KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 4 Apr) – A progressive group on Saturday called the situation of the farmers hit by the dry spell a “humanitarian crisis” that goes beyond the geo-political territory of North Cotabato.
Anakpawis Partylist first nominee Ariel Casilao, in an interview on Saturday at the Spottswood Methodist Center here, reacted to Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista’s statement that most of the protesters who set up the barricade were not from the province.
The mayor claimed there were protesters coming from Kitaotao in Bukidnon, Sta. Cruz in Davao del Sur, Columbio in Sultan Kudarat, and even Davao City.
Casilao did not deny the presence of protesters coming from areas outside the province but the staging of the rally was intended to press for the release of rice subsidies by the National Food Authority NFA 12 (NFA-12), whose office happens to be in Kidapawan City.
Casilao said the residence of the protesters should not be put in question because they all suffer from hunger due to El Nino that wreaked havoc on their crops.
“Hindi dapat i-question kung constituent kita or hindi. Kahit sabihin may outsiders, gobyerno sila. Although there’s distinction in geo-political boundaries, which is true, but it is a humanitarian crisis that the government is capable of responding. The people were hungry, they were farmers,” he stressed.
The protesters demanded for the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance, Casilao noted.
Evangelista claimed barangays and municipalities in their province have been distributing rice subsidies for the last two weeks as part of the calamity fund while the subsidy from the provincial level will come in after the El Nino phenomenon, if their resources have not been depleted by then.
In his area, the mayor said a total of 1,500 sacks of rice have been distributed to his constituents.
He said they don’t have qualms when it comes to the staging of protests for as long as they don’t block the national highway, which “paralyzed the economy.”
Two trucks carrying 94 protesters returned to their communities in Arakan and President Roxas in Cotabato, bringing to 4,386 the total number of people who occupied the Spottswood Methodist Center since Friday.
Leonor Tano, 53, farmer and resident of Brgy. Binoongan in Arakan, North Cotabato, said her family has so far received only two bags of rice, one containing three kilos and the other, five kilos.
“We are six in the family,” she said, lamenting that it was just not enough for them.
Her husband was among the injured protesters allegedly by bullets last Friday and is now confined at the Midway Hospital in Kidapawan. She and her husband stood by the gate of Spottswood when the tension erupted.
Tano said that she, along with son and husband, rode a jeepney to Kidapawan last Tuesday after she heard that Gov. Emmylou “Lala” Talino-Mendoza would distribute rice subsidies without knowing that a tension would erupt between the farmers and the police.
“Nadunggan lang man nako nga naay mag-distribute og bugas (I just heard that someone will distribute rice),” she said.
Tano said that she missed the recognition rites of her children who are in grades 7 and 8 last week.
According to Evangelista, 99 policemen and firemen, as well as 41 protesters, were hurt in the incident.