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Release the drought relief funds now

MANILA (Agencies): Three weeks on from the massacre in Kidapawan City of hungry farmers calling for government drought aid to be released by local authorities in Mindanao, Father Edwin Gariguez complained that nothing has been done, even though the national government has already made it available for distribution.

The secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action—Caritas Philippines asked, “What is taking them so long in releasing these available funds? We have already seen enough bloodshed in Kidapawan, which was rooted in the government inaction over this national concern.”

CBCP News quoted him as saying that Local Government Units are crying out for the Quick Response Funds, but officials higher up are sitting on their hands while the farming communities go hungry and are in need of seeds to be ready to plant now, as some rain has come.

“Time is of the essence here. The government needs to act now and disburse the funds intended for the farmers, who have suffered enough. Loss of livelihood means hunger for our people, who are already living in poverty to start with,” Father Gariguez said.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that Laisa Alamia, the executive secretary of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, confirmed recently that a letter requesting funding was sent by the region, but has not been acted upon, despite the fact that it has been followed up many times.

The daily newspaper adds that the governor of North Cotabato, Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, said they had not received any funding from the administration in Manila, despite having made the request as early as March.

Father Gariguez added that several dioceses in Mindanao, particularly the archdiocese of Cotabato and the diocese of Marbel have already raised the alarm over how the drought has taken its toll on the people who till the land in recent months.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development claims that 1.32 billion pesos ($220 million) has already been released by Manila from the Quick Response Fund, as well as a further 6.7 billion pesos ($1.1 billion) for the implementation of cash-for-work and livelihood assistance for families affected by El Niño.

However, these funds have yet to appear on the books of the Local Government Units.

Apart from the programme implemented for the support of victims of Typhoon Yolanda, the biggest ever run, the Church has initiated programmes and campaigns for farmers’ rights, agrarian reform and land rights, as well as good governance and sustainable agriculture.

It is also running a climate change adaptation programme called FARM-FIRST in eight provinces, which offers assistance to farmers and people in the fishing sector to cope with changing environmental conditions, and ensure food security and environmental preservation.

The bishops’ conference has published a special prayer for rain, which dioceses are encouraged to use at all Masses across the country, as the effect of El Niño is deepening.

The prayer says in part, “Prolonged drought is depriving us of the fruits of our toil; low water supply means hunger and thirst for most of us. El Niño continues to threaten our relationship with one another…”