Farmers barricade Kidapawan highway to push for drought assistance

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KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 30 March) – Hundreds of farmers suffering from the long drought and members of militant groups barricaded a portion of the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidapawan City since 5:45 a.m. Wednesday, demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. Twelve hours later, they were still at the barricade, vowing to sleep there.

Norma Capuyan, chair of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato
told MindaNews at the barricade that they will not leave until North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza meets with them and heeds their demands of 15,000 sacks of rice; subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers and pesticides when the rains come and they can plant again, until harvest time; and an end to military operations.

Organizers claimed some 5,000 participants from Makilala, Mlang, Tulunan, Magpet, Roxas, Antipas, Arakan and Kidapawan City joined the barricade. The provincial police chief estimated the number at 3,000. 

 Some of the protesting farmers and members of militant groups gathered near the arch welcoming visitors to Kidapawan City at the boundary with Makilala town in North Cotabato on March 30, 2016. The protesters, (5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police), are demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Some of the protesting farmers and members of militant groups gathered near the arch welcoming visitors to Kidapawan City at the boundary with Makilala town in North Cotabato on March 30, 2016. The protesters, (5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police), are demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Some of the protesting farmers and members of militant groups gathered near the arch welcoming visitors to Kidapawan City at the boundary with Makilala town in North Cotabato on March 30, 2016.

Some of the protesting farmers and members of militant groups gathered near the arch welcoming visitors to Kidapawan City at the boundary with Makilala town in North Cotabato on March 30, 2016. The protesters, (5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police), are demanding, among others,  the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance.  MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of Febuary 17 listed 36,915 farmers affected by the drought, mostly corn, rice, rubber and coconut farmers. The province was placed under a state of calamity on January 19.

“Dili mi muhawa hangtod dili muanhi si Lala” (We will not leave until Lala comes), Capuyan said. Lala is the nickname of the governor who was in Manila and was expected to return in the evening.

Commuters bound for Cotabato or Davao were advised by police to take a detour to reach their destinations. The Davao-Cotabato highway links Davao City with Cotabato City passing through Davao del Sur, North Cotabato and portions of Maguindanao.

Farmers and members of militant groups from seven towns and one city in North Cotabato block a portion of the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidapawan City on March 30, 2016. The protesters (around 5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police) are demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
 The protesters  at the barricade in Kidapawan City (around 5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police) are demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO

Only an orange nylon rope separated the police line from the protesters along Quezon Boulevard, near the warehouse of the National Food Authority (NFA). Four firetrucks were on standby behind the anti-riot police carrying truncheons and shields.

Not acceptable

Pedro Arnado, chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao Region, told MindaNews they were marching to the NFA warehouse early morning but were blocked by the police.

Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum, provincial police director, who was also at the barricade behind the police line, told MindaNews that they did not block the protesters.

“They stopped right outside Methodist-Spottswood and thereby blocked the regular flow of traffic. We are the police. With that situation, we immediately checked their intent. That started the square-off with the rallyists,” he said.

Arnado said Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista met with the protesters twice, at around 6:20 in the morning and around one in the afternoon.

Protesters at the barricade. Mindanews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Protesters at the barricade. Mindanews photo by TOTO LOZANO

He said the offer of the Governor relayed through Evangelista was not acceptable to them. Arnado said they were asked to list down the names of those who participated in the barricade and to give the list to the local government units.

Arnado explained that coursing their demand through the local government units means the Department of Social Welfare and Development will allocate only a few kilos of rice through the food for work program.

Go through process

Evangelista told MindaNews that there is a process in the release of calamity assistance. In the city, he said, they distribute 12 kilos on a food for work basis.

Arnado said they went to the Governor’s office at the Capitol in January but were told the assistance would be coursed through the local government units (LGUs). He said he is afraid that given the elections on May 9, the intended assistance would be used for election purposes.

Governor Mendoza told MindaNews the provincial government will provide assistance but this has to go through the process. She said she will ask the protesters to “go back to your barangays” for validation and release of the assistance.

Mendoza explained that barangays and towns have their respective calamity funds and the provincial government is for augmentation only.

She said if the assistance from the barangay and town is not enough, the province can step in. “We have to stretch our calamity funds until December because this is not only for the drought,” she said.

“There is a process to follow,” she stressed.

RA10121 or the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010 provides that the calamity fund, renamed as “Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund” or LDRRMF (although still popularly referred to as “calamity fund”) provides that “not less than five percent of the estimated revenue from regular sources” be set aside to support disaster risk management activities, 30% of which shall be allocated as Quick Response Fund (QRF) or stand-by fund for “relief and recovery programs in order that situation and living conditions of people in communities or areas stricken by disasters, calamities, epidemics, or complex emergencies, may be normalized as quickly as possible.”

Mendoza also said that there are certified seeds of corn, palay and cacao that will be distributed when the rains come.

Maximum tolerance

Arnado said they would sleep at the barricade until their demands are met.

Tagum said he has ordered his men to observe maximum tolerance. “We are here to maintain the rule of law.”

“We will not use force.. We will observe maximum tolerance,” Tagum said.

He said the city crisis management committee headed by the mayor told him that if the protesters use violence “we have the go-signal to use the firetrucks” to spray water at the protesters.

Bayan Southern Mindanao e-mailed a note on the barricade in Kidapawan, with an attachment on the Kampanyang Kontra-Hulaw (Campaign Against Drought) that says it is a form of “pressure politics,” a mass mobilization that aims to create a major impact to force government to give in to the legitimate demands of the masses. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

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