WITH at least 10,000 farmers staging protests in five key cities in Mindanao, farmers groups denounced President Benigno Aquino III’s supposed cover-up of the government’s neglect of farmers’ demands and demanded that he stop campaigning and start working on the problem.
“It is the height of callousness and incompetence that Aquino continues to campaign for the Liberal Party while farmers in the countryside go hungry,” said Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan.
Aquino “has not shown even the slightest concern for the drought-affected farmers. He even blamed farmer protesters for the April 1 violence in Kidapawan,” Reyes said a day after Aquino blamed organizers for the deadly dispersal of a farmers’ protest in Kidapawan City on April 1.
“There is an upsurge of protests in the countryside because of long-running government neglect in this difficult time of the prolonged El Niño,” Reyes noted.
On Saturday, there were at least 3,000 farmers protesting in Koronadal City, South Cotabato, 2,000 in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental, 5,000 in Valencia City, Bukidnon plus hundreds more in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur.
There were also hundreds of farmers camped outside of the regional office of the Department of Agriculture in Davao City, according to Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap.
Hicap denounced Aquino’s attempt to cover-up the accountability of police and local government officials for the violent dispersal of the Kidapawan rally last April 1 and his administration’s “continuing lie” that the government has attended to the effects of El Niño or extreme drought.
“Thousands of farmers from Mindanao, as well as in Luzon are now holding Aquino responsible for the Kidapawan violent dispersal, and primarily for the criminal negligence on the effects of drought,” Hicap said.
“They are presently demanding relief from the government and we challenge him heed the people’s demand, instead of approving their mass murder,” he added.
“Before Aquino kills another hungry farmer demanding food aid and blame again whoever organized them, we are announcing that they are organized under the flag of [Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas], crying for land, food and justice,’’ Hicap said.
“They are members of Anakpawis Party-list and we warn Aquino not to add to his long list of crimes against the people and immediately heed their legitimate demand for relief,” he added.
Citing government data, Hicap said the Department of Agriculture has yet to concretely and effectively serve the tens of thousands of farmers gravely affected by El Niño although they have billions of public funds at their disposal.
The DA has access to about P3 billion from 2011 to 2013 of so-called quick reaction funds (QRF) or funds to be used to mitigate the effects of climate-related calamities, P1.8 billion drought mitigation fund in 2014, and another P2 billion for this year.
In February, the DA North Cotabato provincial office announced that drought damaged P172 million worth of agricultural crops, P55 million to rice and corn crops, the group said.
“Based on government data, the rural population of the province is pegged at 930,000. The provincial government declared a state of calamity on Jan. 19. Almost the entire Mindanao is affected by drought, including Butuan, Zamboanga, General Santos, Bukidnon, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental, Maguindanao, and Guimaras,” Hicap said.
Also in Negros, sugar workers under the National Federation of Sugar Workers and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura are demanding immediate relief with the onset of the “tiempo muerto,” or dead season when lands planted only to sugarcane lie idle and affecting about 5 million people in the island.
Farmers in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan also lambasted the Aquino presidency for pushing with the MRT-7 project that threatens more than 300 hectares of land that are sources of their livelihood.
Moreover, Hacienda Luisita farm workers are condemning the destruction of their crops committed by the president’s Cojuangco-Aquino family.
“We have long been publicizing that the farmers are gravely affected by Aquino’s programs and policies. He is an absolute nemesis of genuine land reform and worsened landlessness that engulfs the peasant sector to poverty and hunger, as well as his sponsorship of mass killings of those who demand,” Hicap said.
Anakpawis urged the public to support the nationwide movement of the farmers for land, food and justice, as well as holding the Aquino presidency answerable for his anti-people governance and criminal negligence that jeopardize the welfare of tens of millions of Filipinos.
In South Cotabato alone, the KMP said the provincial government said 1,900 hectares of corn and 1,300 planted to palay have been damaged by the drought, affecting more than 1,300 farmers.
“Other crops like fruit trees, banana, bamboo, cut flowers and vegetable farms in Koronadal, Tantangan, Polomolok, T’boli, Surallah and Tampakan were also greatly affected by drought” while households are suffering water shortages, the KMP said.
In Sarangani, it said, the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist reported damage to 938 hectares of corn, 768 hectares of banana, 439 hectares of coconut, 152 hectares of palay and 112 hectares of oil palm.
As the drought persists, the KMP said, rivers and irrigation systems are drying up and even “backyard gardens are also dying.”