President Benigno Aquino 3rd should face the public squarely and explain what happened to the supposed P58-billion government fund allocation to help farmers deal with the impact of a massive dry spell brought by the El Niño phenomenon.
The Green Action Philippines on Friday raised this point after hundreds of farmers from North Cotabato province in southern Mindanao staged a protest rally in Kidapawan City on March 30 to April 1 that in the presence of policemen turned violent in the end.
The protesters demanded five sacks of rice from the provincial government for each of them. But they failed to get approval and the rally ended in a bloody dispersal, resulting in the death of three farmers and injuries to more than 100 people, including policemen.
President Aquino has since kept his silence on what critics have referred to as the Kidapawan Massacre.
According to Sanshen Maglinte, Green Action Philippines spokesman, the President last year promised that he would order the release of some P19 billion in calamity funds to mitigate the massive negative effects of El Niño.
Aside from the P19 billion, Maglinte said, about P39 billion more was handed over to the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund for 2016.
“The Aquino government has even crafted the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño [RAIN]. What happened to the funds [P19 billion and P39 billion] and to RAIN?” she asked.
Maglinte noted that the Department of Agriculture, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Irrigation Administration, can even request an additional budget once the funds allocated to victims of calamities called Quick Response Fund (QRF) has been used up.
On top of the QRF, local government units (LGUs) are allowed to use at least 5 percent of their own fund generated from regular revenues for calamity assistance.
“As the devastation wrought by the extreme drought due to the El Niño phenomenon spreads and heightens across the country, the Aquino government has again been slow to respond. It has also been slow to take decisive action for the farmers in the face of gross violations of their human rights perpetrated by the local Philippine National Police and under the administration of North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza,” Maglinte said.
Estrella Catarata, executive director of the Philippine Network of Food Security Programs, a member of Green Action Philippines, said the extreme dry spell that started last year prevented many farmers in many parts of the country from planting and harvesting in May and October in 2015.
The “lean period extended from the usual five to seven months to more than nine months. But assistance from the government has been wanting and slow, and obviously has not reached most of the starving farmers and their families. The pangs of hunger have prompted them to organize, struggle and demand rice and support from the calamity funds of the government,” Catarata explained.
The problem with the Aquino Administration, according to Bantay Bigas spokesman Cathy Estavillo, is that “instead of assisting the poorest of its constituents, the farmers and the indigenous peoples, the government has neglected them at the height of their hunger.”
Bantay Bigas is also a member of the alliance.
Maglinte said, “If the government only genuinely prepared for El Niño and channeled the funds where they were meant, this tragedy [at Kidapawan]would not have happened. In the longer term, had the government dedicated funds to more productive programs such as developing post-harvest facilities, subsidies, sustainable agriculture programs and appropriate technologies for irrigation instead of the piece-meal Conditional Cash
Transfer Program, our farmers would not be as badly hit by calamities.”
She added that the President should explain clearly where the P58-billion fund went and for what purposes it was really used.
The Green Action Philippines describes itself as “a broad national alliance of networks and organizations, institutions including [LGUs], church and inter-faith organizations, academe, students, professionals and individuals, producers and consumers with common advocacies leading toward sustainable production and sustainable consumption.”
It advocates “organic farming, toxic free and GMO free-food and non-food products, sustainable use and allocation of natural resources, as well as food security, including campaign against large-scale mining, GMO-free Philippine farms and genuine agrarian reform, among others.”