The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) today expressed its strong demand to authorities to drop all charges against farmers nabbed by police in the aftermath of the violent April 1 dispersal in Kidapawan, North Cotabato. UMA urged the Senate, which is conducting a second hearing on the April 1 incident today, to work for the immediate distribution of relief to all peasants suffering from drought.
“It is never justified to use bullets against farmers demanding immediate relief from drought and hunger. National government had supposedly already allotted billions of pesos in taxpayers’ money to address the impact of El Nino,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.
UMA also stressed that sugar workers are now also suffering hunger due to tiempo muerto or the dead season in the sugar industry.
“Drought is very real not only in North Cotabato but in many other places in the entire country. Hunger is rampant among millions of peasants, even without a state of calamity. Today more than half a million sugar workers are already enduring effects not only of drought but also of the tiempo muerto or dead season that lasts from 3 to 6 months every crop year,” Ramos said.
UMA laments that national government has not appropriated any amount for sugar workers, even with Php 2 billion funding appropriated for the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015. Even the Socio-Economic Project Fund (SEPF) under the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP) only allotted P7,916,307.38 for tiempo muerto projects from 1993 – June 2015 or a measly P344,187 every year.
This means that the SAP’s socio-economic project fund has supposedly benefitted a meager 3.08% of the total number of sugar workers, or 16,765 individuals in a span of 23 years. In July 2013, Anakpawis lawmaker Fernando “Ka Pando” Hicap filed House Resolution 116 to investigate the implementation of SAP.
UMA also noted that protest actions in other drought-stricken areas continue to spark. Some local governments are also reportedly granting farmers’ demands and distancing from the arrogance of North Cotabato Gov. Taliño-Mendoza’s and Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista who dismissed the just demand of farmers for food aid, or 15,000 sacks of rice.
In Valencia City, Bukidnon, local government reportedly appropriated 4,200 sacks of rice to 5,000 protesting farmers under the Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa (Kasama) Bukidnon, a local affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) on April 12. A similar positive development occurred in Salay town of the same province, where the municipal council signed a resolution to release part of the town’s calamity fund on April 15 to 2,000 protesting farmers from eight barangays, after a successful negotiation ensued between the parties.
“We add our voices with other sectors in calling for the immediate release of calamity funds to the farmers and their families in Kidapawan and other areas hit by drought,” said Ramos. UMA also called for the investigation and prosecution of government officials, including Pres. Benigno Aquino and Sec. Proceso Alcala for their negligence and failure to put up appropriate measures to mitigate effects of the El Niño phenomenon, and in providing assistance to those affected.
“Let us not make Kidapawan another Escalante, Mendiola or Luisita, where perpetrators got away scot-free. We push for investigation and prosecution of all officials complicit in the violent dispersal of farmers on April 1.”
UMA, in cooperation with the Pagkakaisa para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (PATRIA), will hold a media and bloggers forum on the Tiempo Muerto campaign, tomorrow, 10 am at the Sikat Events Venue, 305 Tomas Morato Ave. QC (beside Popular Bookstore) to let farmers from Negros, Hacienda Luisita and Kidapawan tell their own story. “Tiempo Muerto” is also the name of UMA’s media monitoring project with support from the Canada-based World Association for Christian Communication (WACC).