“Aquino’s unparalleled incompetence and gross negligence in addressing the prolonged drought is among the main culprit in the bloody carnage of farmers in Kidapawan.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Three farmers were confirmed dead as state security forces opened fire at thousands of farmers at around 10 a.m., April 1 in Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
Rotello Daelto, Victor Lumandang and Enrico Pabrica were killed, according to Ariel Casilao, Anakpawis party list first nominee who has been in Kidapawan. At least 37 were wounded and 87 were reported missing.
Since March 30, nearly 6,000 farmers hit by drought barricaded the streets of Kidapawan City to demand immediate relief from the local government. In particular, they were asking for 5,000 sacks of rice from the local government.
In the past two days of negotiations, the local government refused to heed the farmers’ demands. Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza was offering only three kilos of rice per quarter, which the farmers found insulting.
When police authorities ordered the farmers to leave, the latter stood their ground. Shortly before 11 a.m., combined forces of the North Cotabato police and soldiers from the Armed Forces of the Philippines dispersed the barricade and fired shots at the protesting farmers. Video reports by Kilab Multimedia show some members of the dispersal team in full battle gear; some were carrying long firearms.
Hundreds of farmers retreated to the Spottswood Methodist Center compound.
This morning, April 2, some 500 police and military personnel entered the church compound with a search warrant. The warrant, issued by Kidapawan Regional Trial Court Branch 17 presiding judge Arvin Sadiri Balagot, states that there “is probable cause and good reasons to believe that there are firearms being kept inside the buildings…”
After the search, no firearms were found.
Forty-four have been arrested and taken to the Kidapawan Gym.
Rafael Mariano, chairperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said, “Aquino’s unparalleled incompetence and gross negligence in addressing the prolonged drought is among the main culprit in the bloody carnage of farmers in Kidapawan.”
Since January, the local government has declared a state of calamity due to El Nino but no direct assistance has been given to the farmers.
According to Agham or Science and Technology for the People (not the party list), despite the early projections of PAGASA of an impending impact of “a mature and strong El Nino with an intensity comparable to the 1997-1998 El Nino event,” the national and local governments failed to prepare and execute contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of drought on agricultural production. Moreover, the P19-billion mitigation fund approved on December 15, 2015 did not reach the affected communities.
Agricultural production in Central Mindanao suffered a staggering drop due to the drought, prompting declarations of a state of calamity not only in North Cotabato but also in the provinces of Maguindanao, South Cotabato, Cotabato City and Zamboanga City. Having lost almost 70% to 100% of food crops, Mindanao faced famine.
Feny Cosico, an agriculturist and secretary general of Agham, said water resources is the lifeblood for crop productivity specially during El Nino. But in the case of the water supply for irrigation, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pipinas (KMP) revealed that 1.34 million hectares of irrigable area remained unirrigated. For the remaining irrigated areas under the National Irrigated System, the farmers are forced to pay exorbitant irrigation fees.
On March 2, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P11.8 billion to the National Irrigation Administration and P500-million quick response fund.
“Farmers have the right to demand their basic needs in order to feed their families and ensure the country’s food security while the government has the responsibility to plan ahead and prepare vulnerable communities for extreme events,” Cosico said. “Confronting the impact of El Nino, however, will not be achieved unless the government recognizes the root cause of the farmer’s vulnerability: landlessness and the lack of access to agricultural resources and services.”
Environmental group Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment said the situation could have been averted if only the the national government worked on the ‘climate-proofing’ of irrigation systems, crop resiliency, and socio-economic aid to peasant communities even before the predicted start of El Nino in 2014. “This makes the criminal neglect all the worse,” Clemente Bautista, Kalikasan-PNE national coordinator, said.