Liberal Party (LP) vice-presidential bet Leni Robredo virtually tagged the Palace version of the deadly Kidapawan protest rally as a lie when she declared that “the root of the problem is many of our countrymen are in poverty because of the drought.”
In her website, Robredo says “the farmers were protesting the local government’s lack of assistance amid the worsening El Niño problem in Cotabato province along the national highway in Kidapawan City when the violent incident occurred.”
Recognizing that the farmers have been neglected, Robredo called on the Aquino government to intervene and provide the necessary assistance to the farmers and their families, who have lost their livelihood due to severe drought in the province. “Unless the government acts quickly on the drought, and holds accountable those who are responsible for the deaths, our farmers will continue to suffer,” Robredo said.
Robredo’s statements completely debunk the narrative being pushed by Malacañang that leftist groups incited rally participants to violence and that the picket-cum-blockade of some 6,000 farmers was cooked up by local politicians.
Leading the red-baiting spin is Agriculture Secretary Procy Alcala who said: “Our brothers from the Left, who were observing the NPA anniversary last March 29, instigated the breakout of stone-throwing that led to the violence during the dispersal.”
“The reality on the ground at Kidapawan is that it’s politically motivated by the local politicians led by [former North Cotabato governor Manny]Piñol,” Alcala added.
Worse, PNoy’s agriculture secretary tried to downplay the complaint of North Cotabato farmers about the lack of food, arguing that the National Food Authority has over two weeks supply of rice and that “price of rice never shot up.”
Either Alcala is playing dumb or he really is.
The problem isn’t the supply. The problem is that farmers in the drought-stricken province are going hungry because they have no money with which to buy rice. In fact, if Alcala’s claims are accurate, we find it even more disturbing that farmers in North Cotabato are starving in the midst of plenty. And for this, the blame lies solely in the Aquino government’s indifference and cavalier attitude to the plight of our country’s rural poor.
As early as Sept 2015, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) already warned that with the prevailing El Niño, the entire Region 12 (composed of South Cotabato, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani provinces), which is widely considered as the breadbasket of Mindanao, would suffer from drought from January to April.
Since Mindanao has a large number of households suffering mild, moderate and severe chronic food insecurity, the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OHCA) this January, also warned that the drought would “aggravate the food insecurity of the vulnerable people in Mindanao.”
In North Cotabato alone, the drought has reportedly damaged more than P238 million worth of rice, corn, banana, rubber, coconut, oil palm and vegetables planted by small farmers in over 27,500 hectares.
And what was the solution of this “daang matuwid” government? Make the poor and hungry farmers work for their food. Unbelievable!!
Palace Communications Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III said the government offered affected farmers the Aquino administration’s cash-for-work program whereby farmers are made to clean up canals and other similar activities in exchange for 15 kilos of rice. He described the program as an act of “genuine public service” that “give workers dignity and succor in the most trying times.” Quezon even chided some farmers for refusing to take part in what he called a “concrete solution to end the hunger right away.”
Apparently, Quezon and his Palace cohorts have never experienced real hunger like many of our fellow Filipinos in the countryside. Forcing starving folks to do more backbreaking work under the sun just to be able to bring home rice to their families is cruel and heartless, moreso when the Aquino government has no qualms spending P3,000 per month on a CCT family who isn’t even required to do any work.
What is also disturbing is the harsh response of the police, military and local officials in the aftermath of the violent and deadly dispersal in Kidapawan.
Some 3,000 demonstrators, who sought refuge in the local United Methodist Church compound, were surrounded by fully armed policemen while soldiers from the Philippine Army’s 39th Infantry Battalion blocked the back gate. The next day, armed with a search warrant, 12 policemen entered the church compound to look for firearms but found nothing after two hours of searching.
Two days later, Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista issued a “Notice of Violation” to the church, threatening to revoke its business permit for allowing the compound to be used “as head quarter (sic) billeting or harboring the leaders and members of illegal demonstrators or rallyists (sic).”
Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights confirmed that some 73 farmers, including pregnant women, children and senior citizens were detained by the police at the Kidapawan Gym for almost a week without any charges being filed against them.
We, therefore, find it hypocritical and sanctimonious of PNoy to lambast the Marcos regime for its human rights abuses, yet keeping mum about the heavy-handed and unconstitutional tactics used by law enforcement officials and local politicians on Kidapawan’s hapless farmers – ironically, on this 30th year of the Edsa revolution.