PEASANT STRUGGLE: Artists among peasant advocates find creative means of carrying on with the peasant struggle in spite of the limit of social distancing during the COVID-19 lockdown

Press statement – Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo 28 March 2020

Anti-feudal artists’ alliance Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo refuses to stand down during the enhanced community quarantine imposed on Luzon by the Duterte regime. Instead, they have stepped up efforts demanding free mass testing, relief for farmers, the urban poor, and other communities left vulnerable by both COVID-19 and the lockdown, and even the president’s ouster.

On the eve of President Rodrigo Duterte’s birthday on March 28, SAKA made on-ground agitprop installations around Metro Manila. According to the group, the installations whose photographs have been going around social media are only the first in a series of installations calling for safe passage for farmers through checkpoints during the lockdown. In a follow-up message, it also calls for aid to the poor whose communities cannot make it to work and therefore cannot afford food on the table. Every installation consists of an actual vegetable, left on the street or the sidewalk, made to appear like it is walking through a chalk drawing of legs and feet.

“Vegetables don’t travel on their own,” says the installation’s headline in Filipino. “Let peasants into their farms and markets! Provide aid to the toiling masses!” demands the follow-up copy.

The morning of March 28, SAKA went to several urban poor communities in Quezon City to provide relief that, according to the organization, the national and local government had withheld. Billed as “Tulong Anakpawis,” the relief operation was carried out in partnership with the Quezon City chapter of Anakpawis as well as the peasant cultural organization Sining na Naglilingkod sa Bayan (Sinagbayan). At least 350 packs of uncooked rice, dried fish, green papaya, soap, alcohol, and vitamins were handed out to urban poor workers deprived of their usual livelihoods and daily wages. Almost 600 relief packs had been given away in total during the operation. These had been put together through an online call for contributions.

“We don’t mind adhering to the guidelines of the lockdown,” said one of the residents, explaining their readiness to stay at home and observe what they could of social distancing. “But we have nothing to eat. Had the government given us a month’s worth of food aid, we can stay home. Fact is, we’re forced to go out to find work and something to eat,” she continued.

“How can the people observe social distancing when our homes are crowded and we are not provided with decent housing?” questions Donna Miranda, one of SAKA’s conveners who had been present at the operation. “To add to the insult of not providing sufficient relief, the regime not only refuses to acknowledge the urgency of free mass testing so we can isolate and care for the sick; it also prioritizes VIPs among politicians and their families and staff to flaunt the access they have to social services that the common Filipino does not have.”

In the afternoon, SAKA hanged a unique kind of birthday streamers for the president in a residential neighborhood in the same city. Two colorful sets of banderitas bore different but timely demands: “Free mass testing now!” and “Oust Duterte!” Both streamers were handmade with markers and multi-colored crayons, as if for a children’s birthday party.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DUTERTE: SAKA activists hang birthday party-style streamers for Duterte on his birthday, but they do not exactly bear greetings.

“Without mass testing, this mass lockdown is just mass incarceration,” says Angelo Suarez, another of SAKA’s co-conveners. “Duterte, with the help of his abusive police and military, have locked us up like animals. Their militarist solution to the pandemic is to round us up, then intimidate the virus with guns. That Duterte cannot conceive that the crisis requires a healthcare solution is only further proof that this regime has to go.”

For reference: Donna Miranda – SAKA Co-convener, 0926 6635606 / Angelo Suarez – SAKA Co-convener, 0956 4085632

SAKA - Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (Artist Alliance for Genuine Land Reform and Rural Development) is an anti-feudal alliance of art and cultural workers that support and advance the peasant agenda of genuine agrarian reform, rural development, and food security.