Koronadal City defies poll ban on food aid to help drought-hit villages
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato –- The city government has decided to defy a ban on the distribution of food aid during the election period in a bid to save drought-affected communities from starving and prevent a repeat of the Kidapawan City melee, an official said.
“We do not want a repeat of the Kidapawan City experience,” said Cyrus Urbano, the City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (CDRRMC) action officer.
Urbano admitted that the local government had not received any go-signal from the Comelec yet but he said it would no longer wait for that before distributing food aid to more than 3,500 farming families suffering from the drought here.
“We are taking the risk (in defying the Comelec),” Urbano said, adding that all 27 affected villages in the city would receive food packs – including rice – being prepared by CDRRMO volunteers.
The Omnibus Election Code prohibits any local government unit (LGU) from distributing relief aid during election period, even in times of calamities, to prevent electioneering.
Instead, food aid should be coursed through the Red Cross for distribution, under the supervision of the Commission on Audit.
“No candidate or his or her spouse or member of his family within the second civil degree of affinity or consanguinity shall participate, directly or indirectly, in the distribution of any relief or other goods to the victims of the calamity or disaster,” the Omnibus Election Code said.
Urbano said the city government has asked for an exemption last January, but the poll body has not acted on it yet.
“We have been asking for exemption as our people are getting hungry. We would no longer wait for our farmers to go to the streets and demand for food,” he said.
“We can no longer wait, we do not want the Kidapawan experience to happen here. We can no longer wait for the Comelec certification we sought since January. We must act now before our people die of hunger,” Urbano said, adding that food distribution will commence anytime.
Last week, some 6,000 El Niño-hit farmers barricaded a highway in Kidapawan City and demanded that the provincial government give them rice. The rally turned bloody when police authorities forcibly dispersed the protesters. Three of them were killed while over 100, including policemen, were either shot or hit with hard objects.
South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance Fuentes said provincial officials also sought exemption from the Comelec so that the necessary aid could be delivered to some 9,000 drought-affected farmers.
Fuentes assured her constituents that the provincial government had enough funds ro provide food and farm aid and only the election ban was stopping them.
The South Cotabato provincial government has allotted P16 million for the purchase of food packs out of its Quick Response Fund, which was made available through the declaration of a state of calamity last month.
“Our farmers’ situation is alarming,” Fuentes said.
“We have filed a petition for exemption but even this is a very tedious and long process that could take us until after the elections to complete,” South Cotabato provincial administrator Danilo Supe said.
But Supe said they were optimistic the Comelec would eventually approve their application for exemption. SFM