6 Lala Taliño Mendoza

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino Mendoza appears during the Senate hearing in Davao City on Thursday, April 7. (Ace R. Morandante/davaotoday.com)

DAVAO CITY — A senate official pinned the blame on government inaction to curb the effects of El Niño as the reason why hungry farmers barricaded Kidapawan City last week.

The barricade ended with “brutal” police dispersal that killed two and injured several others.

Vice presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said “if the national government had addressed the public’s concern about the ill effects of the El Niño phenomenon early on, the shooting and violent dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City would have been averted.”

During a Senate hearing held here on Thursday, April 7, North Cotabato Provincial Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza said they declared a state of calamity in the province as early as January this year.

She said they also wrote the national government “for an assistance in the event that our fund is used up.” She said the resolution was addressed to President Benigno Aquino III.

Mendoza said in 2010 to 2013 their allocation of rice from the National Food Authority was only 500 sacks per month. From 2013 to March this year, she said this increased to 1,500 sacks.

“Kaya sumulat kami. Kulang man yung 500 allocation (That’s why we wrote (the national government). The 500 allocation is not enough),” she said.

“Ngayong Abril sabi ko may El Niño na, kailangan susulat kami ulit. Tataasan yun sa 3,000. Isusulat mo yung pangangailangan mo (This April I said there is El Niño already, we need to write again. We will increase it to 3,000 sacks. You have to write down your needs),” she told the Senate public hearing at the University of Southeastern Philippines in Obrero.

On Wednesday, March 31, a barricade was put up by farmers along the national highway in Kidapawan City. Among the demands of the protesters was the release of 15,000 sacks of rice and subsidy from the provincial government.

On Friday, April 1 a violent dispersal ensued killing at least two individuals, including a 22-year old farmer from Arakan Valley and a bystander from Kidapawan City.


Provincial allocation

Senators Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel and Teofisto Guingona III during the hearing clarified whether there is a “quota” being implemented by the NFA that hinders the provincial government from buying more than what they are allowed.

Ludovico Jarina, Deputy Administrator for Finance and Administration of the NFA said, “there is no quota”.

However, the specification of authority for provincial managers is up to 500 sacks and for regional directors is up to 2,000 sacks, said Jarina.

He said that if they want to buy more than their specification, the local government should request it to Manila for their approval.


Government neglect

In a statement, Cayetano said “by failing to take immediate action to curb the effects of the dry spell, the national government has aggravated the situation of poor Filipino farmers.”

“Nasaan ang national government? This is criminal neglect, the government has failed the farmers,” he said.

During the hearing, Cayetano also questioned the absence of concerned national officials.

“Most of my questions are for the secretaries. Ang problema, I only see one undersecretary here. Kahit isa sa mga secretary ay wala dito. This is a national issue and they are not here?” Cayetano said.

Cayetano said the government has “P45 billion worth of funds in the 2016 budget that may be used for projects that will curb the impact of this crisis.”

“Kung determinado ang Palasyo na resolbahin ito, magagawa nila. Pero bakit kailangan pang sumulat ng lokal na pamahalaan? Bakit maraming magsasaka pa rin ang patuloy na nagugutom at naghihirap (If the Palace is determined to resolve this why does the local government still need to write a request? Why are the farmers hungry?),”Cayetano added.



He said the tragedy in Kidapawan should serve as a reminder “that government inaction leads to hunger and even violence.”

“Hindi naman natin kasalanan ang El Niño, pero ang gobyerno ang inaasahan ng mga tao (El Niño is not our fault, but the people is depending on the government),” he said.

Cayetano said the national government should declare all El Niño-hit areas under a state of calamity to “allow local government units (LGUs) access to calamity funds sourced from higher offices, and impose a price freeze and price ceiling on basic necessities in affected areas.” (davaotoday.com)

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