For every grain: FARDEC and HUMABOL’s struggle for food security

On July 14, 2014, at around 7 o’clock in the morning, almost 50 elements of the 2nd Special Forces Battalion of the Philippine Army together with the Countrywide Development Program-Purok Power Movement (CDP-PPM) Project Coordinator and Provincial Agriculturist Liza Quirog barged into the rice mill warehouse owned by FARDEC (Central Visayas Farmers Development Center). The armed troops surrounded the rice mill while Quirog along with an armed military personnel, without permission, entered the warehouse and intimidated the resident staff, checked into the papers and receipts on top of the table of the cashier and frisked the sacks of palay piled inside the establishment. They also took photos of the facilities and equipment inside and outside the building. The commotion also terrified the farmers who were there to supposedly have their palay milled.

This incident isjust one of the many cases of attacks and harassment experienced by FARDEC inits 30 years of serving the peasant communities in Central Visayas.

History of FARDEC

The Central Visayas Farmers Development Center Inc. (FARDEC) was established in 1989 as a regional peasant institution which provides services such as capacity building, research, and advocacy on agrarian issues through the Plowshare and Agrarian Probe publications and radio broadcasting through the two radio broadcasting programs. Its area of operations are the peasant communities in Bohol, Cebu, and Negros Oriental. Its two radio broadcast programs, Pugasan sa Kahanginan and Tuburan sa Kamatuoran, aired every Sunday on two different radio stations. They are catering and reaching the entire Visayas island and many areas in Mindanao, as well as the province of Masbate at the south of Luzon. After 3 years, its programs expanded to include community organizing and campaigning in major peasant areas in the three provinces.

In 2003, the programs and area of coverage expanded further to include sustainable agriculture training for the farmers as well as provision of community – managed potable water system, health, and legal services to areas where there existing peasant organizations. The Sustainable Agriculture Program (SAP) aims to increase the peasant communities’ land productivity through the promotion of Diversified Integrated Farming System (DIFS). This is done through backyard gardening and livestock integration for the food self-sufficiency of the households.  Starting in 2008, the alternative rice milling and marketing project was set up called the SEED (Social Enterprise for Economic Development) which was fully supported by the Evangelischer Entwicklungsdienst (EED, now Bread for the World).  The rice mill and warehouse was built in one of its focus areas, the Trinidad Talibon Integrated Farmers Association (TTIFA) community. It is catering to the 7 rice-producing municipalities of Bohol as its supply base. Due to the intense impacts of the typhoons in the past decade, FARDEC is now engaged in building resilient communities in the face of disasters through community organizing, provision of shelter kits, and trainings on community-based disaster management.

Ultimately, FARDEC looks forward to a sovereign and democratic society wherein people from all sectors have equal opportunity to determine their own destiny and are united in pursuing genuine agrarian reform and sustainable development. It is committed to complement and strengthen the collective efforts of the peasantry in Central Visayas, enjoining the middle sectors in society and the international community to support their struggle in liberating themselves from agrarian bondage and poverty.

SEED

The idea for a rice mill project was first conceptualized during the early 2000s. It was HUMABOL’s pioneering leader, Victor Olayvar, who thought of the idea. Sadly, he was brutally murdered on September 8, 2006, at the height of extra judicial killings of activists and progressive forces happening in the country under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

From 2007-2008, a series of consultation between FARDEC and HUMABOL chapters in the municipalities of Trinidad, Ubay, San Miguel, and Mabini were conducted. A feasibility study was done, as well as a training and orientation on managing a social enterprise. A 300 – square meter warehouse and rice mill was built through the fund support of EED. The overall management of the rice mill is assigned to FARDEC. Its establishment and operationalization kicked-off in 2009.  

The 500 – square meter land where the rice mill warehouse stands was donated by the Trinidad-Talibon Integrated Farmers Association (TTIFA) which is part of the land occupation area won by the TTIFA against the Marcos crony-owned Bohol Cattle Corporation (BCC). It is covered by a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) as a land reform area under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The main objective of the rice mill project is to improve and increase the income of the rice farmers in the province. It specifically aims to buy the palay of the rice farmers at a relatively higher price than the one set by the Alturas rice trader. For instance, if Alturas sets the palay farm gate price at P19 per kilo, FARDEC will buy the palay at 50 centavos higher per kilo. FARDEC was able to put up 7 satellite buying centers so that the farmers need not spend to transport their produce, since the buying centers are strategically located near the farms. A hauling truck collects all the palay from these centers and are transported to the central milling and warehouse area which is in the TTIFA vicinity. The buying centers are being managed by an appointed member of the village – level organizations of farmers. For every 40 kilos of palay procured, FARDEC will have to pay the organization P20. From it, the P12 will go to the appointed manager of the buying center and P8 will go to the local organization as its income. The milled rice are sold to farmer-advocates in Bohol and in Cebu, employing the style of “advocacy marketing”. FARDEC strives to build networks and alliances with individuals, schools, companies, and organizations by promoting and selling the milled FARDEC rice at a fair price. In addition, FARDEC explains the situation of the farmers and how buying the produce could help the latter be alleviated from poverty. FARDEC’s rice is also promoted as “freshly-harvested, newly-milled, and has less chemicals” compared to commercial ones. 

Integrating the project with the campaign on organic farming, the farmers were encouraged and taught how to apply sustainable agriculture methods. In doing so, their palay produce will be prioritized in the procurement of FARDEC and will thereby gain the additional 50 centavos increase in the farm gate price. However, practically speaking, farmers could not just shift to organic farming in an abrupt way. They have to first apply what is called the LEISA (Low External Input Sustainable Agriculture) or simply put, the gradual shifting from chemical farming to lesser use of chemical inputs.  Otherwise, the yield will suffer a dramatic decrease. Based on FARDEC’s experience, the campaign for sustainable agriculture among farmers is a tedious process of education and persuasion, and could never be effectively and sustainably done through imposition. The farmers have to see for themselves the concrete positive results in order to be convinced of the need to shift back to organic agriculture. 

At any rate, the FARDEC rice were marketed to farmers as well as to farmer-advocates at a fair price. The start-up capitalization for the procurement was only less than a million. The farmers’ organizations and their individual members have a sense of ownership of the rice mill and warehouse. There are 4 staff coming from the locality who are running the day–to–day operation of the rice mill and warehouse. The buying centers are also under the supervision of the local village organizations where it is situated.  On a per harvest season, the buying centers request an estimated amount of money from FARDEC to be used for the procurement of the palay from individual farmers in the neighborhood. After each buying center is able to fully utilize the funds for procurement, these are being liquidated vis-a-vis the kilograms/volumes of palay procured which are then brought to the warehouse and rice mill. The farmers in the neighboring villages are not just selling their palay to FARDEC.  They are also having some of their palay for consumption milled at the rice mill with a relatively lower milling charge at P1.25 per kilo as compared to the commercial mills which charge P1.50 aside from the   additional costs of transportation if the farmers have to bring their palay to any commercial mills.  There is also the by- product of the palay which is the rice bran which the farmers use as feeds for their livestock. The rice bran is sold at P10 per kilo compared to the P15 per kilo price if farmer bought them in the commercial market. The rice husks are also being used by the farmers for their compost fertilizers and also as fuel for the mechanical dryer. 

FARDEC and HUMABOL hand in hand for food security

FARDEC as an NGO could not manage, operate and sustain this endeavor on its own. It indeed played a vital role in the conceptualization, facilitation of funding support, compliance of operational and legal requirements, and setting-up the process flow and systems of operation. But more importantly, this social enterprise is grounded, founded, and reliant on the collective capacitation and leadership of the farmers’ organizations which are the partners of FARDEC on the ground.

The farmers’ organizations are organized through the Hugpong sa mga Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL). HUMABOL has 20 municipal chapters of peasant organizations within the 46 municipalities in the province. 

As it is in the rest of the country, Bohol has its own monopoly rice trader – the Alturas.  To illustrate how the monopoly trader or rice cartel is operating in Bohol, first they set and control the palay procurement or farm gate price. Because it has the capitalization, almost all the middlemen are their dummies in terms of palay procurement. Alturas owns the biggest rice mill and rice trading in the province as well as the one controlling the trade and business of selling farm inputs – chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

Such a situation prompted HUMABOL, together with FARDEC to address the problem one step-at-a-time. FARDEC introduced the sustainable agriculture (SA) project to the farmers and the farmers led by HUMABOL made a mass campaign regarding this among its ranks. SA is a painstaking campaign requiring continuous education and practice among the farmers who have already been dependent on chemical farming for several decades. 

Then, FARDEC conducted the research and HUMABOL launched a well-supported campaign to demand for an increase in the palay farm gate price throug a series of mobilizations and dialogues with the National Food Authority (NFA) and Alturas. In the middle of 2000, the nationwide palay procurement/farm gate price was set by the monopoly traders at P P8 – 10 a kilo.  HUMABOL farmers demanded that it ought to be increased to P15 a kilo. Being able to mobilize the majority of the rice farmers in the province, the campaign was successful as the palay procurement/farm gate price at that time increased to P12 a kilo and later became P15 a kilo, and then P 17 a kilo. This success led to another conceptualization by HUMABOL and FARDEC of their very own rice milling and fair trading endeavor. 

The rice mill and warehouse concretely exemplifies the essential role of farmers’ organizations in the success of any rural enterprise.  

Intimidation and Harassment

After the raid of the rice mill last July 2014, there were many incidents of sabotage and attempts to discredit the FARDEC and the local chapters of HUMABOL.

On June 7, 2015, the electricity in the warehouse was cut off leaving them the only lot without power, greatly hampering its operations. Later, the staff found out that the local electric provider, Bohol Electric Cooperative-II (BOHECO-II), arbitrarily cut the electric supply of the rice mill based on an alleged complaint which the BOHECO II refuses to show.[1]

Thus, an International Fact Finding Mission (IFFM) was held on September 20-22, 2015 co-organized by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), and FARDEC, in cooperation with HUMABOL. The international participants came from various organizations, namely: Friends of the Earth-Japan, Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (AGRA)-Indonesia, Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), and Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR)-Sri Lanka. Several national organizations also participated in the IFFM.[2]

Gathered from the interview with Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Grace Fua were controversial statements against FARDEC and the agrarian reform beneficiaries in the TTIFA area. Fua claims that the TTFA does not have a CLOA for the land that it currently cultivates and shares with the FARDEC-managed rice mill. To the delegates’ dismay, she bluntly admitted it was her office that requested for the installation of the military camp within Barangay San Vicente where the rice mill operates. She was also determined in stating that she is not convinced of the legality of the rice mill, even questioning the building permit that was issued for the construction of the now Sitio Panaghiusa facility. However, FARDEC’s Executive Director, Patrick Torres, clarified that it was in fact the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in 2009 which issued the approval of the construction of the rice mill facility based on the Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) issued covering 600 hectares of the land under Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) and TTIFA as beneficiary. From the interviews, Torres emphasized that TTIFA and FARDEC have indeed made a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) for the use of the land for the rice mill project.[3]

Most disturbing are the human rights violations which ranged from intimidation to vilification campaigns against leaders and members of HUMABOL chapters. The military told them to stop participating in the activities of HUMABOL, otherwise, they will no longer be beneficiaries of government projects and programs. Also blatant from the interviews are the testimonies of the farmers identifying not only military personnel but representatives from local government agencies threatening them. Individuals from the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD) and the governor’s office program CDP-PPM, accompanied by the armed military troops would discourage them from participating in HUMABOL, FARDEC and certain NGOs’ activities.[4]

Almost in all focused-group discussions with the farmers are reports of CDP-PPM coordinators bribing the residents. They were told not to support HUMABOL in exchange of livestock, rice, and seedlings. According to the members of HUMABOL, they were constantly visited and bribed by the CDP-PPM representatives through house-to-house approach.[5]

The IFFM also conducted an interview with a group of young people. They claimed that threats were not limited to HUMABOL farmers but students and the youth are also discouraged to join a certain cultural group, the Bolanong Artista nga may Diwang Dagohoy (Bohol Artists with Dogohoy Spirit-BANSIWAG). They disclosed the aggressive recruitment of rural youth to the AFP-backed New Guardians for Freedom and Democracy, Inc. (NGI) whose members are oriented not to join HUMABOL and are tasked to do intelligence work for the military against the local farmer organization.[6]

Distressing reports of persecution and red tagging came out from the discussions with the organized farmers. The IFFM team acquired flyer describing HUMABOL as illegal and alleging its chairperson, Danilo Olayvar, as the perpetrator to a murder case. Local farmers were also victims of the vilification campaign, exposed in the group discussion was the case of 73-year old peasant woman and local barangay official accused of being members of the rebel group New People’s Army.[7]

When asked about the most important concern of the community, they would identify the threat and insecurity brought about by the military camp as their biggest concern. The IFFM team was able to uncover the illegal and deceitful maneuvers of the AFP to acquire the land for their military camp. A couple that was interviewed decried the occupation of their agricultural land by AFP armed troops. The elderly farmers were illiterate and were duped to sign a contract allowing the encroachment of the military camp. According to them, they could not do anything as they bulldozed their crops to make way for the military camp facilities.[8]

The delegates of the IFFM were able to interview Gov. Edgar M. Chato who insisted that the CDP-PPM is a civilian and poverty alleviation program. He further explained that the Department of Interior and Local Governance (DILG) and military through the 802nd Infantry Brigade, 2nd Special Forces Battalion, and 7th Regional Public Safety Battalion are closely operating with CDP-PPM projects.[9]

Some members of the IFFM team were permitted to enter the Camp Rajah Sikatuna, headquarters of Special Forces Sabertooth Battalion in Barangay Katipunan, in the municipality of Carmen. The Commanding Officer, Col. Arnulfo Matanguihan, participated in the interview and was determined to justify the existence of the detachment in San Vicente. According to him, it was not a mere detachment that they are installing but a full-fledged military camp. He further explained that they are primarily targeting areas where supposed land disputes are prevalent.[10]

From Struggles Spring Hope

Indeed, Bohol’s remarkable history of successful campaigns is also coupled with a painful record of precious lives of farmer-leaders and active community organizers lost to extra-judicial killings and human rights violations perpetrated by the military.  

But the fact that some development organizations and farmers’ organizations have dared to put up and are able to sustain socio-economic initiatives such as the TTIFA-FARDEC rice mill despite the difficulties and obstacles that the communities are facing is proof that they are not hopeless nor helpless.

To quote Carmelo Tabada, FARDEC’s Bohol Local Center Coordinator, “yawe gyud ang kalig on sa organization sa mga mag-uuma ug ang ilang naabot nga disiplina para sila mismo nakat – on ug nasaligan nga makadumala ning proyekto ug makasugakod bisan pa man sa daghang kalisdanan ug babag nga ilang giigpawan. Kini tungod kay nilihok sila ug namuno isip kolektibo.” (The key here is the strength of the farmers’ organizations   and the organizational discipline. They have learned and they can already be trusted to manage the project.  They are able to sustain and overcome all the difficulties and stumbling blocks because they work and lead as a collective). Inspired by the Rice mill enterprise, another chapter of HUMABOL in Maribojoc, a group of coconut farmers, the Tinibgan Farmers Association (TFA) with the help of Women’s Development Center (WDC) is also able to set up an Integrated Coconut Development Processing Plant in barangay Tinibgan, Maribojoc. The   plant is processing desicated coconut, virgin coconut oil, and coconut sauce made from coconut water and coconut vinegar. The supply base are the coconut farmers who are members of HUMABOL.  The latter is also planning to put up a feedmill to process the waste and by-products of the coconut processing plant and of the rice mill. This will be in the municipality of Mabini to be managed by its chapter in the said municipality.


[1] Executive Summary. International Fact Finding Mission: Asserting and Defending Bohol Farmers’ Initiatives and Victories in their Struggle for Land and Human Rights. September 20-22, 2015.p.3

[2] Ibid.p.1

[3] Ibid.p.4

[4] Ibid.p.3

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.p.4

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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AscentPH

AscentPH is a national alliance of development organizations determinedly working for the empowerment of the people through poverty alleviation and promoting and defending the right to development and other fundamental human rights and freedoms.

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