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Philippine farm workers call for stop to killings, harassment

At least 81 farm worker leaders have been killed by the security forces during Duterte's first year in office

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Inday Espina-Varona, Manila

Published: October 12, 2017 09:38 AM GMT

Updated: October 12, 2017 09:39 AM GMT

Philippine farm workers call for stop to killings, harassment

Philippine farm worker leaders announce on Oct. 10 that they will be holding a march to protest the killings and harassment of farmers in the provinces. (Photo by Inday Espina-Varona)

The former agrarian reform minister of President Rodrigo Duterte led farm worker leaders on Oct. 10 to demand a stop to the killings and arrest of farmers across the country.

Rafael Mariano, whose appointment was rejected by a Congress that is dominated by Duterte allies, branded the situation in the country under a "de facto martial law."

At a forum to announce the peasant protest march later this month, Mariano warned the president against appointing a retired military general to head the agrarian reform office.

Mariano said a retired general handling agrarian reform would only open farmers to human rights violations as they defend their land from big developers.

Agrarian reform would be used for anti-insurgency goals, he said, raising the possibility of land reform beneficiaries getting barred from land they have waited for decades to occupy.

Data from the Union of Farm Workers show that at least 81 farm worker leaders have been killed by the military and paramilitary troops during Duterte's first year in office.

Mariano also expressed apprehension that the government will junk a proposed two-year conversion moratorium of 200,000 hectares of agricultural land.

The farm worker forum following the release of a national survey that showed an 18-point drop in Duterte's net satisfaction ratings compared to results of a similar survey during the first quarter of the year.

The president's net trust rating also dropped by 15 points.

Mahar Mangahas, head of pollster Social Weather Stations, said that while Duterte's grades remain "good," his ratings fell faster than his predecessors, except for ousted president Joseph Estrada.

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Among the country's farm workers and fisherfolk, Duterte's satisfaction rating dropped 32 points.

Joseph Canlas of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines said Duterte has abandoned all his "progressive campaign pledges" for the rural masses.

"He has done a complete turnaround and we want him out," said Canlas.

During the election campaign, Duterte promised "inclusive growth for the poor."

Peace talks between the government and communist rebels have been in limbo, stalling the finalization of a critical agreement on socio-economic reforms.

The president said peace talks will not happen under his watch, adding that "realities of the presidency" have forced him to step back on some of his election promises.

"Of course, you have ideals; on what you want the world to be. But when you get older, you would know that this is not really possible, that life is really unfair," said Duterte.

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