The role of the National Federation of Peasant Women of the Philippines in the struggle for change
05 / 2002
The National Federation of Peasant Women of the Philippines, otherwise known as Amihan, is an organisation that embodies mainly peasant women who suffer from economic, social and cultural oppression. This organisation was founded in october 1986 in the Philippines with the following objectives:
- advocating for genuine land reforms,
- pressing for women’s emancipation,
- struggling for the liberation of the country from "semi-colonialism" as the interviewee put it,
- fighting against poverty and marginalisation.
Peasant women in the Philippines have very limited rights on the land. According to Zenaida Soriano, land is mainly owned by politicians and big businessmen. In many cases, the peasant women have had no alternative but to work as tenants and to depend upon share-cropping, whereby only 30% of the produce is given to them and 70% is left for the landowners. Thus the feudal system operating in the Philippines has subjected the peasant women (who represent half of the 70% peasant population) in abject poverty. Another very awkward situation is that the conditionalities of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and of the World Bank in increasing and encouraging foreign investors is detrimental to the peasantry. As a result, 3,5 million of 5 million hectares of land set aside for rice is under the process of conversion for the cultivation of export crops and business complexes. If this scheme is implemented it will decrease the land allotted for corn and rice (staple food) and consequently their supply. Besides, the big landowners in the Philippines have it a common practice to share out land to their heirs contrary to the law of the land. In doing this, if the land owner or the patriarch’s share reduces to 7 or less hectares, it is exempted from land reform which compells the land owner to redistribute a part of the land to the peasants. For all these reasons, the peasant women, under the canopy of the National Federation of Peasant Women of the Philippines, have been clamouring for genuine land reforms. Throwing light on the objective of women’s emancipation, Zenaida Soriano noted that women are not adequately represented in the government, not consulted when economic, social and political decisions affecting them are being taken, and very often sexually abused. Speaking on the liberation of the Philippines, Zenaida said that the country is a "semi-colony" of the United States of America. This, she said, was because the latter has invested huge capital. And any attempts by the Philippines peasantry to demand economic justice have been resisted by the state through the influence of the U.S.A. In a nutshell, Philippine’s economy is dominated by the multinationals such as Monsanto in connivance with local capitalists. For this reason, Amihan is pressurising government to ward off this external influence. In an attempt to achieving the above mentioned objectives, Amihan has set up a number of strategies. It has embarked on pulling together economic resources for marketing at rural and grass root level. For instance, in 1994 the Federation bought goods on a limited scale from members and sold them to non-governmental organisations. In spite of its slowliness, the transportation of the goods by "jeep" reduced the cost of handling and prevented the risk of incurring waste. In an effort to raising gender-consciousness and skills, Amihan has since its creation been empowering its members to be self-supportive, especially in the economic domain. As a result of the education acquired, especially at the grass root level, the peasant women are pushing forcefully for their situation to be averted. Health issues are also discussed during workshops and seminars and Amihan has set up structures at local, regional and provincial levels with elected executives who have been established to coordinate its activity. The Federation has also expressed its grievances through advocacy, campaigns, alliances and public information, addressing the land problem and the rampant rape of women among others. Another preoccupation of the Federation has been to help alleviate the conditions of internal refugees by giving assistance to peasant families displaced by military bombings and operations in the countryside. Notwithstanding the effort made in solving economic and social problems, some shortcomings have been encountered, like a lack of funds to finance Amihan’s projects, such as mechanisation of agriculture and dumping of foreign goods in the Philippines that has adversely affected the peasants over the years. As a result, local products have become expensive and, therefore, their demand fell. The Philippines’ economy is still dominated by the U.S.A that have contributed to the diminishing resource base. Also, some of the laws made by the government have not been implemented: a case in point is the rampant rape of women, that is blamed on them because they "dress amorously".
However some achievement have be made, among which are funding through assistances from religions groups, membership dues and external sources. Through education and training, peasant women are more conscious of their plight, they are now more informed and their agricultural skills have improved. Also, more experience about organisation, strategy and method of production have been achieved through international exchanges. More so, women representation in government has increased as many now occupy high positions. For instance, the present President of the Philippines is a woman, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has promised compensation to the victims of crop or land dues conversion scheme.
In spite of its successes, Amihan points out some persistant problems. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo appears to be only serving the interest of the ruling elite class, which she is representing; rape and prostitution are on the increase and peasant women remain underprivileged. Regardless of the problems faced by Amihan, its efforts to surmount them have been very significant; and that is why the interviewee declared with certitude that the future holds many positive changes in the country.
This file was written during the World Peasant Meeting in Yaounde, Cameroon, from the 6th to the 11th of May 2002.
Contact : SORIANO, Zenada, Amihan, 90 J. Bugallon St. Proj. 4, Quezon City, Philippines. Tel: (632) 439 4589. Fax: (632) 913 9244 - email@example.com
Interview with SORIANO, Zenada