By Daniel Llanto | FilAm Star Correspondent
A repeat of the bloody April 1 dispersal of farmer-protesters in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato, is feared when about 3,000 farmers (said to belong to the Kilusang Mayo Uno) started to occupy the national highway connecting Koronadal City to General Santos City in South Cotabato recently.
Over 5,000 drought-affected farmers in Bukidnon also occupied a portion of Sayre Highway in Malaybalay City demanding the same aid from the government. The protesters said they were in such dire straits they couldn’t care less if authorities meet their action with violence as in Kidapawan.
Meanwhile, local officials in Zamboanga del Norte tried to steer clear of the wave of farmers’ protests as they declared a province-wide state of calamity. Damage to crops in Zamboanga del Norte caused by the El Nino reached PHP 162 million.
A total of 5,642 hectares of farmlands were affected in Zamboanga del Norte’s 10 municipalities including Sergio Osmeña, Sibutad, Piñan, Labason, Gutalac, Godod, Sindagan, Manukan, Kalawit and Rizal.
Some 5,778 farmers have been suffering due to drought, according to the Department of Agriculture. Damage to rice crops reached PHP 92 million while damage to corn reached PHP 69 million.
Other provinces which have also been placed under a state of calamity and where farmers are restive include Iloilo, Davao del Sur, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Basilan, Isabela, Quirino, Bukidnon, and most recently, Puerto Princesa City.
In Koronadal, police were placed on heightened alert in and around Koronadal City after farmer-protesters demanding rice subsidy from the government occupied portions of the national highway connecting Koronadal and General Santos City.
The protesters barricaded the four-lane highway by sitting down and lying on the concrete highway, causing inconvenience to commuters who were forced to detour via the town of Tampakan.
The protesters, including women and children, resumed their protest by lying down on the highway fronting the Socksargen (South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, General Santos) Region 12 Government Regional Center in Barangay Carpenter Hills, in Koronadal.
The estimated 3,000 farmers, belonging to a militant group, are demanding from both the local and national government the release of the calamity fund intended for drought-stricken farmers whose farm production was greatly affected by El Niño.
The farmers admitted they were very hungry because they have no rice to eat, and were shouting at the top of their voices: “Rice for the hungry farmers!”
The protesters also claimed that some of the farmers have already been suffering from diseases including headaches, colds, fever, flu and stomach aches.
“It’s been months since these farmers were affected by El Niño. There’s not enough food so (they are weak from hunger),” Ryan Lariba, secretary general of Bayan Socksargen said.
The protestors held up placards which read “bugas, dili bala (rice, not bullets),” They also demanded justice for the protesting farmers in Kidapawan City.
Law enforcers secured the area and assured that no violence would occur similar to the April 1 Kidapawan bloody dispersal operation despite the militants not having a rally permit.
City Police Chief Senior Supt. Barney Condes said that authorities had negotiated with the protesters to convince them to just occupy half of the highway so vehicles could pass through. The rallyists eventually left the highway open, and although this was a welcome development, Condes admitted that they received reports the farmers would again barricade the highway anytime.
South Cotabato, to which Koronadal belongs, was declared under a state of calamity last March 18 due to the severe effects of the El Niño, similar to the provinces of North Cotabato and Bukidnon.
The Philippines is experiencing an incident of El Niño comparable to the worst ever recorded in 1997 to 1998, affecting 3.5 million individuals or 733,700 families.
Many are going hungry and thirsty and they need help immediately, said Jean-Claude Juncke, president of the European Commission who saw some parallel between the Kidapawan Massacre and the Syrian refugee crisis. Juncke was a recent Manila visitor.