When gentlemen, leaders agree on things but cannot keep their word, they are no gentlemen nor leaders, they are but men without honor.
Like the Left’s engagement with President Rodrigo Duterte, the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) under his presidency and the militant peasant movement in the region had a promising start. The NTA chief appointed by Duterte called a dialogue with the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (STOP Exploitation) on March 27. The discussion between the tobacco agency and the farmers’ group was the result of a letter sent by the latter reminding the new NTA head of the commitments made with former NTA Administrator Edgardo Zaragoza.
During his term, Zaragoza recognized STOP Exploitation as an independent farmers’ representative in the National Tobacco Tripartite Consultative Conference (NTTCC), giving the organization four representatives in the negotiations from 2011, 2013 and 2015. He also gaverecognized authority for the group to enter trading centers and to monitor farmer’s grievances during the trading season.
However, unlike Duterte, the NTA’s new leadership’s preference and support for corporate interest came out in the open in a much faster phase. Without any hesitation, the new leadership refused to recognize the agreement between STOP Exploitation and the former NTA administration during the March dialogue. NTAs’ pro-corporate stance further manifested when they did not invite STOP Exploitation to the Pre-Tripartite Consultative Conference on August 17 held at the agency’s Candon branch office. It was only through STOP Exploitation’s assertion and exposure of NTA’s looming treachery that they were eventually invited into the NTTCC.
During the NTTCC in Quezon City last September 6, representatives from tobacco traders and corporations pushed for a decrease in the existing floor price. Farmer leaders stood their ground, demanding an increase forcing the NTA to suspend the negotiation. Everyone agreed to continue the talks on the first week of October. But while STOP Exploitation was hopping around the tobacco farming communities, sharing what happened in the NTTCC to consolidate their position, the NTA and the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers and Cooperative (NAFTAC) were busy planning steps to circumvent the firm stand of the farmer leaders.
On September 19, NTA and NAFTAC leaders, entered a clandestine negotiation with tobacco traders and companies. They signed an agreement for P1.00-P3.00 increase for grades AA-F of Virginia tobacco, and maintaining the old floor price for the usable rejected leaves. Farmers’ leaders who attended the September 6 negotiations only learned of the increase when local radio stations aired it.
Clearly, NTA and NAFTAC’s action is reprehensible. But beyond the treachery that the two institutions’ leadership showed, was the reality that the current system will never provide the social justice that farmers long for. The NTA, as an institution set up by a government that serves business interests will definitely favor corporate profit than the farmer’s call for just price. This principle also applies to NAFTAC, an organization comparable to “yellow unions” that sell off workers’ demands to management. Its current president even had the gall to claim that tobacco farmers’ are satisfied with the meager price increase.
It is only fitting that farmers declare these NTA representatives as traitors or even as their enemies fo their actions bared the callousness to the grievances of those who till the land. In fact, “traitor” is a little light for what they did. They feed the farmers to tobacco corporations for their own benefit. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing, cloaking their predatory instincts with titles and sweet talk. They are men without honor.
This incident demonstrated that recognition and respect for farmers’ rights cannot rest only upon the government but must be fought for by the farmers. On this year’s Pesasant’s Month, this further proves that only through militant struggle can farmers truly achieve social justice and the just price for their produce. # nordis.net