DAVAO CITY – Thousands of farmers hit by drought were promised 3,000 sacks of rice they demanded in a four-day protest in the municipalities of Maramag and Kitaotao in the province of Bukidnon.

Juanito Binaton, secretary of Kahugpongan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Kitaotao (KMK-Kitaotao Farmers Association), in phone interview said they already received 1,000 sacks Thursday afternoon.

Binaton said the number of sacks of rice would mean each of the 3,000 farmers would get one sack.  The farmers came from 11 barangays of Kitaotao and several barangays from the neighboring municipality of Kibawi.

Thousands of farmers from KMK protested along the national highway several times since 1:00 pm Sunday.  From Sunday to Tuesday, the farmers also protested at the Kitaotao Municipal Hall, the National Food Authority warehouse in Maramag and the Army’s 23rd Infantry Battalion headquarters.

By Wednesday, the farmers decided to block the national highway in Kitaotao for several hours to air their demands.

Binaton said they have asked the local government’s help since April “but until now they are still processing.”

“Imagine the hunger we suffered since January. Our crops are already dead,” he said.

Binaton said their problems will “double come the rainy season.”

“All the corn and rice seeds we were able to save we planted this month, but we have nothing to eat till harvest which will be August or September at the earliest,” he said.

Binaton said their demand “is only minimum. So we’ll survive.”

He said they only ask for a share in the local government’s calamity fund.

Engineer Eleuterio Vicente, Kitaotao administrative officer, said that out of their P8.6 million calamity fund, only P2.8 million under their “quick reaction fund” can be used for the purpose.

“We have to divide the fund to 35 barangays. They came from 11 barangays and we can only give them their share,” he said.

Vicente said Tuesday that they can only give the farmers 600 sacks of rice.

Binaton said they did not agree with the amount.

“It would not suffice for the more than three thousand who are here whose demand is to go home with a rice supply that would last their family for about a month,” he said.

Binaton said they also went to a dialogue with Mayor Lorenzo Gawilan and Governor Jose Maria Zubiri “because they can make the decisions.”

Meanwhile, Binaton also said that the local government should “stop the psywar and other military operations in their communities.”

Binaton said a farmer named Emilio Roflo was “beaten to death by the Army because they believed he was an NPA (New People’s Army).”

“He was taken from his farm hut and killed. We have already brought the case up with the Governor as he is also the husband of a councilor,” he said.

The Army said they have yet to check with local units on the matter.(davaotoday.com)

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