‘We only want to feed our children’ – North Cotabato farmers

Photo by KILAB MULTIMEDIA
Photo by KILAB MULTIMEDIA

“Hunger. This is what we have been experiencing. I hope our government officials would stop lying.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA –For months, Arlene Amar and her three children have been surviving on cassava and banana. There are days when they eat only once.

Amar said all the corn she planted in December died in February due to extreme drought. She had no other source of income.

“My children are crying because of hunger and poverty,” Amar told Bulatlat in a phone interview.

Her fellow farmers have been suffering, too. They received no help from any government agency. “We decided to go to Kidapawan City to demand immediate relief. We only want to feed our children,” she said.

On March 28, some 150 farmers from Arakan Valley, North Cotabato rented a truck to join thousands of farmers from other towns in the province. They stayed in the highway for days, asking for immediate relief, particularly rice and farm inputs from the provincial government.

On April 1, upon orders of the local government, police and soldiers opened fire at the protesters, resulting in the death of three farmers and wounding of many others.

In a television interview last night, April 4, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said there was ample food supply in the area. “Hindi po grabe ang hirap nila doon,” (They are not experiencing hardships there.) Alcala said, referring to the farmers.

Gerry Alborme, spokesperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) – North Cotabato, could not help raise his voice when asked for a reaction, “He’s a liar.”

Alborme said the provincial government declared in January that North Cotabato is under a state of calamity due to drought caused by El Nino. He said data obtained from the DA regional office showed that crops died in 28,000 hectares of land with an estimated cost of P238 million.

As of February, the DA Region 12 stated that in Arakan, 63 percent of agricultural land suffers from drought, 46 percent in Antipas, 52 percent in President Roxas, 48 percent in Kidapawan, 64 percent in Magpet, 48 percent in Makilala, 58 percent in Tulunan, 48 percent in M’Lang, 42 percent in Matalam and 46 percent in Kabakan.

Alborme said that with the provincial government’s P238-million calamity fund, their demand for 15,000 sacks of rice, farm inputs and other forms of assistance should have been possible.

Alborme lamented that during their dialogue of March 30, Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza said she could only provide three kilos of rice per quarter for every family. “We were asking for rice, they gave us bullets,” he said.

Alborme, 46, is a farmer from Makilala. He said the drought affected the rubber production. In the past, 300 rubber trees would yield a hundred kilos of rubber. With the drought, the same number of rubber trees could only produce 34 to 45 kilos of rubber. The price of rubber in the market has also gone down, from P100 per kilo in 2010 to only P14 to P18 per kilo nowadays.

“Hunger. This is what we have been experiencing. I hope our government officials would stop lying,” Alborme, a father of three, said. His wife is in Davao City, working as a domestic helper, to augment the family’s income.

Both Alborme and Amar criticized Alcala for saying the farmers were just tricked, reiterating that they themselves decided to claim what is due them.

Amar said despite the terror they continue to experience, she could not go home empty-handed. She left her three children, the youngest being six years old, in the care of her sister.

“I could not afford to have my children go hungry in the coming months,” she said. “I hope Governor Lala would experience what we experience. She should know how it is to be hungry,” she said, her voice breaking. ()

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