6,000 North Cotabato farmers block highway, demand food, farm aid; cops blame activists
KIDAPAWAN CITY, North Cotabato – Some 6,000 farmers and members of militant groups barricaded a portion of the Cotabato-Davao highway here on Wednesday.
The protesters occupied at least 50 meters of the highway, demanding government assistance to drought victims.
Norma Capuyan, leader of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato, said that the barricade started at 5:30 a.m. at the boundary of Makilala town and Kidapawan City.
Traffic was rerouted to a diversion route via Mlang and Matalam towns.
Pedro Arnado, chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-North Cotabato province, said most of the protesters were farmers directly affected by drought in the towns of Arakan, Antipas, President Roxas, Magpet and here.
“We bring our sentiments on the streets so that the provincial government will notice our demands,” Arnado said.
The protesters demanded that the provincial government release 15,000 sacks of rice that were allegedly promised by Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, following the declaration of the provincial board declaring a state of calamity in the entire province.
Arnado said that aside from rice assistance, they were also demanding the immediate pullout of the military presence in the villages.
The demonstrators also demanded the presence of the governor. But Mendoza, who was in Manila as of Wednesdayafternoon, said that she could not immediately be with the protesters.
“But I have already delegated the task of talking with the leaders to the mayor of Kidapawan City. I am also confident that there will be no violence. I have specifically ordered the police to observe maximum tolerance,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza denied that the provincial government has done nothing to address the needs of the farmers.
“The funds are here but we have to follow a process. In fact, we are about to distribute rice to them in the coming days with the Department of Agriculture,” Mendoza said.
She explained that the process involved barangay and municipal or city level offices to receive and validate requests.
“I am sorry but I cannot give in to their demands immediately. They must go back to their barangays. And from there the barangay, municipality and the province will attend to their needs,” Mendoza said.
Supt. Bernard Tayong, spokesperson of the North Cotabato Police, said organizers of the barricade tricked the protesters by promising them that rice would be distributed by the provincial government.
Tayong said three days before the barricade, groups roamed around the villages, encouraging residents to go to Kidapawan to receive their share of rice from the calamity funds.
The demonstrators stayed at least three days inside the Methodist Center compound near the boundary of this city and the town of Makilala.
Capuyan, leader of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato, alleged that the provincial government failed to address the effects of the drought in hundreds of hectares of farm lands causing millions worth of damage and losses.
The group recognized that the provincial government has declared a state of calamity since January this year, but claimed that the response was only limited to cloud seeding with an estimated worth of P4 million.
Aside from the release of 15,000 sacks of rice to their communities, “We are also demanding that the government provide subsidy to the farmers affected. We also demand for the governor to face us here and to sign an agreement with us,” Capuyan said.
The protesters vowed not to lift the barricade for days.
The main highway has been closed but diversion roads and baragay roads are being used to ensure the steady flow of traffic. SFM