Hungry for social justice: Farmers, fishermen, IPs fast vs charter change

Patrick Quintos, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2018 07:58 PM

MANILA - As commuters burdened by their own problems passed by the People Power Monument on congested EDSA, a group of farmers, fishermen and indigenous peoples supported by several men of the cloth quietly endured a fast in protest of charter change. 

The group called PAKISAMA launched "Dasal at Ayuno Laban sa Cha-Cha" on Saturday at the People Power Monument, a 9-day protest fast at the historic site on the runup to the 32nd anniversary of the 1986 EDSA revolution. 

Their goal: to voice out opposition to charter change, which they said could give greater powers to dynasties and landlords in the provinces. 

The administration has been pushing for charter change towards a shift to federalism, asserting that this could spur greater countryside development. 

Among those who joined the fast was Jomlee Callon, a fisherman from Balabac town in Palawan. 

In his island barangay of Bugsuk, Callon said fishermen have long lived in fear of getting their boats rammed by armed men guarding a nearby farmland.

Such has been life for fisherfolk in the southern Palawan island, whose livelihood, Callon said, has been under threat by a landlord who has defied an order to redistribute land to locals. 

Jomlee Callon lives in the small barangay island with white sand beaches off the main island of Bugsuk. It is marked with a red circle in this Google Maps screenshot.

"Diyan pa rin kami lumalaot nang araw-araw. Araw-araw kaming nakikipaghabulan sa kanila. May mga baril sila," said the 38-year-old father of 3, who flew to Manila to participate in a 9-day fasting protest, hoping the fisherfolk's struggle would finally be heard. 

"Kailangan namin makipagbuno sa kanila. Sa loob ng isang araw, 5 bangka papasok, 'yan magpapahabol. Habang hinahabol ito, 'yung 5 bangka na iba papasok, mangangawil na 'yan, mabilisang pangangawil 'yan," he told ABS-CBN in an interview as his knees shook from hunger.

Jomlee Callon poses for a photo in front of the People Power Monument as he and several others continued their 9-day protest fast against charter change, Feb. 21, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Callon said the people of Bugsuk's fight for land reform and social justice is rooted in Article 13 (Social Justice and Human Rights) of the 1987 Constitution, which may soon be amended to give way to a shift to federalism, as promised by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Among those who joined Callon in the fasting protest were vegetable farmer Herminio Agsaluna, coconut farmer Ireneo Cerilla, Dumagat tribe leader Orlando Penamante, young farmer leader Randy Cirio and activist priest Fr. Robert Reyes. 

From left to right: Herminio Agsaluna, Jomlee Callon, Randy Cirio and Orlando Penamante are fasting to protest charter change at the People Power Monument on EDSA, Feb. 21, 2018. A medical team from the supporting groups are on standby to make sure they are all safe. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

"Maraming probisyon sa 1987 Constitution ang hindi pa nai-implement. Number 1 na hindi pinatupad diyan ang anti-dynasty law. This is not about the failure of the Constitution kundi ng pamahalaan," said Fr. Reyes. 

Iloilo farmer Agsaluna said that while he never had the chance to finish high school due to poverty, he can read and understand the 1987 Constitution. He said instead of changing the charter, it's in the people's best interest for government to fully implement it.

"Ang pag-implement lang ng local government at saka kongresman, senador, presidente -- 'yun ang palpak. Hindi 'yung Konstitusyon," said the 57-year-old farmer. 

Agsaluna and the rest of the group believe only the rich would benefit from charter change, which they said has been endorsed by a group of lawmakers composed of powerful political clans from the Visayas.

Commuters pass by a group of farmers, fishermen and indigenous peoples holding a fasting protest at the People Power Monument on EDSA, Feb. 21, 2018. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The group has to endure 4 more days of afternoon heat, hunger, air and noise pollution on Edsa as they proceed with their fasting protest. 

Since Saturday, they have only consumed water with a pinch of salt for hydration.

Callon said he was rushed to the hospital Wednesday morning, the 5th day of the fast, because of weakness and stomach pains. Despite this, the fisherman said he would finish the protest because the fight is all worth it.

"At least kahit papaano, kung anong mangyari sa'kin, naiparating ko at naipahayag ko ang aking layunin at ang aking pinaglalaban. Kahit siguro isang bata o estudyante ang makakaintindi, sila ang magpapatuloy ng aming laban," he said.

Reyes meanwhile said they have been drawing strength from what they are fighting for. 

"Ang nagpapalakas sa amin, 'yung pinaglalaban namin na mas malaki kaysa sa maliliit naming sarili," said Reyes. 

He stressed that the fight is now against the dynasties pushing for charter change for their own interests.

The protest fast is set to end Sunday afternoon, in time for the EDSA People Power Revolution anniversary. 

Callon and the group are then expected to return to their respective hometowns to face the same problems. But they hope to emerge from the fast with the belief that all is not lost for the people who struggle.