Print Version    Email to Friend
When they asked for food they got bullets

MANILA (SE): Jesus may have found it hard to believe that a father would give his son a scorpion when he asked for bread, but when a massed rally of around 6,000 farmers from a declared drought disaster zone blocked the 220 kilometre highway link between the provinces of Davao and Cotabato at Kidapawan City on March 30, to asked the government for food, it gave them bullets.

The farmers occupied the road to draw attention to their parched farmland and the severe shortage of food that small farmers are suffering from as a result.

They said that although the area has been declared a disaster zone, small farmers have received no drought assistance.

“We will hold the line until the government provides us with food,” UCAN reported Pedro Arnado, the chairperson of the Peasant Movement of The Philippines, as saying.

Father Jonathan Domingo said that the government should do something to relieve their plight.

He called for an intervention to be made by a neutral party, in order to negotiate between the farmers and the government. “If this barricade continues, major economic activity in the region will be paralysed,” the Oblate priest said.

“Many will suffer if this barricade continues and more people will become victims of political and economic unrest,” he continued.

However, when the intervention did come, it came from the police and, far from being neutral, any thought of negotiating was not in the minds of the officers who sprayed the massed farmers with live bullets, leaving at least three dead and some 70 injured.

“We told them that all we wanted was relief from the drought, and we would leave,” Arnado, told UCAN. “But the police chief said they would disperse us by force if we did not leave.”

He maintained, “Despite the casualties, the farmers stood their ground and wanted to fight back, but we ordered a withdrawal to avoid more harm from happening,” he explained.

The governor of Cotabato, Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, was in no mood to negotiate either, saying, “The protesters started throwing stones.”

However, Arnado disagreed with her version of events, saying that the first aggressive move came from the police when they fired water cannons at the sit in.

He explained that the farmers only wanted to stand their ground and he claimed no one knows who threw the first stone.

“The protesters continued to resist, so the cops opened fire,” Arnado said.

The Promotion of Church People’s Response called the police violence a reflection of the government attitude towards the desperate hunger pains of responsible, hard-working citizens.

“When the hunger of the poor brings violent responses from those in leadership, these leaders are not fit to govern… Rather than showing compassion and responding mercifully to their cry for help, ruthless elected officials and their state forces answered these poor citizens with callous disdain and brazen violence,” Reverend Marie Sol Villalon, told CBCP News.

Reverend Villalon said that the drought caused by the El Niño effect has left farmers facing months of drought. Even their many petitions to the government for drought assistance have fallen on deaf ears.

He said that this is what prompted the mass gathering to assemble at Kidapawan City in order to bring the attention of the public to their plight.

Reverend Villalon said the nation is now facing a severe moral crisis, as the cries of the people for food have been answered with bullets.

The unusually long dry spell, which set in during November last year, has already damaged about 27,500 hectares of rice, corn, banana, rubber, coconut, oil palm and vegetable crops.

 

Up to February, the drought had affected 237,000 hectares of agriculture land.

More from this section