Arakan Mayor says he didn’t neglect giving aid to farmers

ARAKAN, North Cotabato (MindaNews/07 April) — The town mayor here has denied reports insinuating the local government has been remiss in its duty to extend rice assistance to farmers severely affected by the long dry spell.

Mayor Rene Rubino of Arakan also denied he had prior knowledge that some of his constituents had moved to Kidapawan City on March 31 to join the farmers’ protest that turned bloody.

“I have documents to prove this,” he said.

Asked whether politics got in the way, Rubino said: “There could be politics behind and there could be none. No one can say, its election season.”

The mayor added his office has extended cash assistance and a sack of rice to the family of Darwin Sulang, one of the fatalities in the April 1 bloody dispersal of farmer protesters in Kidapawan.

He appealed to his townmates who were still at Spottswood compound of the United Methodist Church in Kidapawan to return home because “rice assistance is ready for distribution”.

He said the Philippine National Red Cross personnel will distribute the rice assistance since the Commission on Elections prohibits government employees, elected officials and their relatives from distributing aid to farmers affected by El Nino phenomenon.

It was learned that next week the provincial government of North Cotabato will start distributing rice assistance to farmers in 17 municipalities and in Kidapawan.

Sourced from the calamity fund, 10,000 sacks of rice will be delivered every week for 12 weeks as the long drought is expected to cause more damage to the province’s agriculture sector.

Last week, over 4,000 farmers from Arakan, Antipas, President Roxas, Magpet and other towns massed in Kidapawan and blocked a portion of the Cotabato-Davao highway to demand rice assistance from the provincial government.

On April 1, police broke up the barricade resulting in a melee that left two farmers dead and several others injured. Some policemen were also hurt.

Progressive groups and even presidential candidates condemned the police action while the Senate has opened an investigation of the incident.

Cotabato Gov. Lala Talino-Mendoza had refused to extend rice assistance to the farmers before the bloody dispersal. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)