“Magtanim ay ‘di biro
‘Di man lang makaupo
‘Di man lang makatayo.”
The folk song Magtanim Ay ‘Di Biro, illustrates farming as an arduous undertaking with its back-breaking and muscle-numbing labor. And though not mentioned, fishing stands on an equal footing with farming as it is an agonizing game of chance and luck on seas.
As a result of the exertions of our Filipino farmers and fishermen, from fancy platters of seafood and meat to simple servings of salad, communities all over the Philippines are well-fed, and our country’s economy is productive. Hence, as per Proclamation No. 33, signed by former President Corazon C. Aquino, the month of May is labeled as the Farmers’ and Fishermen’s Month to honor them annually.
However, despite being recognized as the traditional backbone of our country’s economy, they remain among the impoverished sectors in the Philippines.
Based on the data reported by Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on Poverty Incidence Among Basic Sectors in 2021, fishermen had the highest poverty incidence at 30.6%, followed by farmers at 30%. And they consistently topped the poverty incidence for the past years.
It is indeed a paradoxical joke.
How could laborers in these sectors, who are surrounded by fertile lands, abundant agricultural resources, and rich fishing grounds, and are responsible for feeding millions of Filipinos, be the poorest?
It all comes down to the inefficiency of the existing systems and the lack of equal support for the marginalized group within the sectors.
Despite the modernization and development of agricultural technologies, the limitations farmers face disables most of them from even achieving half of the group’s average income.
Among the many reasons, landlessness and land grabs are common associations since many conglomerates became large food producers. Unfortunately, this displaces farmers out of their fields, and when an assertion is attempted, they face direct attacks from these land grabbers, including the government.
Fishermen face a similar, possibly harder, predicament. The skewered attention and priority that is given to this sector restrains fisheries, leading most to utilize primitive commodities and practices.
The majority of fishermen, especially the marginalized, can not traverse farther in the waters as the boats they board on are significantly unsuitable to sail through the rough waves of our seas, and worse so during the typhoon season. In addition, what was supposed to be a catch for Filipino fishermen, became a harvest for foreign fishers due to the lack of security in our local waters, which reduced their already small cull, affecting their income and livelihood.
The unabating poverty and disproportionate support and policies that loom over these sectors continue to threaten them and push them further to the edge of the fringe of society.
It is sufficient to say that more acknowledgment is not what they need, but for their concerns to be concretely and genuinely addressed for them to receive what is rightfully due.
However, it is not achieved through creating a new but half-baked system and policies. Instead, it is done by either dismantling or refining and correctly implementing existing structures, which should center on uplifting, not solely on the privatized group but the majority of farmers and fishermen, to allow them to become a sustaining sector.