MANILA, May 16, 2016 – An official of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) social arm appealed to presumptive President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to prioritize the immediate release of government funds to farmers, who continue to suffer from the El Niño phenomenon.
“We are appealing to the newly-elected president to listen to the cries of the hungry farmers, especially here in Mindanao. They have already suffered enough from this climate crisis. Why let them wait for too long when money is readily available?” pointed out National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA)/Caritas Philippines executive secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez during a recent five-day Farmers’ National Sustainable Agriculture Training in Tagum City in Davao Oriental.
In his homily, the priest emphasized that the government not only has the capacity, but the obligation to respond to the needs of hungry farmers and the poor, particularly those long affected by El Niño.
Mainstream media quoted Senator Ralph Recto as claiming that a Php19-billion national budget allocation for disaster funds is available for calamities like El Niño, and appealed to Malacañang for its immediate release to provinces with widespread drought, adding that Congress has already appropriated the funds thus a further delay is unwarranted.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) reportedly has Php500-million in Quick Response Funds (QRF) at its disposal. Senate Finance Committee Chairperson Loren Legarda also claimed that “we have funds, but they are not being accessed”. DA still has a Php11.9 million balance in its 2015 QRF and Php496.6 million for 2016, while the DSWD has a balance of Php703.6 million in its QRF for 2015 and Php1.6 billion for 2016.
Gariguez also said Duterte, who ran with a platform of “change” and hails from Mindanao, would very well understand the plight of the farmers.
“He gives much hope to the people of Mindanao. We are hoping that the new government would heed the call of the farmers, not just for the immediate release of funds, but also for genuine agrarian reform and sustainable agriculture,” explained Gariguez.
NASSA/Caritas Philippines, which Gariguez heads, has programs for farmers’ rights, agrarian reform and land rights, good governance, and sustainable agriculture.
Aside from implementing the Catholic Church’s largest rehabilitation program for super typhoon Yolanda survivors, the office also implements a climate change adaptation program in eight provinces called FARM-FIRST which helps farmers and fishermen adapt to changing environmental conditions, sustainable agriculture, and disaster management.
It can be recalled that Duterte cited the pursuance of a genuine agriculture development strategy by providing support services to small farmers and rural development as part of his eight-point economic agenda when he assumes office next month. (CBCPNews / NASSA / Caritas Philippines)