Women Peasant study trip to the Philippines



End of August 2005, women peasants from South East Asia and East Asia met for a woman peasants training in Seoul hosted by the Korean Woman Peasant Association (KWPA). This meeting also helped the regional delegation to know better about KWPA activties as well as visiting farms in South Korea. The regional delegation consisted of FSPI Indonesia, NOUMINREN Japan, HASATIL Timor Leste, AOP Thailand, KMP Philippine, PARAGOS Philippine, KWPA South Korea and VNFU Vietnam. All of us were committed to strengthen woman peasant and create solidarity among us.

The Training in August issued an important action plan for woman peasants members of La Via Campesia, such as the International women peasant forum and woman peasant rally on December 15, 2005 in Hong Kong. The action in Hong Kong showed that women not only struggle in our villages but also successfully struggle at the international level, against the ministerial meeting of WTO in Hong Kong. The action in Hong Kong strengthened the women dynamics in Via Campesina. There were women from India, Bangladesh, Brazil, France, Norway, USA, Korea, Indonesia, Philippine, Japan and many others.

The other important result of the meeting is that we got a better understanding on the real situation of women peasants in one country and learn from their experience on sustainable Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, microfinance, woman organization, biodiversity, food sovereignty etc. On November 3-8, 2006 La Via Campesina South East Asian and East Asia organized a women peasants’ study trip to the Philippine hosted by La Via Campesina members in Philippine (KMP and PARAGOS formerly known as DKMP).  

Women Peasants situation in Philippine

Land is at the core of rural women empowerment, rural development and food security. Since opportunities in rural development are tied to the land, women farmers should have access and control over the land they till. But there are institutional and cultural barriers that deter women farmers from claiming their rights to the land. For instance, the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) in Philippines leaves much to be desired when it comes to recognized women farmers as agrarian reform beneficiaries; liberalization and privatization policies do not make it easier for women to secure their rights to the land especially on the midst of threats of land conversions, mining, export oriented agriculture and an overall inhospitable neoliberal climate.

Rural women comprise a sizable section in the agriculture sector but they remain marginalized in many aspect of rural development. On a sect oral basis, many women are involved in staple food production. Most (37.36 percent) of the women in agriculture belong to the rice sector and 26.81 percent to the corn sector.

Women’s role in agriculture is unrecognized partly because they have little control over productive resources and lack access to rural developments programs. Characterized as property less, many of rural woman work as seasonal workers who are hired during the planting and harvesting seasons in rice and corn areas, women are hired to apply fertilizer and pick nuts. More often than not, women get the least paying jobs.

Women have begun to augment farming income by engaging in various economic activities e.g. as vendors, retailers, cosmetic dealers, laundry women, beauticians domestic helper, etc. These women now belong to the informal economy, which is largely unregulated, unstable and generate very low and irregular incomes.

In Philippine labor migration has increasingly absorbed women’s participation, particularly in overseas domestic and service work where around ninety percent are women, mostly from rural areas. The rise in rural-urban migration is also apparent in the urban domestic service sector; which often peaks during the lean months. Young women work either as domestic helper, sales clerks, or serves in the cities during summer. Some end up as victims in sex trafficking, while others are forced into prostitution.

In industrializing rural areas, particularly in lands that have been converted to non-agricultural use (e.g. export processing zones) women find work in the factories. They usually last ‘last to be hired and first to be fired’ among regular workers. Moreover, the women are most wanted when it comes to casual or contractual employment. Contract, including home-based contracting, serves the employer the costs of full time wages and benefit meant for regular workers, especially for women who are eligible for maternity benefits. Clearly, women suffer various forms of exploitation and occupational hazards and that they are exposed to in the workplace. Women who try to cope with rural poverty do so from a disempowered position. They are forced to undertake work that addresses their daily economic needs but not their empowerment needs.

Study trip visit to the rural area

During her orientation speech, Mrs Yoon Geum Soon, International Ccoordinating Committee’s member of La Via Campesina insited about the importance of this kind of women visit. It was the first time we organized this in the region and it is important to increase our solidarity. Within our region, we need to understand better what are the similarities and the difference between us in order to build strong alliances on the basis of good understanding among us. Our program, on the short term, is to share information and on the long term, to build an education program and to increase the living standard of women. We need to develop this exchange program into the woman conference in the region. Short time trips are not enough to learn everything but we use this opportunity to learn from each others and to develop our woman peasant movement.

The first place that we visited was in Cavite province. There we met the SAMATA (farmer union in Tartarian), chapter of KMP. The Baranggay consist of 500 households and organizes 300 women in the organization under the name of UGIT (solidarity of mother in Tartarian). The farmers in Tartarian were kicked out from their land in 1979 and are struggling for it since then. UGIT was created because of the harassment and the killing of the husbands in their struggle to protect the land. Tartarian is the place where the community managed to occupy 300 ha of during Marcos regime and planted the land with coffee and pineapple. During the struggle women erected barricades in front line to stop the police from destroying their houses and fields. Mrs. Marina, one of the women’s peasant leaders in Tartarian shared her testimony: her family was killed.

The community works with Cavite Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, Inc (CEMJP), the human rights advocates groups that documents human rights violations and has set up a quick response team. CEMPJP documented the human rights violations since 2001 up to now: 121 incidents documented in 343 cases. The victims were 318 individuals from peasants’communites, 2.315 families from peasants’communities, 273 women and 236 children.

The delegation continued the trip to Ternate that has become a very large garbage dumpin site. During President Marcos, Ternate was mentioned as a Tourist area, because it is situated in the high land and surrounded by paddy fields, volcanos and the sea. But now people suspects it to be a dumping site for chemical toxics from abroad under an agreement with the Philippine government. The people are struggling to stop the government’s plan as this will contaminate farming land, spring water and create environmental damage.

In the evening our group stayed with the peasants’ family and shared the local food together with the community. The main staple food in Philippine is rice mixed with vegetables, fish or chicken. This is the daily diet of the peasant family.

In the morning, we visited Cabangaan with a sister from the church of Tartarian. On February 3, 2006 there were about 200-300 armed policemen who demolished the houses in Cabangaan. 45 families which are composed of 191 individuals hand in hand defended their homes and farming land from the demolition team. Women in the community lead the struggle to defend their rights. The land has been tilled by their ancestors since 1911 after the eruption of Taal volcano. The landlord claims that it is his land and that he plans to grow coffee and pineapple. People continue the struggle. They have occupied half of the road and built shanties.

After the solidarity visit to the community of Cabangaan, the trip continue to Camp Vincente Lim, Calamba, Laguna to visit the “Tagaytay five”. Last April 28 3 peasants organizers and their drivers were arrested. The “Tagaytay five” were tagged as destabilizer and NPA (National People Army). They have been detained and can not contact their families, the wife and children continue to sacrifice and struggle for them    

Our trip continued with the of the groups of PARAGOS women and their activities in the community. The agrarian reform program in Philippine has been implemented since 1988 and lead by the Agrarian Reform Department (DAR). Our regional delegation was received by the secretary of DAR and discussed the implementation of the Agrarian Reform and the importance of the role of woman in the agriculture. The woman peasants need to have access to the land, credit and training to get benefit from the land they till. During the experience sharing, Ms Sachiko Noda of NOUMINREN mentioned her experience in Japan on agrarian reform which is finished 57 years ago; she got access to the credit from the government without any interest to pay. She suggested Philippine government to do the same on access to credit for the beneficiaries.  

We continued our trip to the North by the visit of Culiany Barranggay, the house of PARAGOS president, both he and his wife got the land from the agrarian reform program and grow paddy, vegetables and poultry. They practice organic farming and do not use any pesticide. Mrs. Crecensia mentioned that in the village 80% of the people are farmers. The village is cathergorized as a poor village, many peoples are illiterate. To increase the economic income of the peasants’ families the woman organized the bag making project, candles and soap making in the village. Since 1994 the bag making project collapsed due to the cheap imported bags from China, since the Philippine government joined the WTO. Today, only  a few people can still survive from their home indsutry, such as salted eggs production (they get the duck egg from the duck farm).

The WTO agreement makes the peasant’s position difficult. Expensive pesticide prices pushes peasants to find alternatives and to practice organic farming and use the natural material from around us. The Bocashi (fermented fertilizer) is widely used to replace chemical fertilizers. Chicken manure and rice husk are used as the main material to make the bocashi. This can be used for one year if you store it a plastic bag in a dry place. The price of organic paddy is higher and people prefer to eat pesticide free rice.

Our trip continued to Semeulo Barranggay. In this community, women have created the the Semeulo woman association for the struggle on agrarian reform. People have stayed in the land since 1945 but the landlord now wants to convert it for industrial purpose. People there realize that land is life and should not be taken away from them. They get food and crops from the land and feed their family from it. The women are very creative on the food processing of their farm produce, so that they can get higher prices for their production. Cassava, banana, coconut, peanuts and vegetables from their farm sell them fresh in the market, but women groups also sell them after processing it into cakes, snacks or other products. Women use their spare time to produce candles and ceramics. The women organization is structuered in a way that people are incharge of many things: there is a chairwomen, a treasure, a press officer, a customer relation office etc. The candle making project use a very simple technology which can be applied by anybody. The market only covers the area around the village, for local consumption.

Then we visited Marvelles, Bataan, a fisher-folk and farmers community member of PARAGOS. During our meeting, the women explained that men go fishing, women go farming, or while men are fishing or farming, woman are selling the produce on the local market. Women do not have any other income except from farming and fishing. Mrs Fe, the chairman of Semeulo woman association offered to train them for the food processing training so the production can be sold in high price. This kind of support is needed for women to increase their income as well as woman capacity building.

The last place that we visited was the Corregidor island. On January 22, 1945 Corregidor was caught in the fury of war as the Americans retook the island after a bloody battle. On October 12, 1947 in an impressive turnover ceremony, the American flag was lowered at topside flagstaff for the last time and the flag of republic Philippine was hoisted in its stead. After over 300 years of Spanish, American and Japanese occupation, Corregidor once again belong to the Filipino people. This is the heroic place for the Filipino peoples and the symbol of struggle.

During the meeting with PKKK (National Rural Women Coalition) in the island, Yoon Geum Soon reaffirmed the importance of building a national alliance among woman. PKKK is the coalition of  organizations and federations of association of women peasants, fisher folk, farm workers and indigenous people, including rural women in the sectors of informal labor, elderly, youth and persons with disabilities and NGOs and individuals who works for the interest of the above sectors.

At the end of our long trip hosted by PARAGOS and KMP, our delegation was able to evaluate the program. All delegates expressed their satisfaction about the trip and to witness the ability of woman organize themselves in the community. In the country like Japan, Korea and Vietnam where the agrarian reform has been implemented, cases like demolition of the houses, arrests, torture and even murder of the peasant family rarely happens. The implementation of the agrarian reform still depends on the good will of the government.

The regional woman delegation planed to have another woman peasant study trip to another country next year. The proposed countries are Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia. The main issues which need to be included are the human rights violation against women. It is important to raise people awareness on this issue.  

By Irma Yanny, Regional Staff
La via Campesina Regional South East Asia and East Asia
November 2006