Agrarian reform, Human rights

Landlessness, poverty and war in Negros

“Kaya dun po sa amin
Di biro ang magtanim
Magpunla ka ng binhi
Punglo ang aanihin.”

(Magtanim ay di biro)

On Mar 30, 2019, the police and military killed 14 farmers in separate operations in the city of Canlaon and in the towns of Manjuyod and Sta. Catalina – all in Negros Oriental province. Twelve more were arrested. Police and military officials justified the killings and insisted that the victims were armed communist rebels. They claimed that state forces were just implementing search warrants for loose firearms when the victims opened fire at them.

But several witnesses, including relatives of the victims who survived the gruesome killings, have come forward to dispute the account of the police and military. The harrowing details of the massacre as told by the survivors and kin are being documented by human rights advocates and peasant groups as calls for justice and to end impunity mount.

War against peasants

The summary execution of 14 farmers in Negros Oriental came five months after unknown assailants massacred nine farmworkers in Sagay City in Negros Occidental on Oct 20, 2018. They were participating in a land occupation and cultivation campaign led by the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) at the disputed Hacienda Nene when they were killed. Weeks later, on Nov 7, 2018, their lawyer – a long-time peasant rights advocate in Negros – was also assassinated. For the military, the NFSW is a communist front.

It came three months after six people were killed and 15 arrested in similar joint police and military operations in search of supposed loose firearms in hinterland barangays in Negros Oriental on Dec 27, 2018. Again, the authorities insisted that the victims, including village officials, “turned out” to be armed communist rebels and fought back.

All in all under the Duterte administration, at least 55 farmers, farmworkers and land rights advocates have been felled by apparent extrajudicial killings in Negros island so far. These killings appear to be systemically being carried out as part of President Duterte’s anti-insurgency campaign, made even more reprehensible by his virulent rhetoric against assertive peasants (My orders to the police and soldiers, shoot them… If they die, I do not care.” – Duterte on landless farmers involved in land occupation campaigns)

Negros island provinces are among those covered by Memorandum Order (MO) 32. It called for increased deployment of police and military forces purportedly to “suppress lawless violence and acts of terror”. The others are provinces in Samar island and Bicol region.

Implementation of the Malacañang directive in Negros island has taken the form of the Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (SEMPO). More notoriously, it is also known as Oplan Sauron in Negros Oriental under whose name the recent mass killings and arrests of mostly Negrense peasants are being carried out.

Twenty of the reported 55 extrajudicial killings in Negros island were on account of Oplan Sauron in Negros Oriental. Oplan Sauron is sinister by design. Disguising as law enforcement, it uses search warrants for loose firearms to legitimize police and military attacks in rural communities and households suspected as bases of support of the New People’s Army (NPA).

But instead of weakening the NPA, such brutal modus operandi could be fueling even deeper collective resentment in the rural areas against the police and military. In the end, Oplan Sauron could only further boost the legitimacy of the people’s war and agrarian revolution that the NPA wages.

This is especially so because of the structural issues underlying the social unrest and conflict in Negros.

Landless, hungry, poor

Negros is an island mired in grinding poverty and hunger, mainly spawned by decades of chronic landlessness among its farmers and farmworkers.

Official poverty and hunger incidence in the island, especially Negros Oriental, is among the worst in the country. Negros Oriental has a poverty incidence of 45% (of population) compared to the national average of 21.6 percent. Its subsistence incidence is 24.2% while the national average is 8.1 percent. Negros Occidental has “better” poverty and hunger figures (29% and 9.4%, respectively) but these are still worse than the national averages. The numbers are as of 2015.

There are about 1.56 million poor people in the two Negros provinces. To give perspective, note that the country’s poorest region, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has 1.99 million poor people spread in its five provinces.

To be sure, the actual levels of poverty and hunger in the Negros island are much higher than what official data indicate considering the absurdly low thresholds government uses to measure them. Based on the 2015 official poverty survey, for instance, a Negrense only needs Php39 to Php44 to meet daily food needs; and a total of Php56 to Php63 to meet daily food and non-food needs.

Nonetheless, such low standards still paint a picture of widespread destitution, one that is even worsening. Poverty in both Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental deteriorated from a decade ago (i.e. 2006 data). Hunger also worsened in Negros Oriental during the same period. (See Table 1)

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 4.10.42 PM

Many see government’s three-decade Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) as a failure; and it can’t be more conspicuous anywhere else than in Negros island. CARP is supposed to distribute 427,656 hectares (has.) of land in the Negros region. But as of end-2016, the program has distributed just 302,377 has. for a balance of 125,279 has. in land acquisition and distribution (LAD).

Negros island accounts for 21% of the national LAD balance of 602,306 has. – the largest among all regions. It has the second lowest LAD accomplishment rate at 71% , just behind the 67% of another restive and impoverished region, the ARMM. (See Table 2)

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 4.12.52 PM

Meanwhile, a sizable portion of CARP lands in the region, particularly in Negros Occidental, is under the notorious stock distribution option (SDO) that allows landlords to retain effective control. SDO schemes cover more than 3,200 hectares of CARP lands in Negros Occidental as of June 2015 and practically all are planted to sugarcane, accounting for almost 90% of all SDO lands nationwide.

Indeed, most of the undistributed lands in Negros are vast sugarcane plantations concentrated in the hands of landlords that include political clans. After rice lands (about 23% of LAD balance), sugarcane lands (around 19%) comprise the largest portion of undistributed lands in the country, with an overwhelming concentration in Negros Occidental.

Thus, many of the landless in Negros end up as sugarcane farmworkers in these massive haciendas, trying to eke out a living under slave-like conditions. It is estimated that Negros island has about 335,000 sugarcane farmworkers, almost 43% of the national total.

Latest farm wages survey of government pegged the average nominal wage of sugarcane farmworkers at Php253.69 per day – the second lowest among major crops, just a bit better than corn farmworkers’ Php246.05.

But the actual take home pay of the sugarcane farmworkers is much lower as they are tied to the vicious cycle of landlessness, starvation wages and debt. Paying off loans used to buy rice and other basic daily necessities in between pay days leaves sugarcane farmworkers and their families with practically nothing. In reality, a sugarcane farmworker typically earns just around Php50 to 67 a day, forcing them to work in several haciendas to augment their income.

Their dire situation is only made worse by the dreaded tiempo muerto or the period between the planting and harvesting seasons of sugarcane where no work is available in the haciendas for three months. With no established mechanism of government support, sugarcane farmworkers are left to fend for themselves, usually by taking on odd jobs in the cities.

But others take organized action such as the bungkalan campaign (land occupation and collective cultivation) on still undistributed CARP lands. However, landlords and even state forces respond to this legitimate form of assertion of people’s rights to land and livelihood with systematic violence like what happened in the “Sagay 9” massacre.

When government’s apparent plan to end landlessness is to eliminate the landless, what are the farmers and farmworkers of Negros island supposed to do? ###


Agrarian reform, Governance, Human rights

#BigasHindiBala: Beyond bureaucratic neglect and police brutality

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

Long before the drought and the Kidapawan bloodshed, hunger and poverty were already debilitating countless in the countryside.

Along with fishermen (39.2%), poverty incidence is the worst among farmers (38.3%). In Region XII, site of the violence, poverty incidence among farmers is 47.9%, the fifth highest in the country. All cited data are as of 2012, the latest available from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). For comparison, the 2012 national poverty incidence was pegged at 25.2 percent.

It is said that eight out of 10 of the poor in the Philippines are directly or indirectly dependent on farming. As compared to other countries, our rural poverty of nearly 40% is said to be the worst in ASEAN. (Data cited by Rolando T. Dy, 2015)

Farmers earn very little, even without a drought. Palay farmers, for instance, earn at most PHP 60,000 a year – way below the annual rural poverty threshold of PHP 80,000. (Data cited by Ernesto M. Ordoñez, 2014)

Underlying peasant poverty is landlessness. A recent IBON article noted that: “Even the official census could only claim at most 62% of farms under full ownership. The rest are under various forms of land tenure, including tenancy at 15 percent.” The latest Census of Agriculture is 2012.

Note that government’s poverty standards are ridiculously low and its data on land ownership questionable. Rural poverty and landlessness are thus much worse than what official data shows. Nonetheless, even distorted government data could not hide the dire situation that Filipino farmers face.

Aggravating landlessness and all the feudal exploitation it brings are government policies and programs that devastate rural livelihood perhaps in a magnitude much worse than droughts or typhoons. Neoliberal restructuring brought in a flood of cheap agricultural imports that drowned local produce while commercializing vital infrastructure such as irrigation.

So when calamities like drought strike, the already destitute farmers become even more despondent. Meanwhile, government negligence and inefficiency are further highlighted by its incapacity to respond as it has long abandoned its obligation to provide support services like irrigation and subsidies.

All these combine to stir unrest in the countryside that has been long raging. Farmers become fighters in the agrarian revolution being waged by the New People’s Army (NPA). Or they barricade highways to force the powers that be to listen. But for a government of landlords and its armed forces, it makes no difference if you hold an M16 or a placard.

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

The brutal dispersal in Kidapawan reminded us of the repression that farmers face when asserting their most fundamental right to live with dignity. Farmers, in fact, are not only the poorest – they are also the most repressed.

According to human rights group Karapatan, more than 300 cases of extrajudicial killings have been recorded under the Aquino administration. More than 200 of these cases involve farmers.

Before Kidapawan, there was Hacienda Luisita. And before it were Mendiola and Escalante. None have been resolved and the powerful people behind them become presidents and senators, feeding the reign of impunity and terror in the countryside. Some note that President Aquino remains silent on Kidapawan. But what do we really expect a landlord president will say?

All these killings occurred in contexts of struggles and assertion of farmers’ rightful control over land and other resources for production against moneyed investors and landed families. They illustrate that cases of atrocities against farmers like Kidapawan are not isolated incidents but a systematic repression of the people’s dissent by those few who wield power and arms.

Already, the propaganda machine of the landlord regime is at full force in its disinformation and cover up. Propaganda and deception are part of its war against the farmers and the people.

Indeed, the Kidapawan bloodshed is more than bureaucratic neglect as farmers go hungry. It is more than the police violating their own rules of engagement.

It is about the ever-deepening contradiction between the impoverished and starved – the farmers who directly produce food but have nothing to eat, and the landlords and bureaucrats who profit from the people’s poverty and hunger. ###

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

Image from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

Agrarian reform, Cronyism & patronage, Economy, Privatization, SONA 2012

Sona 2012: How the rich is getting (scandalously) richer under Aquino

Among the major commitments he made in his so-called Social Contract, creating favorable conditions for private business is the only promise that Aquino has been fulfilling (Photo from The Philippine Star)

Part II: Reviewing Aquino’s “Social Contract” and performance

Read Part I: On job creation here

In 2009, the Forbes magazine reported that the 40 richest Filipinos had a combined wealth of $22.4 billion. Last year, the amount more than doubled to $47.43 billion, amid deteriorating poverty and joblessness. What explains such rapid accumulation of wealth? The short and simple answer is that government, including the incumbent Aquino administration, has been creating the most favorable policy environment for big business.

Indeed, Aquino’s apathy to the working class is matched only by his concern for big business. In fact, among the major commitments he made in his so-called Social Contract, creating favorable conditions for private business is the only promise that Aquino has been fulfilling.

In particular, the administration is creating a conducive environment and providing more profit-making opportunities for big business through further privatization of infrastructure, utilities, social services and other vital sectors, or what is called public-private partnership (PPP). Aquino has also aggressively promoted extractive industries including foreign-dominated, export-oriented mining and oil and gas exploration that create social, development and ecological issues.

Privatization and plunder

He has been calling it “daang matuwid” but Aquino’s good governance campaign is more about instituting reforms to reduce business costs and risks than going after big-time plunderers like Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. His campaign to oust Renato Corona as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (SC) was less about his supposed reform agenda but more about consolidating his control over the entire bureaucracy.

Executive hegemony over government branches that make policies (Congress) and review the legality of such policies (Judiciary) creates an even more favorable political environment to push for retrogressive economic programs that favor certain big local businesses and their foreign partners. They include those who are closely associated with the Cojuangco-Aquino clan and are taking advantage of government’s centerpiece program, the PPP, as well as new contracts in mining and oil and gas exploration, among others.

These big business interests are the same companies that have been expanding their economic empire by taking over, through PPP deals, infrastructure development in energy, telecommunications, transport, and water and storage in the past almost three decades. They include the Ayala family ($10.2 billion in investment commitments from 1984 to 2009); Lopez ($7.1 billion); Pangilinan ($5.3 billion); Razon ($3.2 billion); Aboitiz ($2.8 billion); Ang/Cojuangco of SMC ($2.6 billion); and Consunji ($1.1 billion).

Expectedly, they are the same families that are bagging PPP contracts under the current regime. The Ayalas and its Spanish partner, for instance, cornered the ₱1.9-billion Daang Hari – SLEx link road project. Meanwhile, the Ayala family is also competing with the Ang/Cojuangco group, Pangilinan and Consunji and their respective foreign partners for the ₱60-billion LRT Line 1 extension project. PPP projects oppress the poor not only through higher user fees. To give way to PPP projects, tens of thousands of urban poor families are also being displaced from their communities. (More on this in the next article)

Aside from infrastructure and utilities, another major source of massive profits for the local elite and foreign corporations is the wanton extraction and exploitation of the country’s natural wealth; in particular the vast domestic reserves of mineral and energy resources. Three of Aquino’s closest businessmen-allies are already dominating the energy sector with power firms associated with Cojuangco, Aboitiz and Lopez controlling more than half of the national generating capacity.

For sure, these families were able to increase their power portfolio even before Aquino became President. But under Aquino, they are enjoying even more opportunities for expansion as government implements the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira) of 2001 even more aggressively. Aquino has made a strong pitch to fully implement the Epira in Mindanao, where Cojuangco and Aboitiz have pending coal-fired power plant projects and where private power operators are eyeing the privatization of the Agus-Pulangi hydropower complex.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that some 24% of approved mining applications have been clinched in the first two years of the Aquino administration. As such, it’s not a coincidence that Cojuangco’s SMC has been on a buying spree of mining firms in the past two years.

In 2011, it bought 10.1% stake in Australian firm Indophil Resources NL which owns 37.5% of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (the rest owned by Swiss firm Xstrata Copper), the operator of the estimated $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project in South Cotabato – one of the world’s largest undeveloped sites. In 2010, SMC bought three coal mines in South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat previously owned by Daguma Agro Minerals, Inc., Bonanza Energy Resources, Inc. and Sultan Energy Mining and Development Corp.

But mining, while profitable, is also contentious and invites strong opposition from various sectors. Consistent with the deception of daang matuwid, Aquino recently issued Executive Order (EO) No. 79, which supposedly attends to concerns on environmental degradation and negligible economic benefits from mining.

While the EO imposes a mining ban on 78 areas designated as ecotourism sites (including Palawan, apparently to appease Gina Lopez and co.) and a moratorium on new mining deals until Congress passes a new law that will increase government’s mining revenues, it will not stop controversial and greatly destructive mining projects such as SMC’s Tampakan. More significantly, Aquino does not intend to reorient the industry and reverse its liberalization the Mining Act of 1995.

Land (un)reform

In his Social Contract, Aquino also promised to recognize farms and rural enterprises as vital to achieving food security and more equitable economic growth. In his PDP, he identified food security and increased rural incomes as among the major goals of government. Also, for agriculture to fulfill its role in reducing rural poverty and achieve food security in the long term, increased incomes, productivity and production shall be enhanced, according to the PDP.

While government boasts of improving rice and food production, even claiming that the country may become self-sufficient in rice by next year, agriculture officials also admit that domestic agriculture remains very dependent favorable weather. But what make domestic food production especially vulnerable to adverse weather events are the accumulated effects of decades of neoliberal restructuring such as trade liberalization, land use conversion, promotion of export crops, etc. which aggravate the basic problems of backward agricultural system (one report said Philippine agriculture is among the least mechanized in Southeast Asia) and landlessness among the direct food producers.

Alas, Aquino is not reversing these neoliberal policies much less implement genuine land reform. The dismantling of large haciendas for land distribution is not in Aquino’s agenda, which of course is not unexpected for someone who comes from one of the wealthiest and most influential landlord clans in the country. Last year, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) was able to distribute just 113,196 hectares out of the already small target of 200,000 hectares, or an accomplishment rate of below 57 percent.

DAR data also show that since taking over as President in July 2010, Aquino’s land acquisition and distribution (LAD) has averaged below 18,000 hectares a month – the second lowest among all post-Edsa administrations. As of yearend 2011, government still needs to acquire and distribute almost 962,000 hectares of land, which at its current LAD rate will be accomplished two to three years after the 2014 deadline set by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (Carper).

Such lackluster performance in LAD is indicative of how the landlord President is indifferent to the plight of landless farmers. The Aquino family’s Hacienda Luisita remains a contentious target for land distribution despite the Supreme Court (SC) ruling, which revoked the stock distribution option (SDO) and ordered the transfer of the sprawling sugar estate to the direct control of farmers and farmworkers.

Taking advantage of the basic flaws of Carper, the President himself is pushing for so-called “just compensation” that his family calculates at a staggering ₱10 billion – a further insult to the poor farmers who are the real owners of the hacienda.

Instead of land reform and consistent with its bias for big corporations, the Aquino administration has been promoting projects that result in further displacement of farmers such as the case of almost 700,000 hectares of agricultural lands that foreign firms from the US, Europe, Middle East and others control (or will control) through agribusiness deals. And as mentioned, the PPP and mining projects that also grab lands away from tillers.

Genuine land reform is indispensable if Aquino truly wants to increase rural income and reduce rural poverty like he stated in his Social Contract and PDP. As shown in previous studies, dismantling the land monopoly will generate an enormous amount of income and free up huge resources, in the process reducing poverty in the countryside where two out of three poor Filipinos live.

Part III: Aquino’s failure to ease poverty and provide social services

2010 elections, Agrarian reform, Poverty

Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap: How Noynoy obscured the link between Hacienda Luisita and poverty

“The basic premise of Noynoy’s advocacy conceals the structural roots of poverty. It hides the universal truth that the working people are poor because a very small minority monopolizes ownership over production means and the wealth society produces.”

Save for  the official proclamation, the presidential elections is now over with Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III emerging victorious. Partial and unofficial tallies separately released by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and its accredited poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) show Noynoy garnering at least 40 percent of the votes.

The main message of the Aquino campaign, which apparently captured the sentiment of many Filipinos, is that the people are poor because of corrupt government leaders. Such message not only effectively depicted Noynoy as the anti-thesis of his despised and corrupt predecessor Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It also underscored his only edge (i.e. lacking in competence and experience, he has at least a supposedly untarnished record) over his closest rivals in the presidential derby – convicted plunderer former President Joseph Estrada and Senator Manny Villar, whose presidential bid has been hounded from the start by, among others, the C5 corruption scandal.

It remains to be seen if Noynoy can fulfill his campaign promise of immediately prosecuting Mrs. Arroyo and her cohorts for plundering the country with impunity and on a scale never before seen since the Marcos dictatorship. What is clear is that Noynoy and his handlers misled the people by asserting that without corruption, poverty will end.  This point is crucial because it speaks a lot on what the Aquino presidency has to offer beyond prosecuting Mrs. Arroyo for massive corruption, specifically in terms of economic reforms that will benefit the poor and oppressed.

Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap?

This basic premise of Noynoy’s advocacy conceals the structural roots of poverty. It hides the universal truth that the working people are poor because a very small minority monopolizes ownership over production means and the wealth society produces. It obscures the fact that as long as Aquino’s landlord family exerts effective control over Hacienda Luisita, the farmers and farm workers there will remain poor and their children will suffer even greater poverty even if Noynoy does not steal a single centavo from public coffers.

“Hindi ako magnanakaw” was Aquino’s bold declaration, an assertion he repeatedly proclaimed in his political ads and rallies.

But isn’t the exploitation of the farmers and farm workers of Hacienda Luisita pagnanakaw in its worst form? It may have been legitimized by his mom’s (late Pres. Cory) Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and stock distribution option (SDO) but it is still pagnanakaw. Exploitation steals from the farmers and farm workers their due share of the wealth they themselves produce, and shackles them into perpetual and worsening poverty.

If Noynoy’s vision is walang mahirap, what is needed is not only walang corrupt but more importantly, no Filipino farmer should be walang lupa. Currently, 7 out of 10 farmers are walang lupa and Noynoy must correct this age-old injustice by starting at his own backyard.

Aquino, of course, promised to distribute the Hacienda Luisita by 2014, the deadline of the extended CARP.  But almost half a century ago, his family also promised to distribute the contested landholding to its rightful owners – the farmers and farm workers. More than two decades ago, it was again promised by Pres. Cory. Fourteen people have already been killed in relation to the labor and agrarian dispute at the hacienda in the last five years, including seven who were massacred in November 2004.

Why wait for 2014 when Noynoy, if he truly has the high moral ground compared to his opponents as he claims, can distribute the hacienda immediately? All he has to do is convince his family to withdraw the temporary restraining order (TRO) they sought from the Supreme Court (SC) that stopped farmers from revoking their devious SDO contract with Noynoy and his family.

Unfortunately, Noynoy will not do that. In his first press conference after the May 10 polls, he reiterated that the Hacienda Luisita case is pending at the SC and he is respecting that process. Some have argued that Noynoy’s strong stance against Arroyo’s appointment of the next SC Chief Justice may have something to do with Hacienda Luisita, a contention that is not farfetched.

It is simply not in Noynoy’s interest to give up the hacienda. While Hacienda Luisita makes him vulnerable to political attacks, it is still the material source of his and his family’s clout.

The wanton plunder perpetrated by Mrs. Arroyo is only one of the great injustices that Filipinos suffer today. Corruption certainly aggravates the poverty of the people. While this must be addressed immediately and without compromise, the old and continuing social injustice bred by Hacienda Luisita and lack of genuine land reform must be addressed as urgently and as relentlessly.

Agrarian reform, Consumer issues

Notes on sugar production, supply, and prices

Photo from The Philippine Star (Boy Santos)

Government’s move to import duty-free 150,000 metric tons (MT) of sugar to supposedly mitigate soaring local prices may cause more harm than good for end-consumers as it encourages further speculation in supply and prices in the domestic market.

The importation implies a situation of tight domestic supply and reliance on the world market where prices are skyrocketing. This provides more fertile ground for traders to exploit and further jack up local prices. However, what government does not mention is that while it is scrambling to import expensive sugar, it is also committed to export about 158,906 MT of sugar to the US this year under a quota system.

Thus the simple question is: Why will we need to import to stabilize local supply and prices and yet export sugar to the US instead of ensuring our own needs?

Historical sugar supply and demand in the Philippines clearly indicate that we do not face an actual deficit that could justify the price hikes. The only plausible explanation behind the sudden and steep hike in sugar prices is speculation and hoarding by traders who benefit most from high sugar prices.

Price increases

As of January 30, 2010, the prevailing retail price of refined sugar in Metro Manila is P54 per kilogram (kg) and brown (raw) sugar, P44, according to a price bulletin issued by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS). For the whole January, the BAS has monitored five rounds of increase in sugar retail prices that hiked prices by a total of P8 per kg for refined and brown sugar.

The frequent and unusual price increases in sugar retail prices was observed to have started in the last week of November 2009. It has soared since then by P14 per kg for refined sugar and by P12 for brown sugar. Prior to that, the last monitored increase was in mid-October by P2 per kg. Before that, prices have remained steady for almost nine months (February to October). (See Table 1)

Table 1. Retail* price of sugar in Metro Manila, for the dates indicated (in P per kg)
Week monitored Refined sugar Brown (raw) sugar
February 7, 2009 36 30
October 15, 2009 38 30
November 21, 2009 40 32
November 24, 2009 42 34
December 8, 2009 44 34
December 22, 2009 45 34
January 5, 2010 46 36
January 9, 2010 48 38
January 12, 2010 50 40
January 19, 2010 52 44
January 30, 2010 54 44
* Monitored retail prices in Obrero Market, Guadalupe Market, Malabon Central Market, New Muntilupa Public Market, Susano Market, Pasay Public Market, Mutya ng Pasig Public Market, Quinta Public Market, Sangandaan Market and Trading Center, and Marikina Market Zone

As monitored and compiled by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics (BAS)

Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) head Raphael Coscolluela said that retail prices are increasing due to increasing mill gate buying price, which in turn is supposedly based on world prices. Global prices are increasing, on the other hand, because of a shortage of 9-13 million tons in the world market. For the last two years, Coscolluela explained that sugar production worldwide, including in the Philippines, had gone down due to bad weather, low prices, and high cost of inputs.[1]

Data from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) show that the annual sugar price index in 2009 rose to 257.3 from 181.6 in 2008 and 143 in 2007. It rose sharply in the latter part of last year, reaching 334 in December from a monthly price index of only 177.5 in January and 233.1 in June.

No justifiable reason

There is no justifiable reason for local sugar prices to increase due to increasing global prices. The Philippines is not highly dependent on imported sugar and in fact, is a net sugar exporter.

Available production and consumption (or withdrawals, which also include those for export) data on raw and refined sugar covering crop years 1987-88 to 2008-09, as compiled by the Philippine Sugar Millers Association (PSMA), show that in 22 of these years, deficit in supply and demand/withdrawals occurred seven times – in 1994-1995, and from crop years 1996-97 to 2001-02. But of these seven instances of “shortage”, five can be considered artificial.

Note that the country also continued to fulfill its export commitments to the US and other countries during these years of deficit. If exports to the US were deducted from the deficits, actual shortfall will only be in two crop years – 1998-99 and 1999-2000 – following a major and prolonged El Niño episode in 1997-98. (See Table 2)

Table 2. Summary of Philippine sugar (raw and refined) supply and demand balance, Crop years 1992-93 to 2009-10 (in MT)
Crop years Balance Exports Balance without US exports
Total US
1992-93 402,521 296,172 170,017 572,538
1993-94 53,010 303,525 143,186 196,196
1994-95 (137,519) 167,144 167,140 29,621
1995-96 17,523 256,101 256,102 273,625
1996-97 (126,840) 277,736 294,497 167,657
1997-98 (112,406) 222,304 222,304 109,898
1998-99 (191,669) 157,943 157,943 (33,726)
1999-00 (344,882) 101,999 101,999 (242,883)
2000-01 (86,856) 99,839 99,839 12,983
2001-02 (37,181) 84,283 84,283 47,102
2002-03 125,194 153,533 153,533 278,727
2003-04 315,385 213,053 213,053 528,438
2004-05 148,041 283,076 283,076 431,117
2005-06 209,617 238,446 238,446 448,063
2006-07 339,352 218,977 218,977 558,329
2007-08 474,846 172,672 172,672 647,518
2008-09 165,187 57,885 57,885 223,072
Source of basic data: Philippine Sugar Millers Association (PMSA)

Philippine sugar exports go to the US market under its Tariff Rate Quota (TRQ) system. This system sets the specified volume of raw cane sugar that the US will allow to enter its market at a relatively low tariff as part of its commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Uruguay Round agreements.

For 2010, the US Trade Representative (USTR) is allocating 142,160 metric tons raw value (MTRV) or about 158,906 MT of raw cane sugar to the Philippines. It is the third biggest allocation out of 40 countries (accounting for 12.7 percent of the total) granted with quota, behind only the Dominican Republic and Brazil, under the US’s TRQ system.[2]

El Niño, biofuels

Official data, however, also show that in the last crop year (2008-09), raw and refined sugar production declined by 3.56 million MT or about 13 percent. Another year of lower production this year due to the expected El Niño could put the country in a similar situation in the 1998-2000-period, government officials and industry players said.

While production in 2008-09 did fall, the country still managed to post a surplus of about 165,187 MT of raw and refined sugar in that crop year. This surplus had already taken into account the country’s quota exports to the US of 57,885 MT in 2008-09. If we did not export to the US, the surplus would reach 223,072 MT. (See Table 2)

There is no official estimate yet on how big the impact of this year’s El Niño on the sugar industry will be. Large sugar players though are reporting production decline and anticipate further plunge. Victorias Milling, for instance, said that its production already fell by 18 percent last year and may again decline this year due to extreme weather events.[3]

Aside from El Niño, another source of pressure on local sugar production and supply is the competition from biofuels. The diversion of cane from sugar millers for the production of ethanol means less available sugar for the country’s food requirements. Republic Act (RA) 9367 or The Biofuels Act of 2006 mandated a 5-10 percent ethanol blend for gasoline products sold in the country.

Best safeguard

But at this point, everything is still speculative. And the best safeguard that we have against threat of lower production is not the importation of expensive sugar but an immediate halt to exportation, in particular to the US. This is justified by our food security interests. During the height of the global rice crisis in 2008, major rice exporters such as Thailand and India suspended exports. The SRA simply needs to fulfill its mandate of regulating sugar export to ensure domestic supply.

For the surging prices, government must impose a price ceiling and not simply a suggested retail price (SRP). Sugar, as a basic necessity, is among the products covered by RA 7581 or the Price Act of 1992. At present, the government’s SRP of P54 per kilo reflects the massive speculation in sugar prices and thus unreasonable. The sugar imports, at best, could only bring down prices to a still inflated P48 per kilo.[4]

A more rational retail price should be about only P42 or the prevailing price in Metro Manila in the last week of November, based on the assumption that the steep increases in prices since December are speculative and not justified by the supply-demand balance and changes in production costs. This must be accompanied by a serious crackdown not on small retail outlets but on the largest private sugar traders that hoard supply.

Another policy move in relation to supply should be the review of the biofuels program. RA 9367 itself provides for a review by the National Biofuel Board (NBB) of the supply of locally-sourced biofuel feedstock such as sugar cane and make necessary adjustments in the biofuel blend. Even before the recent surge in sugar prices, the local sugar industry could supply only about 79 percent of RA 9367’s minimum requirements (i.e. 5 percent ethanol blend).[5] Surging food prices, on top of land reform and environmental issues, must pressure policymakers to reconsider the country’s biofuels program and correct a policy that further undermines local food production.

Private traders, of course, want to take advantage of high global sugar prices and would rather export their commodity for larger profits. Or some commercial planters may want to sell their produce to ethanol plants that offer a bigger margin. Neoliberal thinking dictates that this must be allowed so that market forces can determine the best value of a commodity. But at the receiving end would be the ordinary people who will be forced to contend with high and increasing prices and at the same time the direct producers of sugar – the poor farm and factory workers – who continue to receive depressed wages amid soaring market prices.


[1] GMA News website, “Sugar prices may go up P54/kilo in February”, January 26, 2010,

[2] US Trade Representative website, “USTR announces FY 2010 Tariff-Rate Quota allocations for raw cane sugar, refined and specialty sugar, and sugar-containing products”,

[3] Manila Times website, “Domestic sugar output to plunge further”, January 28, 2010,

[4] GMA News website, “Agri dept expects imports to bring down sugar prices to P48/kilo”, January 29, 2010,

[5] Arnold Padilla, “Pro-Arroyo landlords in Congress to reap profits from Biofuels Act”, IBON Features, published by, Vol. VII No. 3, February 18-24, 2007,

Agrarian reform, Poems

hacienda luisita: nob. 16, 2009

Please email the author for proper image credit

tulad mo rin, noynoy, ang dambuhalang pabrika sa inyong azucarera
na walang imik nang dumating ang sandaang sasakyan ng protesta
patuloy lamang sa pagbuga ng usok ng mga makinang lumalamon sa tubó at tubo,
at tulad ng mga armadong gwardya sa kanyang pintuan
hindi ikaw, kundi si bise palengke ang sumalubong sa mga hamon at tanong
habang pilit kang nagkukubli sa alaala ng mga magulang mong
taliwas sa iyong akala ay di namin kinakalimutang maylupang panginoon.

naroon din ang iyong kapamilya, bitbit ang kanilang tagapagbalita’t kamera
pero maliban sa ginawang pantabing sa likod ng nakaposturang anchor
ang mga sulo at bandila, wala nang iba pang narinig tungkol sa protesta,
kung bakit at paanong ang katarungan at kamatayan ng pitong magsasaka sa luisita

limang taon na mula noong masaker ng nobyembre 16

at ang marami pa nilang kasamahang patraydor na ibinuwal ng mga bayarang duwag
kahit ang piketlayn ay malaon nang nabuwag, ay hindi lumabas sa teleprompter,
at wala ang imahe ng paniningil sa mga tulad ni pat sto. tomas na nagbigay
ng assumption order licencia de masaker
at wala ang hiyaw ng hustisya ng mga naiwang asawa, anak at ilan pang natira sa welga,
kung bakit wala kahit isang linya kung paanong patuloy na pinapaslang at ginugutom
ng sdo at huwad na repormang agraryo ang mga magsasaka’t manggagawang bukid
tumakbo ka man o hindi, manalo ka man o mabigo,
ibenta mo man ang iyong sapi at hugasan ang iyong kamay ng dugo,
mula pa noong 1989 hanggang ngayon, at pagkatapos ng eleksyon,
ay hindi kami magmamaang-maangang di namin batid.

pero ito ang dapat mong malaman
na walang pangingimi naming sasabihin sa iyo
at sa lahat ng naniniwalang kaya mong baguhin
ang kawalan ng katarungan sa bayang ito

– hindi kasindali o kasinsimple ng idinireheng pagpapasa ng sulo
mula kay marian rivera hanggang kay kris aquino ang pagbabago,
at hindi nadadaan sa madramang kanta’t magarbong bidyo
ang tunggalian ng mga walang lupa at ng labis-labis pa sa mayroon,
sa tunggaliang ito, hindi kami manlilimos ng iyong awa at atensyon.

Agrarian reform

Evicted farmers will be back at the Batasan gate, undaunted, more determined

On Friday (May 22) afternoon, members of the House of Representatives’ (HoR) Special Action Force (SAF) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) violently demolished the temporary structures set up by farmers camping out of the HoR. The farmers were on the 40th day of the campout, which they set up to press lawmakers on the passage of House Bill (HB) 3059 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).

I was there, with the other staff of Bayan, before the violent demolition took place. We rushed to the HoR after receiving word that there was a threat of demolition. When we arrived at past 12 noon, the farmers have started to voluntarily dismantle the temporary structures occupying one side of the main gate.

Ka Paeng Mariano of Anakpawis and Ka Daning Ramos of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) told us that it was in compliance with their agreement with the House’s security officials. The farmers would be allowed to maintain the campout on one side of the gate and hold a moving picket on the other side. When we left at around 1:30 PM, we had the impression that everything was settled.

But as soon as we left, we received separate text messages from those at the campout that the SAF and police, backed up by a fire truck, have started to tear down the remaining structures on the other side. Gerry Corpuz of Pamalakaya later told me at the DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) where the evicted farmers transferred, that they were able to defend the camp against the ruthless eviction by the SAF and police for about one and a-half hours.

In its press conference this morning, the peasant leaders, some of the injured farmers and supporters, and Anakpawis representatives Ka Paeng and Joel Maglunsod strongly condemned the demolition.

They pinned the blame directly on House Speaker Prospero Nograles and said House Secretary General Marilyn Yap, Sergeant-at-Arms Brig. Gen. Hortacio Lactao, Legislative Security Bureau (LSB) Isabelito Flores and the police and security guards must be held accountable for the violent eviction that injured 11 people. They will file charges before the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and possibly before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNCHR).

At the DAR where I dropped by last night, the farmers and their supporters have started to rebuild their camp. Many of them were physically hurt, but there were no signs of dampened fighting spirit. One “manang” (elderly woman) was animated, repeatedly, tirelessly telling how she got her bruises and how she held her ground against the police.

Gerry asked the designated cook that night to prepare dinner for at least 250 people. They were expecting six jeepneys to arrive from the provinces – reinforcing the farmers and supporters of genuine agrarian reform for the remaining days of the campout.

Yes. The farmers and their supporters will be back on Monday at the main gate of the House. Undaunted, more determined.

Agrarian reform


farmer1Explaining her “no” vote to the Joint Resolution on CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program) extension, Representative Risa Hontiveros of the pseudo-progressive party-list Akbayan said that Congress has “managed to obliterate an entire class” with the approval of the said resolution. Obliterate means “wipe out”, “eliminate” or “annihilate”. I wonder how a single act of Congress can wipe out, eliminate or annihilate the entire Filipino peasantry, which for almost four decades now, has been waging a civil war in the countryside to implement genuine agrarian reform.

As if her advocacy of CARP extension with reforms is the be all and end all of the peasants’ fight for land, Hontiveros has reduced the class struggle for effective control of land between peasants and landlords in the cozy confines of the House of Representatives. The Joint Resolution may have set back the peasants’ struggle for genuine agrarian reform in the parliamentary arena, not a surprise in landlords’ turf. But it certainly did not reverse the victories achieved by the peasants’ direct political actions in the countryside to own the land the till. Or will it hinder future triumphs of their agrarian revolution.

As the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said in its recent statement, “The legislative arena is just one field of struggle by farmers and advocates of genuine agrarian reform. Indeed, the battleground is far wider than the halls of a landlord-dominated Congress. It is in the remotest barangays in the countryside where farmers and farm workers should collectively struggle against oppression and exploitation that stem from landlord domination.

I can assure Hontiveros that the Filipino peasantry will not be wiped out, eliminated nor annihilated any time soon. Heck, they were not obliterated by the political killings and state terrorism by GMA and her armed forces. And no matter what this brazenly anti-people regime does, it could never kill and obliterate an aspiration.

What is certain is that the latest developments in CARP, combined with state repression, Cha-cha, and worsening poverty and hunger, will further fuel agrarian unrest and social discontent. CARP’s extension has only further exposed the rottenness of Congress, and in the process convinced a growing number of tillers that a strong peasants’ and people’s movement is the greatest hope for genuine agrarian reform in the country.

Agrarian reform

On Gloria’s Food Summit speech

The National Food Summit, like other summits launched by the government in the past to supposedly address emergency situations, has been reduced to a self-serving publicity stunt, making the false impression that the rice crisis is being addressed as well as to justify current policies.

Similar to Gloria Arroyo’s speech at the Energy Summit last January which failed to address the urgent issue of high and increasing petroleum prices, her speech at the Food Summit held today did not mention anything about the need to control the soaring retail prices of rice in the local market. With Gloria Arroyo’s empty rhetoric on food security, the people gained nothing concrete from the summit. Worse, the measures announced by Arroyo will lead the country to more food crises in the future.

In her speech, Arroyo outlined her agenda to address the crisis and used the acronym FIELDS for fertilizer, irrigation and infrastructure, education and extension services, loans, dryers and post-harvest facilities, and seeds supposedly to make food abundant and accessible. But the FIELDS actually forms part of Arroyo’s existing medium-term development plan on agriculture which puts heavy emphasis on agribusiness development and not genuine agrarian reform and self-sufficient food production.

It is condemnable that the Arroyo regime is using the current rice crisis to justify and further implement the same flawed agricultural policies that helped worsen the country’s food insecurity. The emphasis on agribusiness development is a further setback to genuine agrarian reform and will worsen landlessness in the countryside. Note that the farmers’ displacement from the means of agricultural production especially land, lack of incentive and support to produce for domestic consumption, and restructuring to serve the global market have combined to perpetrate the permanent and worsening crisis of food insecurity that the country has been facing.

Arroyo’s renewed push for the farm as collateral policy, for instance, shows Arroyo’s bias for the market and lack of intention to implement a genuine agrarian reform program. This will only strengthen the monopoly control of agribusiness corporations, including foreign firms, as well as local landlords and capitalists on the country’s agriculture and farm lands at the expense of small Filipino farmers. It will only further make local agricultural production serve the needs of foreign markets at the expense of domestic food production, including rice, for domestic consumption. It will also make the consumers more vulnerable to supply and price manipulation by unscrupulous private traders.

Clearly, the Arroyo regime does not have the policies to effectively deal with the problem of skyrocketing rice prices and insecurity in the country’s food supply. Worse, the set of policy measures that the government is proposing threatens to further aggravate these problems.

The immediate state intervention needed today is to impose price controls on rice, dismantle the rice cartel, and strengthen the role of the National Food Authority (NFA) in the whole rice sector.

Meanwhile, the only sustainable long-term solution to the rice crisis is the reversal of globalization policies on agriculture and the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program that will allow our farmers to produce food for Filipinos as well as other needs of the economy for its industrialization.

Agrarian reform, Economy

Notes on the rice crisis

  1. The current rice crisis is a manifestation of the permanent crisis of Philippine agriculture and the economy in general. This permanent crisis is characterized mainly by backward production and intense concentration of the means of agricultural production, most especially land, in the hands of compradors and landlords.

  1. Such backwardness and lack of genuine agrarian reform have been aggravated by the neoliberal restructuring of agriculture, which has been most intense since the 1990s. They include the WTO-AOA (Agreement on Agriculture), rice trade liberalization, privatization of the NFA (National Food Authority), land use and crop conversion that prioritized production of high value crops for export instead of food including rice for domestic consumption, among others.

  1. The direct impact of these neoliberal reforms is the substantial erosion of the country’s self-sufficiency and self-reliance in food production. Farm area for palay contracted by 86,606 hectares between 1991 and 2002 as a result of land use conversion, based on the 2002 Census of Agriculture (CA) of the NSO (National Statistics Office). Corn, which like palay is also a staple crop, saw its farm area contract by 298,064 hectares during the same period.

  1. Overall, the country has become a net food importer after decades of surplus food production. From a yearly surplus of $667.5 million in food trade from 1980 to 1994, the Philippines recorded an annual average of $724.6 million in food trade deficit from 1995 to 2006.

  1. Thus, the current rice crisis can be summed up as the country’s incapacity, because of years of neoliberal agricultural restructuring, to meet domestic requirements through local production amid a situation of tightening global supply of rice. At present, the global supply is pegged at 323.3 million metric tons (MT) while demand is already 323.2 million MT.

  1. In the past years, the share of rice imports to the gross domestic supply of rice has been significantly increasing. BAS (Bureau of Agricultural Statistics) data show that from 1990 to 2000, imports comprised an average of 5.9% of the country’s annual gross supply of rice. The figure has jumped to 9.7% for the period 2001-2006. In 2005 and 2006, the import ratio was 13%.

  1. For 2008, Bayan maintains that imports could account for as much as 20% of the country’s rice consumption. This is much higher than the government claim of an 8%-share of rice imports to national rice requirements. Media reports in March quote the Department of Agriculture (DA) as saying that rice imports this year could reach as high as 2.4 million MT. This volume is equivalent to almost 20% of the country’s average annual rice consumption of around 11.9 million MT.

  1. With such a high level of dependence on rice imports, the country is definitely facing a serious insecurity in rice supply given the tight situation in the global supply-demand balance for rice. Worse, Vietnam, which in 2006 supplied more than 85% of our rice imports, is itself facing grave concerns on its own supply security.

  1. Vietnam needs to secure its own rice supply as it faces rapid contraction in its farmlands due to land use conversion, losing 125,000 hectares of rice fields in 2007 alone. It projects rice exportation to fall by one million MT per year and considers totally stopping exportation to protect its own food security.

  1. The Philippines is already feeling the impact of these developments in Vietnam. Out of the 1.5 million MT in rice imports that the country asked from Vietnam for 2008, Vietnam committed only one million MT. With a volatile situation in the global rice market – and other factors that contribute to this volatility such as extreme weather changes, US recession, energy/oil insecurity, etc – there is no assurance that Vietnam and the country’s other sources like Thailand can deliver. Note also that China, which used to export rice to the Philippines, is now a net rice importer.

  1. Because of tightening global supply, combined with uncertainties in the US economy that encourage massive speculation in commodities including rice, the price of rice has been soaring. Rice from Thailand and Vietnam, for instance, is already at the range of $600-700 per ton from only $320-340 per ton in 2007. As a consequence, local retail prices have been increasing rapidly. As of the second week of March, the retail price of fancy rice is pegged at P33.17 per kilo from an average of P30.76 per kilo in 2007; premium rice, from P26.93 to P28.91; special rice, from P24.72 to 26.91; and ordinary rice, from P22.39 to P24.58. Under the Arroyo government, the price of rice has increased by an average of around P7 a kilo.

  1. The NFA has been ineffective in stabilizing rice prices, which is one of its mandates, as it has been substantially weakened by commercialization and privatization efforts of past and present governments. While the government intends to keep NFA rice at P18.25 per kilo, NFA’s limited participation in the local rice market (only 5% according to IBON), which continues to be dominated by a cartel, do not make a dent on overall increases in rice retail prices.

  1. Tight supply and high prices will hurt the poor most. The rich have extra money to buy a big volume of rice, even at unusually high prices, that could meet their families’ need for a couple of months. For most families, however, they buy rice to meet a day’s need, or in many cases, a meal’s need. (Aside from those who could not afford a meal at all.)

  1. The urgency of drastic reforms, both in the short and long terms, is highlighted by the fact that the various reasons behind the tightening global supply of rice – climate change, energy insecurity, US recession and the crisis of monopoly capitalism in general – are far too complex to be resolved very soon. On the other hand, indicators show that they will continue to worsen in the coming years, and thus put even greater pressure on the country’s food security. Changing weather patterns, for instance, will significantly reduce production and yield in the generally backward agricultural systems of the world’s rice producing countries, including the Philippines. The mad rush to biofuels to meet growing energy needs, in particular in the First World, will continue to undermine food production, especially in the colonial and neocolonial countries.

  1. To ensure food security, the country needs to be self-reliant and self-sufficient in its food production, especially of staples such as rice.

  1. Medium to long-term reforms must include the implementation of genuine agrarian reform (land distribution, substantial and reliable state support/subsidy, etc) to encourage farmers to be more productive; reversal of agriculture liberalization (stop WTO-AOA, rice tariffication, etc); strengthen the mandate of the NFA in ensuring sufficient and accessible supply at affordable prices of food crops including rice and reverse its privatization and commercialization; dismantle the rice cartel; and stop land use and crop conversion and expand domestic food/rice production to levels of self-sufficiency (including a reliable buffer supply), among others. These policy reforms must start now.

  1. Immediate interventions (GMA must stop downplaying the crisis and recognize the urgent need for significant State intervention): Centralized procurement of imported rice of the NFA (cancel import licenses of private traders), increased presence of NFA distribution/retail outlets particularly in areas where poor families are concentrated (urban and rural); emergency fund that will directly go to rice farmers to subsidize production cost; price control (under RA 7581 or the Price Act, government can impose a price ceiling during times of calamity, disaster, or emergency).