Philippine oligarchy. The criminalization of political protest is a permanent feature of elite rule and imprisonment is a policy for the poor.
In the following, I discuss at least three social disasters that have hit the farmers of Kidapawan, North Cotabato: drought, semi-fedual relations, and the anti-people character of state institutions (1). The mass movement that will be remembered as the Kidapawan massacre is a symptom of what the government and mainstream media wish to downplay all along. The interconnections between imperialist plunder, government corruption, feudal exploitation, and worsening poverty which shape the lives of many people in this nation have been given scant visibility.
Another way of seeing is in order.
It is sickening how mainstream media and government agencies talk about drought as though the ecological crisis rests on ecology itself. Resource rapists are engaged in ecological destruction because it is profitable business. Governments in semi-colonies attract resource rapists and call them foreign investors. Our local politicians also known as bureaucrat capitalists partner with them in the the saga of imperialist plunder in order reap profits from their positions as public servants.
We are conditioned to imagine the ecological catastrophe fatalistically in terms of alien invaders or in a more mind-boggling manner, species extinction. The latter is made more obscure with the use of words like “biodiversity” without the slightest intention of linking the same with the destruction of habitats, especially in the era of inordinate production for profit and the wanton disregard for human needs.
The dry conditions triggered by the El Niño weather pattern continue to devastate other parts of the country as we speak. Contrary to popular belief that the Kidapawan massacre is one of the logical results of the ecological crisis, the farmers and Lumad could have been spared had their livelihoods and labors been less vulnerable to feudal exploitation. The protesters’ demand for 15,000 sacks of rice is only a symptom of the raging class struggle between the farmers and a government that clearly functions in favor of the local and global ruling elite.
If there is indeed a rice crisis in the country so that people who plant them are practically begging for their share, then why can showbiz personalities like Robin Padilla, the Curtis sisters, Angel Locsin, and others respond to the farmers’ demand? It is simply because they can afford to buy rice and the farmers cannot. But why?
This leads us to the second disaster that is hitting the farmers and Lumad of Kidapapawan: the semi-feudal character of agricultural production. It has perennially kept the prices of agricultural goods at very low levels. The price of a kilo palay ranges from only P14 to P20 (US$0.30 to $0.40) per kilo when bought by middlemen from the farmers. A kilo of banana can only be sold by farmers from P3-P6.($0.07 to $0.13) (2)
How about the farmworkers in Mindanao-based foreign agribusiness companies? They are not better off. On the average, they earn P120 ($2.60) a day, which is way below minimum wage. According to Reap Mindanao Network’s briefer on Mindanao plantations, “[agricultural workers remain landless and dirt poor]—exposed to the hazardous working conditions, slave-like wages and brutal repression…Furthermore, plantations endanger whole communities with the adverse health and environmental effects of crop conversion and massive use of agrochemicals (2015: 5).”
The entry of the farmers of Mindanao, whether Moro or Lumad, into the cash economy has made them vulnerable to and actual victims of drought. It is the condition of dispossession on the part of the farmers on the one hand, and the monopoly of land on the part of landlords and bureaucrat capitalists who reap profits from vast tracts of land declared as public domain that shapes and structures the cash economy on the other, that turn the phenomenon of drought into an unmitigated social disaster.
What we have here in the Philippines is a cash economy that can only be marked by plasticity in the absence of an industrial base. It rests on the persistence of feudal relations adapting to global capitalist intrusions. In the Philippines, it is feudalism that subsidizes global capitalism. And this is what makes semi-feudal relations twistedly modern and severely slavish.
Do neoliberal policies modify the semi-feudal mode?
Philippine society remains semi-feudal notwithstanding the increase in service workers. For to say that the mode of production in the Philippines has qualitatively changed on account of the service sector is an empiricist analysis of the situation. More than three decades ago, neoliberal solutions were proposed and implemented by US-led imperialist countries and multilateral financial institutions.
The neoliberal solution to the crisis of capitalism in the late 70s was crafted NOT mainly as a strategy for production. The real economy, where the production of goods takes place, was at the time already in severe crisis. One must grasp the fact that neoliberalism was conceived as a strategy for the transfer of wealth to the ruling economic elite—the one percent— at a time when profits from production are in severe decline.
One consequence of which is the concentration of foreign direct investments (FDIs) and manufacturing in Asia and the heightened financialization of economies in the Global North. The increased inflow of FDIs in the Philippines, especially in the last two decades since the ratification of General Agreement on Tariff and Trade – World Trade Organization (GATT-WTO) have punctuated the labor landscape, but without changing its social base.
It employs Filipino laborers in export processing zones and BPOs at the same time that it ensures that their labors are cheapened and made docile by labor laws. The government maintains its labor export policy and markets Filipino labor worldwide as skillful, docile, and cheap.
Neoliberalism is a strategy for the plunder of resources and exploitation of people in spaces where capitalism in its most advanced stage (or imperialism) can still profit from primitive accumulation. This strategy comes with diasporic labor contracts, mining contracts, malls, and the sunshine industry. From a neoliberal standpoint, these sectors don’t need to undercut each other. Therefore, any hasty analyses about shifts in the Philippine mode of production should be taken for what they are—hasty.
Organized mass movements
The third social disaster that is hitting the farmers and Lumad of Kidapawan is the anti-people character of state institutions made up of parallel centers of armed force and administrative powers alongside its controlled corporate media and civil society groups. This third element promotes and legitimizes violent dispersals of protests, quasi-scientific banalities such as the inevitability of disasters and its unmitigated impact, and observed trend of farmers being manipulated by communist forces in different regions in the country.
Meanwhile, a worldwide trend on the conduct of democracy has been observed since the so-called fall of socialism. When the idea and practice of democracy counter the interests which the oligarchy seeks fiercely, restrictions on freedoms in the name of security are imposed in their legitimate forms such as the “War On Terror,” the US COIN (Counterinsurgency) and its PNoy counterpart, Oplan Bayanihan.
Strategies range from violent military operations such summary executions, extra-judicial killings, hamletting of communities to civil military ops such as school-to-school lecture series on the “Enemy of the State”, and poverty reduction programs such as conditional cash transfers (CCTs), 4Ps, PAMANA program.
The latest and most alarming of the Aquino government’s program to “win the hearts and minds” of the people away from the communist forces is its Whole of Nation Initiative (WNI).
The Official Gazette reports that it “has conducted four service caravans in conflict-affected communities in Loreto, Agusan del Sur, Talaingod, Davao del Norte, Lianga, Surigao del Sur, and Compostela, Compostela Valley.”
These places are Lumad communities whose schools are products of painstaking cooperation among community members who did not get any help from government for the building of schools. The only time that the Lumad began to feel the presence of government was when their communities have been militarized, and in the case of Compostela and Surigao del Sur, massacred.
In the name of WNI, a tripartite body composed of the Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), and National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), are ready to build schools in selected areas where Lumad schools have been built by the Lumad themselves. What will happen to these Lumad schools? Last year, more than 100 military personnel were trained to become para-teachers. Make the connection.
When the oligarchy uses democracy to legitimize its exploitation of people and resources, it only appropriates democracy’s formal character. And it is that part which mobilizes the people to choose their representatives through elections. As for democracy’s substance, which moves people to question illegitimate powers, unwarranted privileges, and analyze state conduct and decisions, the oligarchy can only suspend democratic freedoms in the name of national security. And this is why the criminilization of protest is rampant and the imprisonment of the poor is justified.
It is necessary for the rule of the few to link the democratic impulse to the communist movement’s New People’s Army (NPA), which it has demonized through formal state operations since the time of Magsaysay. The Philippine government has been pointing an accusing finger at the communist movement for hampering development goals. That the communists who wage armed revolution hinder economic growth is a state propaganda whose basic assumption is seldom, if at all, questioned (3).
Since when has economic growth reduced poverty? The irony is that growth in the neoliberal sense can only be a significant factor for poverty reduction once it reaches unsustainable levels. Think of capitalist China, for example, and note as well how that growth has reached its lamentable limits.
Since when has growth improved ecological conditions? Never, and it is in the name of economic growth that imperialist countries have justified their scandalous carbon footprint.
Since when has economic growth helped the employment situation? There used to be a link between employment and economic growth but that link is long broken since global capitalism had its first taste of its own contradictions and crises. We do not have to look so far to realize how Aquino’s claim on rapid economic growth during his term hardly impacts on the unemployment rate.
Economic growth happens through neoliberal solutions? True, it continues to furnish global capitalist society with the spectacle of surplus and wealth but without any sort of significant modification in the structure of social relations. This is why despite economic growth for the 1%, the 99% of the world’s population stands to gain from systemic change.
Economic growth is the poorest argument for anti-communism. So much rights and lives have been taken away in the name of economic growth from which nobody stands to gain except a few who belong to the oligarchy.
My point is simply that the circulation and perpetuation of anti-revolutionary and anti-communist discourse can only be pondered upon reasonably by opposing it. Why, because the Kidapawan massacre proves that the anti-communist campaign is carried out on the backs of farmers and the Lumad, and worse, in the name of democracy and the motherland.
The politically morose and cynical line which argues that the 6,000-strong farmers and Lumad who blocked the national highway in Kidapawan were manipulated by communist forces comes from the most reactionary among us. They cannot live with the truth about the exploited class: the oppressed farmers are also an organized fighting class.
Those who frown upon the farmers and Lumad of Kidapawan for their bold struggle for rights, the worst of us who can only read manipulation in poor people’s struggle for a beter life, listen: You better be the last of your kind because you will not survive the future, what with your agony over current events that fall away from from your omnisicient design. Why such hatred for communists, the Left, and the red flag? When “beams of light ricochet in all directions” because hungry people aren’t just hungry, they are politicized and organized, why take it against “pilgrims who hold up mirrors in the sun?” (3)
(1)In a lecture held at the Center for International Studies, April 13, 2016 on the political economy of drought, Dennis Raymundo, intern of Balsa Mindanao, a center for disaster response and risk management, asserts that drought and the very low prices of agricultural products on account of semi-feudalism are the two disasters that affect the lives of farmers and Lumad in Kidapawan.
(2)figures are derived from the same lecture
(3) quoted phrases from the poem Our Lady of the Cannery Workers by Cherrí Moraga in The Last Generation: Prose and Poetry. 1993. Boston Ma: South End Press.