Even the 15,000 sacks of rice pledged as humanitarian aid by President Rodrigo Duterte when he was still Davao City mayor have yet to be fully distributed.
By KAREN ANN MACALALAD
MANILA – The rainy season has begun in the country, but justice and assistance remain elusive to farmers who suffered from the prolonged dry spell that hit the Mindanao region.
Among those still awaiting government relief aid are North Cotabato farmers whose protest in Kidapawan City was brutally dispersed on April 1.
Pedro Arnado, chairperson of Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) – Southern Mindanao Region said sacks of rice were distributed to El Niño victims, but these were donated by private individuals, and did not come from the local government unit (LGU).
Even the 15,000 sacks of rice pledged as humanitarian aid by President Rodrigo Duterte when he was still Davao City mayor have yet to be fully distributed. The delivery of the rice donation resumed only after elections, and it was difficult to supply to far-flung communities, especially to affected indigenous tribes, Arnado said.
Seventy-two Kidapawan dispersal victims are still recovering in sanctuary and unable to work. While a preliminary court hearing on the charges filed by the farmers was held on June 2, they are unsure if Senate hearings would still continue, Arnado added.
“Despite the threats farmer-victims have received, they are determined to go after the perpetrators of the crime as they want justice,” he said.
Meanwhile, the promise of rice subsidy to victims has yet to be realized in the Northern Mindanao Region (NMR), with only 30 percent given assistance, KMP-NMR Chairperson Ireneo Udarbe Jr. said.
“Around 453 families had to camp-out in Malaybalay, Bukidnon to demand food. People in Misamis Oriental were promised to be given rice subsidy, but there has been no help provided up to now,” Udarbe said.
Unprepared for rainy season
From February 2015 to April 2016, around 237,000 hectares of agriculture areas and 121,490 farmers were affected by El Niño amounting to P5.2 billion ($110 million) damages, data from the Department of Agriculture stated.
Despite the government’s allocation of P19.2 billion ($408 million) to mitigate drought for the last quarter of 2015 to first quarter of 2016, farmers in Mindanao had to protest due to the slow-paced response of concerned agencies.
From March 30 to April 5, more than 6,000 farmers picketed along the Davao-Cotabato Highway to demand relief. A week after, the Bukidnon Farmers’ Association led a protest with more than 5,000 farmers in Valencia City and 3,000 in San Fernando.
“With the upcoming La Niña, we fear that our remaining crops would be destroyed resulting in extreme hunger worse than during El Niño,” Udarbe said. Farmers need seeds to sow and at least one sack of rice per family for consumption as they await harvest, he added.
For Arnado, heavy rainfall may cause landslides among communities and mark the end of their livelihood. He said there is need for medical assistance for the victims tramautized by the bloody Kidapawan dispersal. Their trips to Senate and court hearings also entail expenses, he added.
Hope in new agrarian reform secretary
The peasant leaders lamented the other existing problems in their sector, including land-grabbing and the measly wages of farmers.
“The farmers do not have their own lands. Those who do find themselves in conflict with multinational companies,” Udarbe said. With the expansion of agribusiness plantation for biofuel and export crops, many small landholders face encroachment and landgrabbing.
There is also an existing campaign to increase the salary of farmworkers who earn below minimum wage, specially those who work in corporate plantations, Udarbe added.
KMP said nine out of 10 farmers remain landless as of 2015, higher than the estimated seven out of 10 two decades ago. The group said globalization exacerbated the situation of farmers, along with the government policies that favored landlords and foreign corporations.
Among the least paid workers in 2011, farmers earn an average daily wage and salary of P156 ($3), while fishermen earn P178 ($4), said data from the National Statistical Coordination Board.
Amid these issues, the peasant group looks forward to the leadership of the new Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, the KMP’s former chairperson. “We consider it a small victory, because Mariano favors the interests of the farmers,” Arnado said.