Protests grow vs lack of drought aid
KORONADAL CITY—Protests are growing over what farmers said was government failure to act on their demand for food aid that would tide them over the ongoing drought, which has destroyed crops and is pushing them and their families to desperation.
The farmers are not just in search of aid, though. They also want to know why no aid is coming despite official pronouncements that funds are available.
In Koronadal, at least 2,000 farmers pushed back some 30 antiriot policemen who tried to disperse their rally. The law enforcers had to retreat to the Department of Agriculture office (DA) there.
The farmers padlocked the front doors of the DA building in Koronadal. The trapped policemen had to get out through the backdoor.
Ryan Lariba, a leader of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, which is supporting the farmers, said the 2,000 farmers gathered at the DA office in Koronadal to condemn what they said was government’s failure to address the plight of farmers stricken by the drought and its failure to provide immediate aid.
Antiriot policemen, though outnumbered, tried to push the protesters back and used truncheons but the farmers stood their ground and were able to overpower the law enforcers.
Lariba said the farmers were able to push the policemen into the DA office and lock the office doors from the outside.
“The cops are locked inside the building,” said Lariba. But the situation did not last as the policemen found a way out through a door at the back.
Lariba said the farmers who held the protest action in Koronadal came from the rural communities of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, General Santos City and Sarangani province.
He said while the government sent negotiators, including church leaders and officials of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, “no one from the DA came to talk to the farmers.”
A similar protest action was held by farmers in Malaybalay City in Bukidnon.
At least 100 protesters have also been holding a picket outside the DA’s regional office in Davao City since Wednesday.
Domingo Azures, regional chair of the party-list group Anakpawis, said the protest action in Koronadal would be peaceful unlike the one in Kidapawan City, where two protesters and a bystander were killed when police opened fire on a farmers’ barricade to clear a road being blocked by the protesters.
The rally in Malaybalay ended peacefully Friday after the governor vowed to help the farmers.
Jun Benemerito, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Bukidnon, said at least 4,000 farmers from different towns in the province gathered early this week in Malaybalay City to demand aid.
Benemerito said farmers resorted to milling their seeds, which are supposed to be for the next cropping season, and turn them into food for their families.
“It is a sign of desperation. We really need help,” Benemerito said.
In Koronadal City, Azures said farmers would continue the protest action until Monday.
South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes appealed to the protesters to keep calm. She said, however, that “90 percent of the protesters are not from South Cotabato.”
Fuentes said rice would be distributed to farmers starting Monday.
In Davao City, at least 100 protesters gathered outside the DA regional office.
On Thursday, at least 500 farmers staged a rally outside the municipal hall of Alabel in Sarangani. Karlos Manlupig and Edwin Fernandez with a report from Judy Quiros, Inquirer Mindanao
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