Political vilification hounds Solidagro partners

Solidagro partner organizations have expressed alarm and condemnation over the persistent acts of political vilification carried out by government soldiers against them and other progressive non-government organizations as the Aquino administration intensifies its counter-insurgency program called Oplan Bayanihan (Internal Peace and Security Plan).

This method has been consistently used by the military to discredit development workers whom it accuses as enemies of the state for being critical of the government policies that are detrimental to people’s interest. The military fails to distinguish development workers who are performing advocacy works from insurgents who are waging armed struggle to topple the government. What is most disturbing is that political vilification often leads to extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.

Oplan Bayanihan is the Aquino administration’s version of the previous administrations’ counter-insurgency programs in their attempt to end the persistent armed conflict in the country. What differs Oplan Bayanihan from other counter-insurgency programs is its active effort to employ non-combat strategies such as delivery of social services, building roads, bridges and schools and participating in community affairs alongside military combat operations. But progressive groups have observed that these strategies are not really aimed at addressing the root causes of insurgency such as poverty due to landlessness and unemployment, corruption in the government and the gross inequality in wealth and power but mere attempts to win the sentiments of the people who have long endured all kinds of abuses in the hands of the military for justly demanding from the government their right to land and decent life. Besides, the military has arrogated unto itself works which some government agencies and local government units are mandated to do.

Significantly, it is widely observed that Oplan Bayanihan is being implemented in areas where there are active people’s struggles against development aggressions such as large-scale mining and logging, agribusiness plantations and renewable energy projects by transnational corporations even when there is no existing insurgency problem.

Non-government organizations who are working with people organizations in these areas have been vilified by the military accusing them of inciting the people to fight against the government while the latter vainly attempts to force into the communities government projects that do not really address the real needs of the people. Gross human rights violations are taking place in the midst of the struggle of the people to protect their lands and resources. These are meant to stifle their opposition and struggle against development aggressions and militarization.

But over the years, the military has failed to dissuade the people as communities continue to embrace and benefit from the programs initiated by these organizations especially with regards to food security. As a result, the military is now resorting to equally repulsive method of pressuring local government units and barangay (village) councils to reject any projects identified with organizations whom it accuses as state enemies, or much worse, attempting to take over their projects.

Municipal resolution vs CDPC

The Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera (CDPC) had to withdraw the implementation of its food security projects in the town of Daguioman in Abra province after its municipal council headed by the vice mayor issued a resolution rejecting any CDPC project in the said town on a baseless accusation that CDPC staff are members of an insurgent group.

Daguioman is one of the towns in Abra where there is strong resistance against large-scale mining operations. It is among several municipalities in Abra where thousands of hectares of lands are currently under application for mining exploration permit by a foreign mining company.

In a letter sent to Solidagro country office, CDPC explained that last May 13, the municipal council of Daguioman invited CDPC to attend a special session in the municipal hall. It was also attended by the local police and some elders. In the early part of the session, the municipal council and the elders reportedly heaped praises on the programs of CDPC in their communities; but in a sudden turn of events and to the staff’s surprise, the council and the elders began to throw accusation that CDPC’s staff are members of an insurgent group and because of that they were rejecting all CDPC projects in the town. The CDPC staff were not given any chance to defend themselves from the accusation as the vice-mayor hastily adjourned the session. Since it was getting dark, the council perversely advised them to spend the night inside the building since they could not guarantee their safety if they left at that time.

According to the account of one of the CDPC volunteers who attended the session, they suffered harassment in the hands of some policemen who stayed with them in the building and put them under virtual interrogation. The next day, a policeman even followed them as they left the municipal building as if he was monitoring their movement.

Upon learning of the incident, CDPC immediately made a statement opposing the resolution of the municipal council. Thereafter, CDPC had called on the governor of Abra and the town mayor to reject the said resolution.

Due to the growing pressure, the municipal council issued on July 28 a resolution attesting to the legality of CDPC and affirming its credibility among the communities being served by its projects. However, it was very unfortunate that it did not supersede the earlier resolution that disallowed any CDPC project in said municipality.

“In simple analysis, this move of the MLGU of Daguioman is simply tied to the OPLAN BAYANIHAN of the government to end the so called “insurgency” problem. Now OPLAN BAYANIHAN makes use of the local government units and government agencies, forming fake elders to block development activists entering their areas. The true victims here are the community people who are deprived of their rights to genuine sustainable development” said CDPC in the letter.

Military taking over the food security project in Samar

In another incident, the Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program (EVRAP) reported that in its areas in the town of Las Navas in Northern Samar, the military has been spreading lie that EVRAP had already abandoned its food security projects in several communities and that they are now taking over the projects.

After the onslaught of super-typhoon Yolanda, EVRAP staff were temporarily redeployed to areas heavily affected by the typhoon to assist in the relief and rehabilitation projects of other NGOs. For six months, they were not able to return to Las Navas since the town was spared from the onslaught of Yolanda.

In June this year, the military called a meeting with barangay captains of areas where there are EVRAP projects. The military allegedly wanted them to sign an affidavit declaring that EVRAP had abandoned its projects and that from then on the military will take over the projects.

When EVRAP staff finally returned to the area, the people immediately told them of said military posturing. They also reported that the military was using certain individuals to spread such lie.

The next day, without realizing that EVRAP staff was at the area, the military came to call a village meeting in line with their activities under the Oplan Bayanihan. The soldiers were caught flat-footed when EVRAP staff appeared in the meeting and bravely confronted them.

But even before this incident, EVRAP and the people’s organizations in Las Navas have been at the receiving end of military’s harassment and vilification. According to one EVRAP staff, the real motive behind military’s attempt to take over EVRAP’s project is its desire to destroy the people’s organizations who are vocal advocates of genuine agrarian reform. The frequent military operations in the area have taken their toll on the people, especially on the children who suddenly burst into tears and fearfully run away whenever they see soldiers patrolling in their communities.

Another Solidagro partner, the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development ( ALCADEV), which provides alternative education focusing on organic agriculture to Manobo (indigenous people) youth in Surigao del Sur in Mindanao, had suffered being harangued in the media by the military accusing it of instilling among its students attitude of resistance against the government. The military had twice raided the school and sowed terror among its surrounding communities which resulted in several forced evacuations. As in Daguioman, an active people’s struggle is being waged against the entry of large-scale mining in the said place. Numerous leaders of the indigenous peoples’ organizations which ALCADEV is affiliated with had been arrested. The latest is the arrest on trumped up charges of Genasque Enriquez, Secretary General of Kahugpungan sa mga Lumadnong Organisasyon-Caraga (Kasalo-Caraga), a regional alliance of indigenous people’s groups in Caraga region in Mindanao, and second nominee of KATRIBU, a party-list group representing the indigenous peoples.

These abuses have also been endured by other rural development non-government organizations. Various human rights organizations have condemned the intensification of political vilification on development workers and have taken the government to task for allowing the military to use it as part of its counter-insurgency program.

Of the 192 extra-judicial killings of social activists recorded by the human rights group Karapatan, at least 156 are peasant and indigenous peoples leaders and 8 are development workers. Numerous others were killed and/or abducted following a systematic campaign of political vilification by the military.#

Haiyan survivors in EVRAP project areas show that collective action is the key towards effective recovery

eight months after Haiyan, farming communities in Samar are starting to recover
eight months after Haiyan, farming communities in Samar are starting to recover

 Typhoon Haiyan might have destroyed their houses and damaged their livelihoods, but people’s organizations in EVRAP (Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program ) project areas in the towns of Basey and General MacArthur in Eastern Samar province have proven that it could never destroy the collective will of the people to rise up from devastation.

Eastern Samar is located in the Western Visayas region. Basey and General MacArthur are just two of several towns in Eastern Samar heavily devastated by typhoon Haiyan. Many farming and fishing communities were rendered homeless and their livelihoods completely destroyed when Haiyan ripped through the province.

And yet, the actions taken by these organizations to recover in the wake of typhoon Yolanda are really one for the books. They have essentially proven that it is only through mutual help and collaboration that Yolanda survivors can effectively recover from the devastation. Tragedies, indeed, bring out the best in people such as the one spawned by Yolanda. A people united and empowered can have all the means to rise up from difficult challenges.

To begin with, it is noteworthy that the projects implemented by EVRAP in these areas through the support of Solidagro

ready for planting

such as the cooperative stores, rice mill and backyard swine raising and dispersal have survived the ravages of Haiyan though some of the stores were completely destroyed during the typhoon. What is notable in these cooperative stores is that they became a source of relief to the communities during the period when relief assistance came in trickles. The people’s organizations managing the cooperative stores made sure to maintain the same price of the merchandise at the time when commercial stores jacked up the prices of their goods to take advantage of high demand and lack of supply.

In sitio (sub-village) Cambabang in Barangay (village) Cogon in Basey, buyers coming as far as the town proper trooped to the cooperative store managed by Cambabang Farmers Association to avail of some basic necessities like rice, oil sugar and canned goods. “We were all surprised that these people travelled far just to buy some basic goods from the store,” said Gemma who is one of the assigned store caretakers today.

The store was actually completely destroyed by Haiyan. Right after the typhoon, though, to make it operational,  the members of the cooperative took turns in selling the goods in their houses. It would take three months before they were able to rebuild the store. Far from its original structure, the store is now a shack made out of iron sheets as walls and plastic canvass as roof.

coop store in Mabini
coop store in Mabini
cooperative store in sitio Cambabang after Haiyan
coop store in sitio Cambabang

“We hope to improve it sooner,” said Gemma.

Significantly, the organization has taken the lead in recovery efforts in the community making sure that the financial and material assistance from donors can benefit all members. The organization has instilled among its members the value of cooperation and concern for others. When an international non-government organization (NGO) distributed P3,000 cash assistance per family to help restart their livelihood, the organization had urged each member to designate P2,000 to the organization’s fund. The organization then formed three groups among its members. Dividing the fund equally among the three groups, the organization allowed each group to discuss viable projects suited to their needs. Two groups decided to use the money to buy hand tractors for land preparation of their rice fields while the other group opted to use the money for swine raising.

IMG_2350If there is one good thing typhoon Haiyan had done, it is to make the people realize the value of mutual help and collective action. Even international organizations working in these areas have realized the advantage of coordinating with an existing organization in one village to facilitate relief and recovery operations. It is noteworthy that an international NGO providing livelihood assistance in sitio Cambabang has expressed admiration over the effective role the organization has played in the community’s quick recovery.

EVRAP organizers even observed that the people who refused to join the organization before and those who were vehemently opposing it are now very eager to join as they see how the organization cares for its members.

“They have come to realize the value of organization; that it’s hard to rise from this disaster alone,” said Junjun, one of EVRAP’s agriculturists and organizers.

consultation with leaders of Cambabang Farmers Association
consultation with leaders of Cambabang Farmers Association
consultation with leaders of Vigan Farmers Association
consultation with leaders of Vigan Farmers Association

 

The organization is now considering to establish a marketing cooperative that will handle the selling of their palay (unhusked rice) harvest. The marketing cooperative can give them more control over their products by bypassing the middlemen who usually buy their products at very low prices. Furthermore, they can negotiate for better terms if they deliver in large volumes and can purchase production supplies in bulk at lower prices.

pooling of funds

In the nearby village of Mabini, the people’s organization here is thankful that their cooperative store was not damaged by the typhoon. As in sitio Cambabang, the store played a big role in supplying basic necessities to its members and non-members alike after the typhoon. Relief goods had only reached the village several days after the typhoon as the road leading to the village was rendered impassable due to fallen trees.Nanay (mother) Julie, as she is fondly called, is the chairman of the Mabini Farmers Association. She described how Haiyan ravaged their village uprooting trees and washing away their upland rice and corn farms. She also recounted how the village quickly recovered from the typhoon through collective action as most of the residents of the village are members of the organization. She said that it is easier for the organization to mobilize the people to work together because they are organized.

When a non-government organization extended financial help to restart their livelihood, the organization decided to allocate some of the money in setting up additional cooperative stores to reach other members whose houses are located in the outskirts of the village.

farmers readying the fields for planting
farmers readying the fields for planting

A substantial portion of the cooperative store’s earnings goes to the maintenance of communal farms being managed by the organization. Before Haiyan came, they had purchased through the store’s fund a carabao (water buffalo) for the tilling of communal farms.

The organization also initiated pooling of funds among several cooperative stores in Mabini to help a sub-village start its own cooperative store.

credit cooperative

Another cooperative store located in the sub-village of Bagti ( a 4-hour walk from Mabini), was totally destroyed and has not been rebuilt until now. Just as in Cambabang, the members are now taking turns in selling the goods in their houses. Dondoy Mabag, the organization’s chairman, said that when all the goods were sold out a few days after Haiyan, they were not able to buy merchandise immediately due to the difficulty in getting to the town center. It took them two months before they were able to refurnish the store.

The financial assistance they received from NGOs and donors was consolidated to buy farm tools and seeds for their individual and communal farms. The organization has put up a credit cooperative which has greatly helped its members in their financial needs especially in times of sickness. A member can take a loan with no interest if it is used for hospitalization or some medical needs.

swine dispersal

In the village of Vigan in the town of General MacArthur, the Vigan Farmers Association (VFA) has sustained its swine dispersal project despite heavy damages caused by Haiyan. Some piglets, although, had contacted diseases after the typhoon and some members were forced to sell their pigs so that they could buy materials to repair their damaged houses. Their main problem now is the persistent increase in the price of feeds; especially at this time that they are still reeling from the effects of the typhoon.

IMG_2385IMG_2380“We only earn through the cash-for-work project of an NGO; the money that we can get is used for buying basic necessities and feeds for the pigs; and it’s not enough” said Nanay Linda, the chairman of the organization.

Despite this, the organization was able to extend the project to two adjacent villages. Since membership to the organization is a prerequisite for joining the project, the beneficiaries were temporarily absorbed by VFA pending the formation of organizations in their villages.

“Despite the setbacks, we are bent on sustaining this project. If there are problems, our members immediately report them to the organization especially if it involves the health of the pigs. We have created a committee to monitor the progress of the project and ensure that all members are following our rules,” said Nanay Linda.

EVRAP staff
EVRAP staff

The stories above have shown that collective action is key to uplifting people from difficult conditions. These are proofs that when there are democratic organizations, people rise up in an organized way and can depend on their own strength to do it. EVRAP has seen how the organizations they helped build with the people have changed the mindset of their members from individuals thinking only their own interest to being a collective taking care of each other’s needs. Notably, through its funding and capability building, Solidagro has had a significant contribution to this success.#

 

Collective Efforts to achieve food security: Barangay Dolores experience on communal farming

Barangay Dolores is one of the 53 barangays of Las Navas, Northern Samar and currently one of the eight project areas of EVRAP (Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program) in the said town. To get there, one needs to ride a motorcycle for 30 minutes from the town proper and walk for another 15 minutes during the dry season. During the rainy season, thick mud renders the road impassable to any vehicles; thus, one has to go there on foot. Travel time will take about 2 hours.

There are 43 households in Brgy. Dolores but only seven of them own small parcels of farmland averaging one to two hectares each. The rest are landless farm workers and tenants. Large part of farm lands in the barangay are owned by families from Brgy. Bulao, an adjacent barangay. Total size of agricultural land in the village is 164 hectares.

Labor rates for farm work range from Php 150-200 per day for cleaning the farm area and Php 35 per 100 pieces of coconut harvested for copra production. A rice farm tenant gets one fourth of the net yield from the harvest, but he shoulders the cost of production. For abaca production, the tenant gets one-third of the yield while shouldering the labor costs.

There is an active barangay chapter of the peasant organization, Alyansya han mga Parag-uma Kontra-gutom han Las Navasnon (APKLAS) in Brgy. Dolores. The said municipal-wide peasant formation was established in September 15, 2009 to consolidate the ranks of the farmers in Las Navas and unite them in solving the issues of hunger, poverty and human rights abuses by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in their villages. APKLAS currently has chapters in 33 barangays in Las Navas.

Communal production
Increasing the food production is the main objective of EVRAP and APKLAS chapters under the three-year New World and Belgian government-funded program. Since its establishment in 2009, APKLAS is actively pursuing campaigns against hunger, poverty and human rights abuses. In solidarity, EVRAP has committed to support the advocacy of APKLAS and has been working closely with the peasant formation since 2010.

One of the strategies employed to attain the objective is the establishment of demonstration or communal farms in the eight villages where EVRAP has existing programs. Communal farms have been proven effective in establishing unity among the members as well as providing additional source of income to their families.

Brgy. Dolores has one communal farm with 65 members. They have utilized a parcel of land located 500 meters away from the village center as their farm area. They are renting the land from a resident of Brgy. Bulao. They pay the rent fee at the end of every cropping season.

To ensure fairness and efficiency, they practice the work-point system in their communal farm production. The work-point system goes like this: a member who sets aside time to work in the communal farm earns points; his participation will then be recorded and after the harvest he will be given share based on how many points he has accumulated. Other family members can work in lieu of the member and this will be counted as his work point.

In early part of 2013, they were able to harvest 106 sacks of rice from their communal farm. Ninety sacks were divided among the members based on their work points, 5 sacks were saved for the next cropping and 11 sacks were given to the landowner as rent fee.

Merly Rebato, a member of the communal farm shares that the communal food production is a great help for households who do not have land to farm or whose farms are located far.

“Ngada kami nakakuha dako nga paray. Kay sa demo farm, harani man, kun mag-pokus darako an makukuha.” (It is where we get more rice for the family. Since the demonstration farm is near the village, we are able to focus on it). Merlyn and her husband were able to get a share of 24 sacks out of 105 sacks of palay harvested from the communal farm in 2012. Merly is also a member of the village cooperative which was established through the support of EVRAP and New World.

The barangay council is very supportive of the communal farm production in the village. Every cropping season, the barangay shoulders the fuel cost of the hand tractor used in land preparation. Barangay Chairman Armando Pajuelas shares that supporting the communal farm is far more important than infrastructure projects of the barangay since it will benefit more residents.

“Producer cooperatives are very effective in making the farmers realize the value of cooperation and collective work in uplifting their poor condition. It also helps consolidate their rank, which is important in their fight against economic exploitation. It is also a venue where they can practice new farming methods that they can later adopt in their individual farms,” said Ayn Rica Dionaldo, EVRAP Executive Director.

Food Sufficiency in the household level
Aside from the communal farm, the members also put up a communal vegetable garden. They also benefit from the seeds distributed by EVRAP for their individual farms and backyard vegetable gardens. For most of the members, this does not only ensure food on the table but also cash for their families’ other needs.

The vegetable gardens of member households are located in their backyards and idle farm areas in the village. “Maupay an garden, san una nga waray utanon wara pan-sabon, pan-asin, pero yana may dali-dali na makukuhaan (The vegetable garden is really important, whereas before we don’t have enough money to buy soap, salt and other needs, now through the income we get from selling our vegetables, we are able to cover other costs,” Merlyn Rebato shares. Merlyn is able to get around Php80-300 per day from selling her vegetables in nearby villages. The rest of the vegetables are consumed by the family.

Before the introduction of vegetable gardens, the member households’ regular vegetable diet was limited to sweet potato tops and yam. There are vegetables sold in the town center but they are often expensive. The other source of vegetables is Catarman City where vegetable prices are relatively lower but it is almost a 2 hour travel from Las Navas town proper.

“We still have a long way to go in terms of ensuring food security in these remote villages. But the progress our communal farms are making gives us hope that reducing hunger is not an impossible feat,” Dionaldo stated.

Improving Farming Methods in Impoverished Las Navas Villages

Setting-up of communal farm in Barangay San Antonio and training on the use of handtractor and water pump.

by Ayn Rica Dionaldo

Las Navas, Northern Samar is among the poorest municipalities in Eastern Visayas, Philippines. The farming methods being practiced in the municipality is inherently backward— most farmers don’t know how to use farm tools and equipment such as plows and harrows, there is no irrigation and the use of agricultural machine or even farm animals remains negligible.

Appropriate technology in food production

The Eastern Visayas Rural Assistance Program is currently on its second year of implementing a food security program funded by New World and the Belgian Government in eight Las Navas villages. Most of the areas of EVRAP are remote villages that can be reached by hiking for four to five hours or by riding a small boat if the water in the river is high enough.

The municipal Peasant Organization of Las Navas, Asosasyon han Parag-uma Kontra-gutom ha Las Navas (APKLAS) sought the aid of EVRAP in socio-economic development. The main focus of the peasant organizations (POs) is to achieve food security by producing food and setting up communal farms. To respond to the needs of the peasant communities, EVRAP was set to distribute farm tools and equipment for the first half of 2012. However, the farmers didn’t know how to use the plows which would be distributed. Majority of the peasants use the payatak system ( softening the soil with bare legs) in cultivating land. Another common method of preparing the land is through pakaras whereby a piece of wood (shaped similar to that of a harrow) is tied to the carabao, the wood is then dragged around the farm area with the farmer guiding the carabao.

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EVRAP Carabao Distribution Project Sustained for Two Decades

by Minette Jerusalem

It all started with two carabaos costing a total of Php 26,000.00 in 1988. Project beneficiaries were seven farmers from Barangay San Francisco, Las Navas, Northern Samar. San Francisco was chosen due to its high poverty incidence and the remoteness of the community. It is the last barangay of Las Navas in the boundary of North and East Samar. The barangay can be reached by way of a four-hour motorboat ride from the town center and at least an hour’s hike through mountain trails and farms.

The carabao distribution project was supported by a Belgian NGO called FOS. Funding started in 1987 until 1994. The carabao dispersal covered at least 15 communities in two municipalities of Samar.

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Strong POs Essential to Effective Projects

Effective project implementation hinges on one aspect: a strong basic organization.

In the Philippines, basic organizations are called people’s organizations (POs). POs are the partners of the non-government organizations (NGOs) who deliver projects that aim to help poor peasants.

The importance of POs to project implementation cannot be stressed enough by New World (NW) partners.

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Fostering Cooperation

The experience of Samar Rural Assistance Programs in cooperative development in the communities

“For us to live decently, which means we can eat thrice a day, send our children to school and buy medicines, we would have to earn Php 12,000 to 15,000 a month.”

This was Kapitan Erik’s answer when asked how much they need a month to live decently. Kapitan Erik is the village chief of Barangay Vigan, a small village along the Pacific coastline in the province of Samar. Official sources project the actual rural daily cost of living for a family of six in the Philippines at Php 546.80 a day or Php 16,404.00 a month. Continue reading