By Francisco Lara Jr.
10 April 2016
(Philippine Daily Inquirer) – People prayed for rain these past few months in North Cotabato. Drought plagues the province like no other in Mindanao, laying waste to tens of thousands of hectares of rice farms planted in time for the March harvest season.
The harvest would have brought food on the table, relief from the heat and the chance to plant anew for the main season crop in September.
But the rains did not come and cloud seeding did little to alleviate the shortage of water. Rice stocks were adequate and the granaries were full. Yet, no relief came despite repeated pleas for help from indebted farmers, their burdened wives, and their starving children.
When the rains finally came they took the form of bullets pouring hard on them.
In 2015, a massive drought also hit many parts of Mindanao with severe crop losses. Rice farmers petitioned the government for aid and demanded the release of stocks to stop hunger from spreading.
Unknown to most of us, the areas hit by drought have a long history of food-stock raiding in times of crisis.
In 1990, farmers ran off with 500 sacks of rice from National Food Authority (NFA) warehouses in Roxas town, Arakan Valley. In 1993, farmers from drought-stricken communities took 3,000 sacks of rice from an NFA warehouse in Columbio, Sultan Kudarat.
In 1998, starving families from Matalam, North Cotabato were joined by Moro rebels who threatened to ransack government warehouses if their food needs were not addressed. The NFA promptly released rice.
These events would serve as a dress rehearsal for the Kidapawan tragedy. If one must learn lessons from the drought of 2016, it is that this crisis is only the most recent event in a long narrative of catastrophe, hunger and conflict in Mindanao. […]
The roadblocks were acts of desperation by the poor, some of whom have taken their own lives. They were waging an uphill battle to capture public attention to their plight in the midst of the 2016 political circus.
Poor farmers also blocked the Davao-Agusan highway in Davao City for eight hours. Many people denounced the protesting farmers for the inconvenience. Yet, how many times have we endured similar roadblocks to suit the whims of government officials, churches and political campaigns? A well-known writer put it succinctly when he denounced the clear double standard: “So it was OK to shoot them?”
Beyond the division and recrimination that characterized the response of a divided nation, we must now reflect on the urgent and decisive actions that can be taken to prevent a repeat of this tragedy.
The tragedy bares the deadly effects of climate change on food production and the links between hunger and violent conflict. Climate change over the past few years has led to more intense droughts and flooding neither seen nor felt at any time in the past.
People expect the government to be prepared adequately by now. Yet, amid rising tensions the government’s response was to assure the public that rice and other food supplies were adequate. Two days after the bloodshed, the secretary of agriculture continued to mount this defense.
Indeed, government warehouses were filled with rice and foodstuff. Yet, anyone studying famine would have known that bulging food supplies do little to placate alarm. They actually invite agitation, as these signify the state’s unwillingness to give urgent food aid to families in danger of starvation and death. [more]