Kidapawan farmers met with violence: "Our children are hungry"

The gun barrels may no longer be pointing at them, but farmers from North Cotabato and many other areas in the Philippines are still facing the biggest threat of all--hunger. This as El Nino continues to rob them of their food and livelihood.

Celebrity couple Aiza Seguerra and Liza Diño raised over half a million pesos to help bail out 79 individuals detained after the violent dispersal of farmer groups in Kidapawan.

But more than bail money and their fight for justice, the farmers of North Cotabato still need food to feed their families.

Their children are suffering and hungry. This was the main reason why farmers joined the protest that began on March 28 and culminated in a bloody dispersal on April 1.

“I joined the rally because we were told that we could get rice. Our place was really suffering from the drought. I have two kids and we can’t feed them properly. They were becoming sick. We often would just eat root crops because all the plants around us have died,” said Efren Marapan, a 27 year-old farmer from Cabalantian Village in North Cotabato.

“I joined because the situation in our village was really dire. We were told that we might be able to get rice if we go down to Kidapawan City. I have eight children and I pity them because we haven’t had rice for a long time and all we were eating were sweet potatoes and bananas…Three months into the drought, our plants—rice and corn—started dying. We have no other means of livelihood. We came here because all we wanted was rice and help from the government,” said Rey Suat, a 46 year-old farmer from Magpet Town.

“We were really hard-up because of the drought. The waters have run dry. Our crops are dead. My young children—I have five—were suffering. So when we heard about this, we readily came. We didn’t come here for trouble.”

These are the tales of hunger that pushed some 6,000 farmers in North Cotabato to take part in the protest action.

Photo from a report by the NFHM.

Photo from a report by the NFHM.

The farmers, led by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato (ASLPC), had converged to pressure the government to mitigate the hunger in the area as effects of the El Niño continue to plague the Philippines. They asked specifically for the release of the calamity fund allocated for droughts.

Protesters likewise sought government support in terms of the distribution of free seedlings and other farm implements, and an increase in the farm gate prices of agricultural products, as well as the withdrawal of military troops and paramilitary groups from their communities.

El Niño ravages Mindanao

The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) had issued a drought warning as early as 2014. The El Niño phenomenon currently battering the country may soon surpass that of 1997-1998 as the worst El Niño on record, and may persist until the second quarter of 2016.

Photo from a report by the NFHM.

Photo from a report by the NFHM.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 34% of the country experienced drought by the end of February 2016, and 40% by the end of March 2016. By the end of April, 85% of the country will likely experience drought.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) also reported that since February 2015, the agricultural sector suffered more than PhP5.32 B losses, with PhP1.9 B worth of damages recorded from January to February this year.

From November 2014 to March 2015, crop losses were at 218,378 metric tons per 144,373 hectares. A total of PhP 2.2 B crop loss involved corn, while PhP1.1 B crop loss involved rice.

The DA also revealed that 65,855 farmers and 237,000 hectares of agriculture areas with an estimated production loss of 358,800 metric tons have been affected nationwide.

Commodities that are hardest hit by the drought include rice, corn, high value crops, and livestock.

Consequently, the DA allocated PhP940 M for mitigation and adaptation programs in affected provinces, PhP618 M for water management, PhP259 M for production support, PhP 24 M for information education and communication campaign, and PhP17 M for program management.

Read: Braving life’s storms on P10 a day: Meet Grace and John-John Rosillo

The Department of Budget Management also announced that PhP19.2 B would be allocated to address the impacts of El Niño.

But according to the National Fact Finding and Humanitarian Mission (NFHM), no funds have been released to affected farmers.

Mindanao produces more than 40 percent of the Philippines’ food requirements, contributing more than 30 percent to the national food trade. The region has suffered the greatest from the drought as more than PhP 110 million worth of agricultural crops has been ruined. Thirty-six municipalities and some 22,000 farmers have been affected by the severe drought.

According to KMP, at least 11,000 families or 25% of Kidapawan City’s total population have been affected and have suffered involuntary hunger. A total of 266 hectares of agricultural crops have wilted.

More than 27,000 hectares or over PhP 238 M worth of crops have been damaged in North Cotabato alone.

Human rights violations

A report NFHM disclosed that at least 41 shots were fired at the protesters during the tension. Aside from guns and bullets, protesters were also dispersed with truncheons, batons, and water cannons.

Eye witnesses interviewed by NFHM and photos of the confrontation revealed that there were more SWAT, PNP-Strike Force, and SAF units (trained for combat duty and assault against armed combatants) present at the scene over police personnel from civil disturbance units (trained for crowd control).

The NFHM also noted a lack of access to the victims, especially those confined in medical facilities, as they were guarded by soldiers in full battle gear. In the United Methodist Church (UMC), where many victims had taken shelter, the presence of at least 25 policemen and soldiers with long rifles were observed. Many had no name plates, and wore masks.

Also according to NFHM, some of those arrested were subjected to physical torture.

Within 24 hours after the dispersal, 34 injuries were treated in local hospitals, 22 of which were gunshot wounds. The rest were blunt trauma cases, while 4 patients needed to be sedated for Acute Stress Reaction.

Four minors were arrested, and were released only 4 days later; three pregnant women were also arrested; and 6 elderly women and men were arrested.

Two fatalities were also recorded. The victims were identified as Enrico Fabligar, 30, a welder, who was walking to the Kidapawan City Hospital when the shooting began; and Darwin Sulang, 22, who was shot in the head.

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