An Edsa icon and our exploited farmers
The whole nation, and, in a special way, our exploited farmers, just lost an outstanding Edsa icon.
Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, together with Eugenia Apostol and other Edsa icons, made it possible for farmers to fight for the rights they were deprived of by Martial Law.
During those Martial Law years, the farmers experienced greatest injustice and suffering. Idealistic students left their urban universities and went underground in the rural areas to help exploited farmers. Many were killed, along with numerous farmer-leaders fighting for what was due them.
It was mainly Magsanoc, together with Apostol, who took the dangerous initiative of bringing the truth out through the mosquito press. It started with the Mr. & Ms Special Edition, then continued with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. With the Martial Law atrocities made known through these publications, the public was mobilized. This culminated in the successful restoration of democracy through the Edsa revolution. Finally, the farmers could now move freely and work for their long-neglected justice.
Today, the Inquirer is the country’s leading publication. This is largely due to Magsanoc, who has been its editor-in-chief for the last 24 years. Farmers are no longer summarily executed because of the Edsa revolution, where Magsanoc played a major role. However, the farmers’ fight for justice is far from over.
While the average poverty level is 25 percent nationwide, it is 40 percent in the rural areas where the farmers are located.
Throughout her Inquirer stewardship, Magsanoc has consistently supported the farmers. She ensured Inquirer publication space to expose farmer injustices.
She gave equal emphasis to the plight of exploited farmers, as well as their own recommendations to address their situation.
Because of this exposure, government officials responded positively to many of these recommendations. This was partly because of the public pressure made possible by the Inquirer.
A farmer-leader commented that the Inquirer press reports and articles were often even more effective than rallies and demonstrations.
One week before Magsanoc passed away, the Dec. 17th Inquirer Editorial identified continuing farmer neglect: “The neglect is evident in the fact that the increase in the budget of the Department of Agriculture during the past five years did not result in the growth of the farm sector.”
Citing the scheduled farmer-led Feb. 6 Presidentiable Agriculture Forum to be held in UP Diliman, the Editorial stated: “The Presidential candidates will have an opportunity to expound on their programs for the agriculture sector. It is the chance for them to present concrete and credible plans as well as doable programs that will uplift the living conditions of farmers and fishers. They owe this not only to their supporters, but most importantly, to the millions of Filipinos who remain dependent on farming and fishing.”
Last Dec. 26, in her article “The Heart of PDI’s Compassionate Journalism,” Tarra Quismundo wrote that when asked what Magsanoc felt was the highest praise she had received for the Inquirer, Magsanoc said: “They say it’s not official if the Inquirer doesn’t come out with it. We are an agenda-setter until now.”
The agriculture agenda has not been a priority of our leaders for many years. Through the Dec. 17 Inquirer editorial, Magsanoc is now setting an agenda for agriculture that the Presidentiables must now address. Our farmers are indebted to her for this.
We quote a Christmas passage from G. K. Chesterton that especially brings to mind the indefatigable Magsanoc: “One night, out over the stillness of an evening breeze, out over the white-chalked hills of Bethlehem, there came a cry, a gentle cry. The earth did not hear the cry, for the earth slept. The sea did not hear the cry, for the sea was filled with its own voice. Only two types of people heard the cry: shepherds, those who know they know nothing; and wise men, those who know they do not know everything. And from that day to this, only two types of people hear the cry: the wise and the humble.”
There are far too many politicians today who sleep on their job of serving our people.
There are even more who are so filled with their own voice that they do not hear the valid pleas of their constituents. Worse, they serve themselves at the expense of those who voted for them.
Magsanoc was the exact opposite. A daily communicant, she was both wise and humble. She heard the cry of our exploited farmers. She acted on this by giving them a voice through the Inquirer. It is the responsibility of the farmers to continue her legacy by now fighting even harder for the justice she sought for them throughout her admirable life.
(The author is Chair of Agriwatch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email [email protected] or telefax (02) 852-2112).
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