Every October, Filipino farmers celebrate Peasant Month coinciding with the issuance of Presidential Decree No. 27 by then president Ferdinand Marcos on Oct. 21, 1972. It was supposed to be for “the emancipation of tenants from the bondage of the soil.”
However, certain provisions of the law actually protected the interests of landlords, such as granting them a retention limit of seven hectares and including only tenanted rice and corn lands. Moreover, the value of the land was fixed at two and a half times the average harvest of three normal crop years immediately preceding its promulgation. It was then made to be paid for 15 years of 15 annual payments with 6 percent interest per annum.
Because of the inherent limitations of the law in actually giving lands to the farmers, PD 27 ultimately failed in giving social justice to the poor peasants. It thus comes as no surprise that they commemorate the event with a series of protests and long marches to Mendiola. They want to highlight the sad fact that the various so-called agrarian reform programs by the government have failed to give them their own land to till.
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “land is not a mere commodity, but an essential element for the realization of many human rights.” Aside from preventing them from achieving the right to adequate food, the lack of a genuine agrarian reform program actually prevents the farmers from achieving their economic, social, and cultural rights (ESC) and consequently, the right to development. These refer to human rights relating to livelihood, social security, family life, participation in cultural life, and access to food, water, housing, healthcare, and education. Thus, forced displacement of rural communities due to mining, mega dams, or agricultural plantations result to homelessness, loss of livelihood, and even the wellbeing of the people.
Aside from ESC rights, the fundamental right to life is being violated by the state in its perpetuation of landlessness among farmers. According to Karapatan, 91 farmers have been killed since President Duterte’s presidency and many others suffered from harassment, illegal arrest, and trumped-up charges. They experienced these horrendous acts because they were defending the right to own the very land they are tilling.
As a member of the United Nations, the Philippine government is responsible in ensuring that every Filipino will be able to enjoy his/her basic human rights. Hence, it is the state’s duty to enact a genuine agrarian reform law that guarantees land to the poorest peasant.
SHARLENE LOPEZ, national coordinator, Assert Socio Economic Initiatives Network of the Philippines, firstname.lastname@example.org