October 8, 2015
ESTRELLA F. CATARATA, Executive Director
Who is afraid of a rice mill?
Members of HUMABOL (Hugpong sa mga Mag-uumang Bol-anon), a provincial peasant organization, asked the help of FARDEC in conducting the IFFM because of the imminent threat to their lives and livelihood. Since early quarter of this year, a military company camp of the Special Forces Battalion has been set up, with a distance of 720 meters from the rice mill. It is also near the vicinity of the farms and residential areas where members of the Trinidad Talibon Integrated Farmers Association (TTIFA) live. With the rice mill and TTIFA leaders and members subjected to “red labelling”, the farmers feared the presence of a military encampment within the area.
Previous incidents of harassment occurred last July 22, 2014 when Liza Quirog, Bohol’s Provincial Agriculture Officer, together with 50 elements of the Philippine Army illegally entered the rice mill warehouse, took photos, frisked the piled sacks of palay and intimidated the staff. She then proceeded to release photos and statements to the Bohol media alleging that FARDEC is a failure in its projects.
Another one happened this year on July 7 when the Bohol Electric Cooperative arbitrarily cut the warehouse’s electricity connection. Several news releases coming from the Bohol provincial government and military propagated the lies that the Sitio Panaghiusa Rice Mill is “illegal”, without any permits and licenses.
However, Catarata asserted the truth that “when the Rice Mill was built in 2009, FARDEC secured a building permit, wherein one of the requirements was an approval by the Department of Agrarian Reform Officer for the conversion of 500 square meters of agricultural lands into a post harvest facility. It also secured an Environmental Compliance Certificate from the DENR. Before its actual operation, the National Food Authority also issued it a license as Wholesaler and Retailer. On a yearly basis, a business permit is also secured and issued by the Municipal government of Trinidad upon compliance of all the requirements. The fact is, the Rice Milling and Marketing has been in existence for five years, and well recognized by the Municipal government of Trinidad as a partner in alleviating the situation of rice farmers, not just in Trinidad but also in neighboring municipalities.”
She then stressed that “the Rice Mill is extremely beneficial to the farmers. It procures palay at .50 centavos per kilo higher than the price set by the big traders. It also provides a rice mill facility which is lower in milling fees, thereby increasing the farmers’ income and providing the farmers easy access to such a very important post harvest facility.” She also adds that “the provincial government is supposed to be thankful for this project because in fact, there is no other medium-scale rice milling project in the province that is truly for the farmers’ needs and operated by the farmers.”
Built within the 600 hectares, the Sitio Panaghiusa Rice mill started its operation in 2010 and has a rice supply base coming from more or less 30 barangays within the municipalities of Trinidad, Ubay, Dagohoy, San Miguel, Mabini and Talibon. It was built through the financial support of Bread for the World – Protestant Development Services (based in Germany) through FARDEC.
When the military was interviewed by the IFFM team, they stated that Bohol has been cleared of the New People’s Army and the provincial government has also declared the province “insurgency – free”.
“Given their pronouncement, it is a huge question to us why they are putting up a military camp within the TTIFA area and in an agrarian reform land, at that. The Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer in Bohol, Grace Fua must answer for this because she was the one who wrote a letter requesting the 802nd Special Forces for a military encampment in a peaceful agrarian reform area,” adds Catarata.
PNFSP, in behalf of FARDEC and HUMABOL, appeals to all the peace loving people of Bohol, especially the church who have always been supportive to the plight of the farmers to help strengthen and protect the Boholano farmers’ initiatives for food security which is the Sitio Panaghiusa Rice Milling and Marketing project. Let us all work for peace and protection of human rights especially among the poor farmers who have always been hapless victims of violations and abuses.
“It is not only the Lumad schools in Mindanao that the military is harassing, but also a medium-scale Rice Milling and Marketing Project in Sitio Panaghiusa.” This was asserted by Estrella Catarata, Executive Director of PNFSP, and a leading participant in the recently held International Fact Finding Mission in Sitio Panaghiusa, Trinidad, Bohol. The IFFM was organized by the Central Visayas Farmers Development Center (FARDEC), registered owner of the Rice Mill and member of PNFSP. The Sitio Panaghiusa Rice Mill has been subjected to various vilification, harassment, and militarization, similar to the experiences of the farmers’ organizations and its leaders who co-manage the project.