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March 29, 2001 Multinationals drive down quality of life in Philippines






by Marie Valla

Two weeks before globalization protests are expected to take place at free-trade talks in Quebec City, Filipino-born Sister Rosanne Maillillin shared her experience of alternative development strategies with a small audience on the Loyola Campus.

Her talk was sponsored by the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. Sister Rosanne, who was born in the Philippines, is secretary of the social action arm of the Filipino Bishops’ Conference.

“What we want is to develop a safety net for the population and protect basic sectors against the free markets’ law,” she explained.

The Philippines has a long history of globalization. “We pray the Spanish way, but live the American way,” she joked. The Philippines was first colonized by the Spaniards, then occupied by the Americans until its independence in 1946.

More than 50 years later, multinationals have become the new foreign rulers, she said.

Under the pressure of multinationals, small farmers have moved away from the traditional culture of rice and corn to concentrate on high-value crops such as asparagus, mangoes or pineapples. But the intensification of monocultures has contributed to the degeneration of the soil.

To remedy this situation, farmers buy, on credit, fertilizers and pesticides from business contractors who also provide them with seeds. But the vicious circle of debts quickly tightens. The quantity of fertilizers needed increases every year as the soil and the farmers alike get gradually poorer.

Meanwhile, the production of rice and corn for the domestic market decreases, forcing the government in Manilla to import rice from India and Thailand at much higher prices.

Confronted with the absurdity of the situation, the Church has been promoting development programs based on sustainable agriculture at the village level. The goals are both to alleviate poverty, a reality for 70 per cent of the population, and to empower local producers, Sister Rosanne said. “We tell them that land is first for food and the family.”

The idea is that organically produced food sells at a higher price on the markets and that chemically-produced food is bad for health. “At first it was difficult,” Sister Rosanne recalled. “It took five years for the villagers to realize that it worked.” Some farmers finally started to go back to using manure or compost as fertilizers. Institutions have been set up to provide credit for buying the seeds.

These changes give Sister Rosanne reason to hope. She is confident the new president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will remain in active dialogue with the Church hierarchy and support further initiatives to give land back to sustainable farming.