Jaime Tadeo: the rebirth of the Philippine peasant movement

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Jaime "Ka Jimmy" Tadeo (1939-2023) —FOCUS ON THE GLOBAL SOUTH PHOTO

Editor’s note: Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo, farmer organizer and delegate to the 1986 constitutional convention, died on March 26, 2023. He was 84.

The collapse of the peasant-led Huk rebellion in the early 1950s also led to the demise of militant peasant movements such as the National Union of Peasants of the Philippines, the League of Poor Laborers, and the National Peasants Union. The decade instead saw the emergence of reformist and accommodationist farmers’ organizations. 

The 1960s, on the other hand, saw a revival of a radical peasant movement led by left-wing protagonists of the past movements and postwar groups such as the Free Union of Peasants, which combined agrarian concerns with national cross-class issues such as the US bases and the Vietnam War. Despite its radical orientation, a fear of a recurrence of the 1950s setback also hampered the revived group’s actions and tempered its engagement with the government. It would be up to a more focused and more militant peasant movement in the 1980s to signal a true rebirth of the Philippine peasant movement.

The regime of President Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and its agrarian programs entered their twilight years with the beginning of the ‘80s. The Philippine peasant mass movement would, by contrast, experience a revival and rebirth. Its ranks enlarged by landless workers, the movement recaptured the militancy temporarily lost during the early martial law years and brought its demands to the very centers of political power.

The failure of the “Green Revolution” to alleviate rural poverty and its central role in aggravating rural inequalities sparked the new protest movement. Thus, rice farmers and rural workers occupied major roles in the upsurge. To fill the vacuum caused by the absence of any militant rural mass organization since the ‘60s, new regional organizations of the rural poor emerged all over the country. 

For four days in July 1985, some 150 peasants and farmworkers representing 38 regional and provincial organizations nationwide met and formally inaugurated the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP, Philippine Peasant Movement). The national congress was the culmination of years of local organizing efforts to unify the peasantry and rural workers against continuous threats to their livelihood brought about by economic, political, and military impositions.

These efforts, however, remained at the local level. But the economic crisis of the ‘80s galvanized the organized rural masses into realizing the need for a national structure that would represent their interests and lead them in the struggle for a better place in society. The precursor and lead organization in this unification drive was the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL, Alliance of Central Luzon Peasants).

The AMGL catalyzed the sentiments of the various local agrarian movements during the early ‘80s. This account of its development and growth into a symbol of peasant resistance to the existing order drew heavily from interviews with AMGL founding chair and, later, KMP national chair Jaime “Ka Jimmy” Tadeo. It is also the story of the development of a new breed of peasant leaders as represented by Tadeo—a generation no longer tied to and weighed down by the trauma of the ‘50s debacle but always mindful of the historical lessons from that painful experience.


Born of a peasant family in the town of Bocaue in the Central Luzon province of Bulacan, Tadeo earned a college degree in agriculture. He started working in 1962 as a government employee with the Bureau of Agricultural Extension (BAEx), and moved on to other agricultural agencies such as the National Land Reform Council and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA) before ending up in 1976 as vice chair of the government-sponsored Area Marketing Cooperative (AMC) under the Department of Local Government and Cooperatives in Bustos, Bulacan.

In all these government jobs, Tadeo encountered one disillusionment after another. At BAEx, the farmers’ groups that he helped set up came to be dominated by landlords or rich farmers. As an organizer of the Federation of Land Reform Farmers, he saw how the group would be used to serve the political ambitions of agrarian reform officials. The irrigators’ groups he established under the NIA realized that irrigation alone could not raise incomes because of the steep costs of other farm inputs. 

Finally, attempts by his cooperative to directly petition President Marcos for a reduction in fertilizer prices came to nothing as agriculture officials threatened reprisals.

Tadeo soon realized that government-sponsored farmers’ groups, such as those he had been organizing, could never be counted on to represent the peasantry’s interests because they would always be dominated by government officials beholden to the landowning class. 

As for the deteriorating conditions of Central Luzon rice farmers, he recounted peasants telling him in 1980: “Jimmy, we are now feeling the harsh truth about our lands. Even if they say that we are now to own them, we would still be unable to rise from poverty. The problem is simple. Costs of production are rising and the prices of our products remain low.”

Peasant petitions 

On Oct. 15, 1981, Tadeo’s AMC which covered central Bulacan drafted a resolution asking the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) for a rollback of fertilizer prices, the increase and implementation of palay support prices, and the holding of public hearings on these two issues. He sought the support of the Church-based Bulacan Social Action Center, which referred them to its center, the Luzon Secretariat for Social Action (Lussa). The Office for Continuing Education of the University of the Philippines Institute for Social Work and Community Development also helped introduce the farmers to the mechanics of petition-actions.

Frustrated in their initial attempts to get a fair hearing, they decided to contact other peasant groups in Central Luzon, especially those organized by the peasant desks of provincial social action centers under Lussa. It took four trips to Manila before they could see FPA administrator Miguel Zosa, only to be informed that their petition would be referred to then Agriculture Minister Arturo Tanco.

This initial experience at collective action, despite negative results, taught the peasants the necessity of organization. On Nov. 14, 1981, the AMGL was formally established with a membership of 10,000 peasants and rural workers.

As renewed attempts to talk to Zosa and Tanco fell through, the AMGL organized a march on Dec. 9, 1981, which ended in a rally in front of the Ministry of Agriculture office-building in Quezon City. It was attended by 3,000 peasants and city supporters.

Tadeo said that after this march-rally, other farmers’ groups which had until then maintained close ties with his group bowed to pressure from government personnel to sever their links with the AMGL It was just as well, he said, because these groups—such as the Federation of Free Farmers, Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association, Samahang Nayon cooperatives, and Aniban ng Manggagawang Agrikultural—had already discredited themselves by their “known subservience to the Marcos government.”

Consolidation and setbacks 

The year 1982 was a period of consolidation and strengthening for the AMGL. The aim was to organize as many chapters throughout Central Luzon by yearend in preparation for more concerted actions in 1983. 

Tadeo described the group’s organizing process thus: “The organizers do their spadework at the barrio level in coordination with us in the regional office … We hold symposiums and leader-forums for sharpening skills. Towards the end of the process, regional leaders like myself go to the barrio and formally establish the chapter.”

A tragic event severely tested the new organization’s strength and its members’ steadfastness. It was expected that, sooner or later, the state would move against the organization. On June 21, 1982, five AMGL organizers—one of them a woman—were killed by military troops in Pulilan, Bulacan, when a raid was conducted on a meeting they were holding. Government reports identified the five as members of the outlawed New People’s Army and claimed that a military encounter had taken place. 

Tadeo, however, said a Church fact-finding group sent to the area had concluded that a battle never took place and that the slain organizers were victims of “salvaging,” a local term for summary killing.

This event shook the AMGL structure and retarded its growth. Tadeo, warned that he himself would be the next military target, took a low profile and avoided public appearances. For the rest of the year and up to the middle of 1983, AMGL operations were virtually paralyzed.

Recovery and resurgence 

Gradually, the AMGL shook off the threats and returned to the scene of peasant struggles. The second half of 1983 was spent in mending the organization’s scattered linkages and reconsolidating the chapters. By mid-1984, it was ready to confront the authorities once again. Public forums and mass gatherings were held continuously.

The fertilizer issue had by then become especially urgent. Prices per 50-kilogram bag of urea increased by 120% over the 15-month period from July 1983 to November 1984. The AMGL wanted a rollback of fertilizer prices and presented this demand to the then newly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Food Salvador Escudero in a meeting held on Oct. 8, 1984. 

Five other demands were presented: the write-off of all small farmer (Masagana 99) debts; institution of a new small-farmer credit scheme; stabilization of palay prices; lowering of the price of gasoline (used for farm machines and irrigation pumps); and implementation of a genuine land reform and nationalist industrialization program.

A series of aborted dialogues and another meeting with Escudero in December 1984 resulted in a stalemate. AMGL members picketed the ministry while the dialogue was going on. The minister finally said he could do nothing about the farmers’ petition. Frustrated, the peasants returned to Central Luzon to plan their next move 

A meeting in January 1985 arrived at this assessment, as recounted by Tadeo: “We cannot accept that nothing can be done about our petition. On the other, hand, we should go beyond mere marches and rallies. We need a new form of mass action that is different and one that will assure that our demands are heard. Why don’t we organize a camp-in at the ministry?” To be concluded

This report is excerpted with some revisions from Eduardo C. Tadem. 1986. “Grains and Radicalism: The Political Economy of the Rice Industry in the Philippines: 1965-1985,” Commodity Series No. 5, UP Third World Studies Center. Also published as “Rice, Farmers, and Politics in the Philippines, 1965-1985” in Peter Wallensteen (ed.), 1988. Food Development and Conflict: Thailand and the Philippines. Uppsala University. —Ed.

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