AGHAM strongly condemns the murder of three farmers and the injury of hundreds more as state forces in Kadapawan opened fire on a peasant barricade on April 1. The farmers’ barricade was a peaceful protest action with a just cause: to demand 15,000 sacks of rice and agricultural support for farmers devastated by El Niño.
The armed response against the Cotabato farmers is nothing short of brutal. The number of farmers involved in the protest had swelled to 6,000, and every one of them had the right to assemble and seek redress of their grievances. After all, the dire agricultural situation they faced was a clear case of government neglect.
Despite the early projections of PAGASA of an impending impact of “a mature and strong El Nino with an intensity comparable to the 1997-1998 El Nino event,” the national and local governments failed to prepare and execute contingency plans to mitigate the impacts of drought on agricultural production. Moreover, the P19-billion mitigation fund approved on December 15, 2015 did not reach affected communities. Farmers, who already face irrigation problems even without El Nino, were left on their own during one of the harshest dry spells in recent history.
Agricultural production in Central Mindanao suffered a staggering drop due to the drought, prompting declarations of a state of calamity in the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Cotabato City and Zamboanga City. Having lost almost 70% to 100% of food crops, Mindanao faced famine. Some families were allegedly eating feeds to survive.
Water resources is the liveblood for crop productivity specially during El Nino. But in the case of the water supply for irrigation, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) revealed that 1.34 million hectares of irrigable area remained unirrigated. For the remaining irrigated areas under the National Irrigated System, the farmers are forced to pay exorbitant irrigation fees. In Asia, Philippines is the only country paying irrigation services following the World Bank policy that water resources are treated as a priced commodity. This is the situation that prompted farmers to protest and seek dialogue with the authorities. Yet, instead of heeding the farmers’ demands and acting urgently, the government chose violence.
Farmers have the right to demand their basic needs in order to feed their families and ensure the country’s food security while the government has the responsibility to plan ahead and prepare vulnerable communities for extreme events. Confronting the impact of El Nino, however, will not be achieved unless the government recognizes the root cause of the farmer’s vulnerability: landlessness and the lack of access to agricultural resources and services.
AGHAM reiterates that the long-term solution to eradicating hunger and poverty in the country is the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program directed towards achieving agricultural modernization. We also need to look further and capacitate farmers to withstand the impacts of extreme events like El Nino, especially as the Philippines is considered one of the most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
The culpability of the government in the Kidapawan carnage cannot be denied. First, the government neglects the farmers. Second, the government uses brute force against them, killing and harming innocent civilians. For the lives lost and the hunger that continues to plague Mindanao, the guilty should be punished and justice must be served.###
Feny Cosico, Secretary General, AGHAM Advocates of Science and Technology for the People