A policeman in riot gear is overwhelmed by rock-throwing farmers in Cotabato province in the southern Philippines, where thousands of drought-hit farmers have clashed with police over demands for rice on 1 April 2016. Photo: BBC News

By David Campanale
2 April 2016

One of the strongest El Niño weather events ever recorded has caused heatwaves, water shortages and forest fires around the world.

Now deaths linked to protests over food shortages have been reported in Cotabato province in the southern Philippines, where thousands of drought-hit farmers have clashed with police over demands for rice.

David Campanale reports.

El Nino: Philippines rice shortage sparks violence


A protester who was injured in an encounter with polive in Cotabato province in the southern Philippines, where thousands of drought-hit farmers have clashed with police over demands for rice on 1 April 2016. Photo: BBC News

DAVAO, 1 April 2016 (AsiaNews) – A farmer was killed and 13 were wounded after police forces opened fire at some 6,000 protesters in Kidapawan City on Friday morning after their demonstration turned violent.

For days, farmers have been demanding the distribution of rice to relieve drought-induced hunger. After protesters threw stones at police (some of whom were injured), gunshots were heard.

"The protesters have been blocking traffic on the highway linking Davao to Cotabato for four days and there are not many alternative routes. This has created a lot of trouble," said Fr Giovanni Vettoretto, a PIME missionary in Kidapawan.

According to the priest, the reasons for the protest are clear. "It has not rained for almost four months, and people do not have money set aside for the times when they can neither sow nor harvest,” the clergyman explained. “Tribal people are the most exposed. All they can do is pray for rain, nothing else. People are hungry and want rice."

“The protest would not have turned violent if we were not in an election campaign,” Fr Vettoretto added. “The situation has created a sense of helplessness and hopelessness in the population, which political groups have exploited.”

“Protesters, most of them are Tribals, have been brought to the city from the forests around. They were joined by many who are not from the province and this has increased tensions."

The current political situation "has increased the desire of groups seeking greater representation (on party lists, which includes former members of paramilitary groups). The former have made matters worse by manipulating the protest. Hundreds of posts, from the presidency to city administrations, are up for grab."

The missionary is convinced that much of the responsibility for the emergency lies with politicians, who have done little to deal with the drought.

"Municipalities and wards (barangay) did not respond in time to people’s needs. People began putting pressure as early as January,” Fr Vettoretto said.

“In our parish, people have been lining up for months asking for help. The authorities have let things go, hoping that they would fix themselves. Instead, the situation has worsened; the heat has not only scorched plants and crops but also houses." [more]

We asked for rice, instead they gave us bullets

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