MANILA, April 6, 2016 – The deadly dispersal of protesting farmers in Mindanao could have been prevented if the government listened to their appeal and rolled out an effective drought contingency plan, a church official said.
Fr. Carlito Garcia, administrator of the Diocese of Kidapawan, said what happened in Kidapawan City is just the consequence of the national government’s failure to act on the problem.
“No one wants to give way. There’s a calamity fund, but it seems that the people are not benefiting from it,” Garcia said.
He said that concerned agencies should have acted immediately on the demands of the farmers right on the first day that they started the barricade.
“This is supposed to be just a matter of decision-making by competent authorities,” he said. Mindanao has been the hardest hit area by El Niño after receiving lesser rainfall than other parts of the country since March last year.
As a result, many farmers did not only lose their livelihoods, they cannot even feed themselves.
Garcia said these farmers need help “but they need help now.”
“The government should attend to these badly-affected communities and provide them with the needed help,” he said.
Lack of communication
Garcia said the lack of communications between the two sides made it easy to imagine how a small conflict could quickly grow into a big one.
The drought-hit farmers were asking for food-aid assistance until they can resume planting.
They also appealed for free seeds and agricultural support services so they could replace the crops they have lost.
The priest said the violence could have been avoided if the lines of communications between the two parties were remained open.
He said there was on ongoing dialogue that started on March 31 and another meeting was supposed to take place on the day the clash occurred.
“Everything happened so fast and I’m sad that I wasn’t there to do something because I was out at that time,” said the priest.
On Tuesday afternoon, April 5, Garcia said “tension has eased” after police have pulled out from the vicinity of the Spottswood Methodist Center, where many of the protesters have taken refuge after the dispersal.
The move was made after a dialogue mediated by Garcia and Bro. Manny de Leon, president of the Notre Dame of Kidapawan College, between the city officials and the farmers’ rally leaders.
Garcia said both parties agreed the police will withdraw from the area and that farmers will no longer barricade the national highway.
He said they are also facilitating the farmers’ request for the Church to talk with the authorities to lower the Php12, 000 bail for the detained protesters to at least Php2, 000.
“I think there are around 80 protesters that were arrested and these are poor people,” he said. (Roy Lagarde/CBCPNews)