Aliansa dagiti Pesante iti Kordiliera (APIT TAKO)

Cordillera Regional Chapter of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

El Niño: a national crisis

Since July 2023, the whole Philippines has been subjected to the drought brought by El Niño, an environmental phenomenon that causes long periods of intense heat and little rainfall in tropical countries.

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Administration (PAGASA) distinguishes three types of El Niño conditions: (1) dry condition, two consecutive months of little-to-no rainfall; (2) dry spell, three consecutive months of little-to-no rainfall; (3) drought, more than three months of little-to-no rainfall.  As of March 2024, PAGASA has identified 12 provinces in which dry conditions obtain, 22 provinces in which there is a dry spell, and 37 provinces in which there is drought.

Municipalities and provinces that rely mostly on agriculture have been hard-hit, with various reports revealing a shortage of irrigation and a decrease in the production of rice, onions, vegetables, and other essential crops. The Department of Agriculture (DA) estimates ₱2.63 billion worth of crop losses affecting 54,203 farmers nationwide.  However, these figures from the DA are based on incomplete reports.  In the Cordillera, for example, the reports have covered only irrigated rice fields – leaving out rainfed palay as well as vegetable farms – and indicate that only 1,902 farmers have been affected by the drought.

The government lacks urgency and initiative for distributing calamity aid to El Niño-stricken farmers.  It downplays the effects of the drought, apparently to create a citizen mindset that will just passively wait for El Niño to be over this June, July or August.  Based on the situation report of the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council (NDRRMC), the DA has prioritized monitoring and information dissemination, rather than giving aid to farmers who have suffered severe crop damage and are now heavily in debt.

The DA boasts that it has distributed ₱1.08 billion worth of financial assistance to El Niño-stricken areas, dispersed drought-resistant seeds (of mung bean, BT corn, etc.), and done some cloud seeding.  However, the financial “assistance” actually consists of loans, and does not alleviate but, rather, adds to the overall debt that farmers have incurred because of their crop losses and the high prices they have had to pay for farm inputs. The too-late and newly-created Task Force El Niño is not much of a help, with its inane and vulgar “solutions” like relieving the heat by not wearing underwear and saving water by not flushing toilets.

The Cordillera region under El Niño

The Cordillera region is not exempt from the crisis of El Niño. Wet-rice, swidden, and vegetable farmers in the Cordillera experience the serious effects of the heat not only in their farming but also in other aspects of their lives. It is puzzling that although CAR is recognized as experiencing drought, the data from the government speak little about the effects of El Niño on the farmers in the region.

Kalinga and Apayao were assessed last September 2023 to be experiencing below-normal rainfall.  In January 2024, the two provinces, along with the other provinces in the region, were assessed to be suffering drought.  However, as of writing, only one municipality, Mayoyao in Ifugao, has declared a state of calamity.

The most hard-hit are wet-rice producing communities in parts of lowland Abra and lowland Kalinga that are not serviced by the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).  Some farmers in these areas have been forced to find jobs in nearby economic centers, such as Bangued, Baguio, Vigan, and Tuguegarao.

Benguet and the Mountain Province have been experiencing higher-than-normal heat indices.  The heat has sparked fires in the pine forests, and these fires have spread quickly, across vast areas in the municipalities of Bokod, La Trinidad, Tuba, Bontoc, and Sagada. Baguio City, already afflicted by environmental decay due to urban blight, experiences both flash fires and water shortages. Some barangays in the city have had no water service for three weeks to one month.

El Niño has blighted the livelihood of many Cordillera farmers.  Rice producers will likely be unable to harvest enough palay, whether for their own families’ subsistence or for the market.  Vegetable growers will likely lose significant portions of their crop.  They will thus be unable to take full advantage of the surge in prices for their produce – ironically driven by the scarcity of supply caused by El Niño.  Last February, the Philippine Statistics Authority recorded a nationwide 39% increase in the farmgate price of palay.  From early March to early April, the price of chayote at the Benguet Agri-Pinoy Trading Center went up by as much as 242%!

To compound all this, farmers must brace themselves for what PAGASA predicts will follow El Niño – the excessive rain and extensive floods brought by another natural phenomenon, La Niña.

An environmental crisis experienced by the peasantry and the whole citizenry

The Cordillera region, as a whole, is not yet on the verge of environmental devastation. This is because our people have been steadfast and, to a large extent, successful in defending our ancestral lands.  However, thousands of hectares of what used to be forest and farmland in the province of Benguet have already been destroyed by large-scale mining – by companies like Benguetcorp, Philex, Itogon-Suyoc (now owned by Apex), and Lepanto. We can expect the same to happen to other parts of our region if we allow large mines to be opened here by CEXCI-Nickel Asia, Makilala-Celsius, FCF-MTL, and other corporations.

Thousands of hectares of the most productive ricelands in Benguet and at Ifugao’s border with Isabela now lie underwater – in the reservoirs of the Ambuklao, Binga, San Roque, and Magat dams.  Our rivers have been exploited for hydropower by companies like SN Aboitiz, Luzon Hydro, Hedcor, the San Roque Power Corporation, etc.  More of our rivers and ancestral lands will be ruined if we surrender control of them to energy firms like the San Miguel Corporation (the giant behind Strategic Power and Pan Pacific), SM Investments (owner of the Philippine Geothermal Production Company), the Energy Development Corporation, JBD Water Power, etc.

We, farmers, are dependent on the health of the environment for our livelihood and overall survival. This makes us vulnerable to disasters associated with the situation of the environment – like El Niño and the current global climate crisis.  El Niño is a recurring natural phenomenon.  However, in recent years, it has been occurring more frequently, more intensely, and for longer periods than normal because of higher sea temperatures.  Its effects on the environment and on people have become more dire.

Big business firms, through the mass media, have been putting the blame on us, the common people, for the rise in global temperatures, citing our careless discard of single-use, non-biodegradable plastics, our waste of electricity, and farmers’ continued use of fossil fuels for hand tractors and water pumps, and the transport of produce.  They fail to mention their clearing of vast tracts of forest for their projects in energy, mining, logging, and  plantation agriculture.

Equally accountable as the capitalist giants are their enablers among legislators and in the bureaucracy, who have relinquished public interest to private greed by liberalizing agricultural production and trade, and by providing countless loopholes in environmental and social regulation.  In adopting neo-liberalist policies, fostered by imperialist institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Congress has deprived farmers of subsidies and protection from imports; successive Presidents from GMA to Marcos Jr. have reduced state support to the NIA, the National Food Administration (NFA), the DA in general, the Environmental Management Bureau, and the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as a whole.  Not only agriculture but practically all sectors of the economy have been liberalized.  Thus, in terms of the economy, the charter change being pushed by the current administration of Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., is actually a redundancy.  The motive of Marcos Jr. and his cronies is clearly political – i.e., the perpetuation of their control of power.

Peasants unite!

What we must do is unite among ourselves and fight to alleviate our livelihood during this El Niño crisis.  While it is understandable that many of us are scared because of the threats and harassments that we in the Philippine peasant movement have been facing, we should remember that there is nothing wrong in organizing ourselves and collectively fighting for our rights. There is nothing wrong in calling for aid during this El Niño. There is nothing wrong in calling for free and clean irrigation.

When the state uses force against us, we should hold fast to the essence of why we are fighting. We should question the state: will we wait for El Niño to be finished and La Niña to wreak its own havoc before you give us aid? We are the tillers of the land, the food providers of the nation. The drought of El Niño and the floods of La Niña will bring us nothing but hunger. Where will we go as a nation when the ones who plant, nurture and reap our foodcrops are dead because of starvation or, worse, state violence?

We should go on to hold Marcos Jr. and his predecessors accountable for all the projects and policies that negatively affect us farmers. We should call out their inutility and lack of urgency in giving aid and support amid this environmental crisis. We should also fight against the imperialists and big capitalists who destroy the environment, and whose greed has created the current global climate crisis.

We should organize farmers’ and fishers’ associations, and demand aid from the government.  We should join the rest of the Philippine peasant movement in its reiteration of its long-standing national call for a ₱15,000 production subsidy to all farmers and fisherfolk! #