Cops guard NFA compound vs farmers demanding rice
KIDAPAWAN CITY, Philippines—Policemen were sent to the provincial office of the National Food Authority (NFA) here to keep intruders off as rumor swirled that some 6,000 farmers, protesting what they said was government neglect of victims of the continuing drought in many agricultural areas, would try to break into the government agency’s compound.
Supt. John Meredel Calinga, city police chief, said the deployment of policemen to the NFA compound, which keeps hundreds of sacks of rice, is part of security plans by the city government as the farmers’ protest entered its second day on Thursday.
The protest has so far been peaceful but another group of farmers, numbering about 500, blocked a portion of the Davao-Cotabato Highway in nearby Makilala, North Cotabato province on Thursday.
Lito Roxas, president of the town’s Rubber Tappers Federation, said the farmers are demanding subsidy and immediate action from the government over dwindling prices of raw rubber and other agricultural produce.
Roxas said the farmers decided to put up the blockade as they didn’t feel the government’s concern on their plight.
He said the farmers planned to block more portions of the highway unless government officials dialogue with them.
Roxas said the number of protesters is expected to increase with the arrival of more farmers from M’lang and Tulunan towns.
Police are observing a policy of maximum tolerance.
Roxas said the farmers are also demanding that North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza face them.
But Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said the leaders of the protesters did not show up when it was time for them to face Mendoza, who rushed home from Manila on Wednesday.
Evangelista said the governor waited for the farmers until 11:30 in his office.
But Norma Capuyan, one of the protest leaders, said they would have wanted to meet Mendoza at the protest line and not in Evangelista’s office.
She said the farmers’ demand stays and want the provincial government to release 15,000 bags of rice for distribution to farmers hit by El Niño in the province.
“We will disperse only if she (Mendoza) faces us here (in the protest area),” Capuyan said.
Evangelista said as chair of the city’s crisis management committee, he had relayed Mendoza’s message to protest leaders asking them to submit to the governor’s office the names and addresses of farmers hit by El Niño.
Capuyan, however, said the farmers would not comply with Mendoza’s requirement unless she met the protesters.
Pedro Arnado, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas in North Cotabato, said his group has other issues to discuss with Mendoza.
Aside from rice, the farmers are also demanding the withdrawal of soldiers stationed in their villages, help in raising farm gate prices and a stop to the arming of lumad militias in Magpet town.
“We will stay here until the governor sees us,” said Arnado. “If it takes one month, then so be it,” he said. Williamor Magbanua, Inquirer Mindanao
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