KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/06 April) – All of them admitted they joined the farmers’ barricade here last week so they could get a sack of rice from the provincial government of North Cotabato, but some protesters claimed they didn’t know there was going to be a rally.
Relatives and neighbors attend the wake of Manobo farmer Lito Salon at their house in Brgy Malibatuan, Arakan, North Cotabato on Tuesday, April 5. Allan, Lito’s brother said they went to Kidapawan March 29, thinking they would get a sack of rice each. They returned home March 31, a day before the violent dispersal, after Lito complained of headache and back pains. Lito’s wife Margarita said her husband was rushed to the Antipas District hospital on April 3 and died on April 4. MindaNews photo by KEITH BACONGCO
The barricade, which blocked a portion of the Cotabato-Davao highway turned bloody when police dispersed the protesters on Friday. Three farmers were killed and several others were hurt. Some policemen also sustained injuries.
Lita Lamada said she was told they they would be coming home on March 28, the same day they went to Kidapawan, after getting rice from the provincial government.
She was among at least a thousand men and women who were still sheltered inside the Spotswood Methodist Center here, where they fled after the dispersal.
“They told us we would just get rice from Gov. Lala (Talino-Mendoza) and then go home. I didn’t know we were holding a rally,” Lamada said in Ilongo while scooping vegetable soup from a cauldron along with eight other people from her village.
But a stocky guy in is 20s who refused to give his name butted in saying: ”I went here aware that we were going to hold a rally because of our hardships. There’s no help from government.”
Lamada, in her mid 40s, admitted that life has been difficult these days as their crops were damaged due to extreme heat.
She said her husband remained at home to take care of their children and grandchildren.
“We now rely on cassava as even corn has become scarce and some were eaten by rats,” she added.
Jun Lino, of Barangay Bagumbayan in Magpet town said that he, too, didn’t know about the protest.
He said it was his neighbors who invited him to come so they could get a sack of rice from the provincial government.
“I want to go home because my children are waiting for me. But somebody at the gate told me to wait because rice would be distributed,” he said while tending a big pot of rice.
Lino said the big pot of rice provided by the ‘organizer’ could feed at least 30 of his fellow farmers.
Like many of his colleagues, the Manuvu farmer admitted that he was supposed to harvest his two-hectare corn farm but it was damaged by the extreme heat and rat infestation.
He said most people in his village are now depending on root crops. He sells banana for a living.
“I planted rubber but it’s still four years old. Life is really hard but it’s good that I have a few banana plants,” he said.
A woman farmer who only identified herself as Magdalena from Barangay Dalag of Arakan town, said they have not yet received any rice subsidy from the local government.
She said that since they needed rice, she and her neighbors boarded a truck to this city on March 28 even as they didn’t know that they would end up in the picket line.
“We thought we’d just get rice from Gov. Lala. We’re supposed to get one sack each and then go home,” she said.
In her mid 50s, Magdalena came to Kidapawan with her brother and two-year old grandson.
“The problem now is if the rice is really for us because it has not been distributed yet. If it’s for us, it should have been given to us so we can go home,” she said in an interview on Tuesday noon.
She said she is looking after her grandson since her nephew is working as a house help in Calinan, Davao City.
Like many other farmers, Magdalena said they did not harvest anything from their farm because it was damaged by extreme heat.
Even bananas could not be eaten because of some diseases due to the dry spell, she added.
She appealed for help particularly food.
Help from Davao
On Tuesday, the loud speakers in the middle of the compound echoed a broadcast of the session of the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Davao City as it was deliberating the proposed P31.5-million assistance for the farmers here.
The session was covered live by a radio station in Davao City and relayed through its sister station here.
On the other side, some farmers were lying on slabs of wood and hammocks tied to withered fruit trees.
Near the gate, a small kiosk served as a medical station, where the people could ask for any medical assistance.
The farmers, who are backed by militant organizations, demanded a subsidy of 15,000 sacks of rice from the provincial government to cushion the impact of the 1worsening El Nino.
Gov’t resources ‘not enough’
In Arakan, where most of the protesting farmers came from, Mayor Rene Rubino admitted to Mindanews that the local government unit’s resources was not enough to address the impact of the dry spell.
He said P2.5 million has been allotted to address the effects of the calamity, and the amount will be divided among 15,000 families in the town.
He said the LGU has already paid an initial amount of P2.5 million to the National Food Authority in this city for the purchase of rice for the first two quarters this year.
The rice subsidy was supposed to arrive in Arakan before the end of March, but delivery was delayed due to the protest, he added.
Since November last year, Rubino said they have been distributing three kilos of rice to ‘walk-in’ residents.
The mayor said the dry spell this year is the worst to have hit not just the town but the whole province as well.
He said he has been coordinating with the barangay chairs to facilitate the return of farmers to their respective villages.
He said the provincial government has offered dump trucks to transport those who want to go home.
Some of those who returned in Arakan on Tuesday were given free meals, three kilos of rice and sardines before heading home, Rubino said.
He said they will distribute the rice subsidy from NFA to the villagers including those protesters who received assistance before going home. (Keith Bacongco/MindaNews)