COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: Police were placed on heightened alert in and around Koronadal City after farmer-protesters demanding rice subsidy from the government occupied portions of the national highway connecting Koronadal and General Santos City.
The protesters have barricaded the four-lane highway by sitting down and lying on the concrete highway since Sunday, causing inconvenience to commuters who were forced to detour via the town of Tampakan.
On Monday morning, the protesters, including women and children, resumed their lying down protest on the highway fronting the SOCCSKSARGEN (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos) Region 12 Government Regional Center in Barangay Carpenter Hills, in Koronadal.
Several residents of Koronadal City were getting apprehensive of the situation which appeared to be a repeat of what happened in Kidapawan City, where thousands of protesters, mostly farmers, barricaded the national highway.
An estimated 3,000 farmers who belong to a militant group have similarly demanded from both the local and national government the release of the calamity fund intended for drought-stricken farmers whose farm production were greatly affected by the El Niño phenomenon.
The farmers admitted that they were very hungry because they have no rice to eat, and were shouting at the top of their voices “rice for the hungry farmers.”
The protesters also claimed that some of the farmers have already been suffering from diseases including headaches, colds, fever, flu and stomachache.
“It’s been months already that these farmers were affected by the El Niño crisis. There’s not enough food so this resulted in their weakened bodies,” Ryan Lariba, secretary general of Bayan SOCKSARGEN said.
In their placards which read “bugas, dili bala [rice, not bullets],” the protesters also demanded justice for the protesting farmers in Kidapawan City.
Law enforcers had secured the area and assured that no violence would occur similar to the April 1 Kidapawan bloody dispersal operation despite the militants not having a rally permit.
City police chief Senior Supt. Barney Condes said that authorities had negotiated with the protesters to convince them to just occupy half of the highway so vehicles could pass through. The rallyists eventually left the highway open, and although this was a welcome development, Condes admitted that they received reports the farmers would again barricade the highway anytime.
South Cotabato province, to which this city belongs, had been declared under state of calamity on March 18 due to the severe effects of the El Niño phenomenon similar to the provinces of North Cotabato and Bukidnon.
Since Thursday, over 5,000 drought-affected farmers in Bukidnon have occupied a portion of Sayre Highway in Malaybalay City demanding the same aid from the government.
In a related development, the rerouting of the buses bound for General Santos was blamed for the death of a 14-year old girl in Koronadal City on Sunday when she was accidentally hit by a blown out tire of a Yellow Bus Line Transit.
The victim, Trisha Cordova, who was sitting in front of their house in Barangay San Roque, was killed due to the impact of the tire thrown towards her direction. She was with her 11-year-old younger brother Francis who remains in critical condition at a private hospital in Koronadal City.