Print Version    Email to Friend
The high price of relief rice

KIDAPAWAN (UCAN): There may be a drought in Mindanao, but that hardly justifies the high price that a group of farmers had to pay for their relief rice—three lives, 116 injuries and around 89 disappearances.

On April 1, as around 6,000 farmers blocked the main highway between Cotabato and Davao in Kidapawan City demanding that the local government release aid allocated by the national government in Manila, the police opened fire and began rounding up the farmers and locking them up.

However, after surviving the harassment and charges of assault, as well as a threatened suit against Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, from the Church that gave shelter to some 2,000 of them on April 11, some relief has come, not from the government, but rather from private donation.

The aid came from donations made by individuals and various groups.

Rene Pamplona, coordinator of the Justice and Peace Office of the diocese of Marbel, warned that with the continuing dry spell, protests are bound to happen again.

“We must remember that this dry spell is not only an issue in Kidapawan and not even just in Mindanao, but a national issue,” Pamplona said.

Bishop Francisco, from the United Methodist Church, told the farmers that the Church “will always open its doors to the needy, regardless of their race, religion or class in the society.”

The farmers were demanding food and immediate relief from the effects of drought brought about by the El Niño effect when their human barricade blocking the highway was dispersed by police gunfire.

The bishop urged the government to be considerate of the health and medical condition of the protesters and take a closer look at the charges filed against those arrested.

Marist Brother Manuel de Leon urged the government to use restorative justice for the protesters who remain in jail.

“Let the community heal the harm and put things right,” Brother de Leon, the president of Notre Dame of Kidapawan College, said.

“The government must focus on the needs of the offenders and understand why they were forced to do such an act,” he continued.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report that the Philippine authorities may have used unnecessarily lethal force in breaking up the protest.

A report by the independent National Fact-Finding and Humanitarian Mission noted that 25 women, three of whom were pregnant, and three elderly people were among those arrested by the police in the aftermath of the protest.

In both the literal and figurative sense, the whole saga is a vicious, inhumane overkill.

More from this section