[Press Release] DIGNIDAD Alliance joins Farmers March – Quezon Province to Quezon City

DIGNIDAD Alliance joins Farmers March – Quezon Province to Quezon City:
Walk for Land, Right to food, Livelihoods, the Full Recovery of Coco Levy Fund
and a Life of Dignity for All

DIGNIDAD para sa lahatHundreds of farmers will lead a “Walk for Land, Right to Food, Livelihoods, the Full Recovery of Coco Levy Fund and a Life of Dignity for All,” from Sariaya, Quezon to the Department of Agrarian Reform in Quezon City on April 12 to 20, 2016.  The eight-day march that shall pass through Laguna, Muntinlupa, Baclaran, and Manila will highlight the rural poor’s issues, namely: land rights, agrarian reform, right to food, and coco levy.

“This is an important and symbolic expression of grassroots people’s demand for a life of dignity.” Buhay na may Dignidad para sa Lahat or DIGNIDAD Alliance supports this farmers-led activity to demand for right to food as well as other social protection measures that will ensure a life of dignity for all, DIGNIDAD leaders announced in a press conference today.

Ric Reyes of Walden Bello-Dignidad Campaign explained the failure of agrarian reform, the so-called centerpiece program under the 1987 Constitution which promised to promote equity and social justice. “Land distribution barely moved under the current Administration despite a relatively stronger law, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER). Last year’s accomplishment of only 30,000 hectares out of the target of 205,000 hectares shows the depth of CARPER implementation paralysis.”

“Even the reformed lands are being reversed. One of the causes of which is the belated application for exemption filed by former landowners by invoking DOJ Opinion 44, series of 1990 that exempts from CAPR the lands reclassified into non-agricultural uses prior to 1988,” Reyes added.

Jojo Clavo from Katarungan lamented that in Sariaya, Quezon, such reversal will result in the cancellation of Certificate of Land Ownership Award affecting 2,000 families of farmer-beneficiaries. “Land reform reversals undermine the economic and political gains of agrarian communities whose lives have been vastly improved by the agrarian reform process. These also have dire consequences to the food security situation of the country in general.”

Clavo also raised that the 200 billion-peso Coco Levy Fund is another major issue that has a big impact on farmers like him. “The coco levy fund portion recovered so far, estimated at more than PhP 76 B, is still unutilized due to the failure of Congress to legislate the proposed Coconut Levy Trust Fund Bill.  Meanwhile, Executive Orders 179 and 180 on Coco Levy, issued by President Aquino in March 2015, which could have already benefited the farmers are still stuck at the Supreme Court after a group identified closely with Danding Cojuangco was granted a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). The Supreme Court must immediately lift such TRO and re-open the case of the 20% SMC shares to an instrument of justice for small coconut farmers.”

“We join organizations and individuals belonging to Katarungan and Walden Bello-Dignidad Campaign that are among the leading networks of this initiative demanding from our incumbent and incoming officials, as well as in informing the public on the agrarian reform agenda: protection of small farmers and the agriculture sector amidst climate change, and coco levy recovery and utilization,” said DIGNIDAD spokesperson Ana Maria R. Nemenzo.

Dr. Rene Ofreneo, also a spokesperson of DIGNIDAD and chairperson of the Integrated Rural Development Foundation, expressed support to the farmers in Quezon in demanding the immediate return of coco levy funds to the farmers. “Many of the original contributors to the fund are now old, sick and dying. To this day, they have not received any of the benefits of their own money that has been promised to them,” he deplored.

The coco levy assets are now estimated to be about P83 billion according to the Presidential Commission on Good Government, P73 billion of these are in cash (liquidated shares from the food giant San Miguel Corp. and P10 billion are in shares of stock in the United Coconut Planters Bank and oil mills operated by the Coconut Industry Investment Fund. More than 20 million coconut farmers and their families are expected to benefit from the fund coming from around 21,000 coconut-producing villages across the country.

DIGNIDAD also expressed solidarity with the farmers who protested in Kidapawan and condemned police violence and brutality against them. “We warn the police and other state forces from enforcing similar force on our ranks. We are taking to the streets to exercise our valid rights, raise legitimate issues and highlight the suffering experienced by thousands of farmers in the wake of El Niño and climate change. We are compelled to bring the attention of our neglectful government to the dire situation in the provinces,”  said Ka Trining Domingo who is also a farmer herself and chairperson of Katipunan ng Bagong Pilipina (KaBaPa).

Nemenzo announced that the farmers-led action also coincides with the start of DIGNIDAD’s Lakbay para sa Buhay na may Dignidad para sa Lahat or Lakbay-Dignidad. She explained that Lakbay-Dignidad highlights the crucial need – not only of farmers and other marginalized sectors, but of the big majority of society – for adequate food and regular jobs, humane housing, reliable health care, free education up to tertiary level, living pension, and safe and efficient public transportation. “These are the basic demands we are pushing for as part of a universal and comprehensive social protection that the new administration must enforce.”

The Lakbay-Dignidad is a combination of caravan, march, and mobile public information activities in parts of northern, central and southern Luzon, as well as in Visayas and Mindanao this April to May 2016. This will be accompanied by a “selfie campaign” wherein people are encouraged to post on Facebook a photo of himself or herself carrying a poster, a placard or flashing a DIGNIDAD “d” sign expressing demand to have a life of dignity.

Nestor Yaranon of Kilos Maralita explained that aside from Laguna and Cavite in southern Luzon, Lakbay-Dignidad will also take place in the provinces of Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Pampanga and Bulacan  and in Visayas and Mindanao on April 22 to 30, with public assemblies in key areas.

Buhay na may Dignidad para sa Lahat (DIGNIDAD) is a newly-established broad alliance of grassroots networks from labor, urban poor, women, and peasant sectors, political blocs, party lists, human rights NGOs and issue-based coalitions advancing an urgent agenda that will ensure a life of dignity for all Filipinos. It advocates for a universal, comprehensive, and transformative social protection based on human rights, social justice, solidarity, ecological sustainability and participatory democracy.

APRIL 11, 2016
Contact:  DIGNIDAD Media Liaison Officer Don Pangan (mobile: 09233250192)

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