“The thousands of farmers will only be affirming to the government officials what they actually already know – that the extreme drought results in death not only of the crops but also the people who plant them!”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Weeks after the April 1 violent dispersal of farmers’ barricade in Kidapawan City, thousands of drought-stricken farmers in other areas in Mindanao held protest actions demanding government assistance.
The provinces of Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Maguindanao, Quirino Cotabato have earlier declared a state of calamity due to El Nino.
Recently, several areas in the Davao region have been placed under a state of calamity. The municipalities affected are Kapalong and Sto. Tomas and Panabo City in Davao del Norte; Mati City and Tarragona, Lupon and San Isidro towns in Davao Oriental; Montevista in Compostela Valley, as well as Hagonoy in Davao del Sur.
On April 12, some 5,000 farmers gathered in Valencia City, Bukidnon to demand rice subsidy from the government. They were able to negotiate for 4,200 sacks of rice from the city, and are expecting more from the provincial government.
On April 17, about 3,000 farmers from San Fernando, Bukidnon also held a protest action to demand government action on their situation. While on their way to the municipal hall, soldiers belonging to the 68th Infantry Battalion and members of the Philippine National Police barred them twice.
“It is apparent that there are local governments who do not want to hear the plight of the farmers,” Ireneo Udarbe, secretary general of Kilusang Magubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP or Philippine Peasant Movement) in the region said.
“The thousands of farmers will only be affirming to the government officials what they actually already know – that the extreme drought results in death not only of the crops but also the people who plant them! They do not want to hear our demand to survive,” Ubarde said in a statement.
On April 18, more than 1,500 farmers from Maramag and another 1,000 from Dangcagan launched simultaneous protest actions.
On April 20, over 3,000 farmers gathered in Malaybalay City with the same demand.
Meanwhile, in Misamis Oriental, an estimated 2,000 members of the Misamis Oriental Farmers’ Association (MOFA) from eight barangays in Salay negotiated with their local government, April 15. The municipal council signed a resolution approving the release of five percent of the calamity fund of Salay for the drought-stricken farmers.
Similar protest actions and dialogues happened in Opol town in April 15, and in El Salvador on April 18.
In Southern Mindanao, hundreds of farmers staged a protest in front of the Department of Agriculture (DA) Region 11 office, April 21.
Lito Lao, KMP-Southern Mindanao vice chairperson, criticized the DA for not releasing the calamity funds for drought-stricken farmers.
Lao cited DA data stating that in Davao Oriental, 977 hectares of cornfields were totally damaged; 399 hectares partially damaged and in Compostela Valley, 14 hectares of cornfields were totally damaged; 1,113 hectares partially damaged.
According to KMP, simultaneous protest actions were held, April 22. Three thousand farmers also held protests in Koronadal City, South Cotabato; 2,000 in Cagayan De Oro City, Misamis Oriental; 5,000 farmers in Valencia City, Bukidnon and hundreds more in Pagadian City, Zamboanga Del Sur.
In response to the farmers’ demands, Bukidnon governor Jose Ma. Zubiri promised to distribute one sack of rice to every family of farmers affected by El Niño, according to Rural Missionaries of the Philippines-Northern Mindanao Region. Zubiri also pledged to distribute one sack of seedlings and two sacks of fertilizers per hectare to farmers in preparation for the planting season.
As of March, the Department of Agriculture (DA) reported that damage to the agriculture sector due to El Nino has reached P4.8 billion (US$ 102.6 million). The DA said 349,620 metric tons of crops were destroyed and 121,490 farmers were affected.
In a statement April 17, the DA said it has already released P310 million ($6.63 million) to counter the ill effects of El Nino. The DA intervention came in the form of hybrid and certified seeds, fertilizers, soil ameliorants, shallow tube wells, pump equipment, biologics, cloud seeding operations, crop insurance and others. Likewise, DA has allocated funds for small water impounding projects and diversion dams.
The DA further claimed it has given Quick Reaction Funds to various regional field offices with a total amount of P207.6 million ($4.4 million) to rehabilitate farms from the onslaught of El Nino.
Apparently, these were hardly felt by farmers in Mindanao.
Anakpawis said that “the DA has yet to concretely and effectively serve the tens of thousands of farmers gravely affected by El Nino.”
In a separate statement, Bayan Muna partylist Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate demanded the full disclosure and accounting from the Aquino administration of the P19-bilion ($406 million) fund aimed to supposedly address the climate crisis that hit drought-afflicted areas in the country.
Last December, President Aquino approved P19 billion ($406 million) to implement the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño or RAIN. “Yet, vast tracts of farmlands are now arid or scorched-dry from the drought. Where are the.billions now?” Rep. Zarate asked.
The KMP said their chapters in Luzon, particularly in Calamaniugan in Cagayan province, Cordon in Isabela, and Bayombong in Nueva Vizcaya also led protest actions yesterday.
Rafael Mariano, KMP chairperson, lamented, “Instead of addressing farmers demand, Aquino and Alcala are busy obscuring and covering up the issues of prolonged drought, hunger, and the government’s criminal negligence.”