Groups seek release of 3 pregnant, 6 elderly farmers arrested by cops in Kidapawan City

TWO party-list groups on Monday urged the government to release three pregnant farmers and six elderly people who were charged with direct assault during the bloody dispersal on April 1 in Kidapawan City.

Gabriela and Anak Pawis party-list group, citing a report issued by the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants Network (Sagipp) and Karapatan, identified the three pregnant farmers and six elderly people who were detained at the Kidapawan Convention Center as Arlene Candiban (six months pregnant), Eliza Candiban (five months pregnant), Rolinda Paonil (two months pregnant), Dionisio Alagos, 60; Gerardo Pequero, 66; Crisanto Carlum, 72; Jovita Debalid, 68; Lolita Porras, 65; and Valentina Berden, 78.

Party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela said 74 others, including 29 women, are still detained.

“Three people were reportedly killed during the dispersal including one bystander. The detainees are also being denied access to the media,” she said.

“It is disturbing as it is unjust that senior [citizens] and pregnant women [who were] charged with direct assault were hastily and randomly arrested during the dispersal [operations], despite their obvious incapacity to be engaged in assault,” de Jesus said.

She added that the local government and the police are apparently continuing to hold innocent victims in detention to shift the blame to the farmers gunned down and injured by the police.

“Some of those injured by bullets and beatings by policemen continue to be held by authorities despite further need for medical treatment,” the party-list groups said in a statement.

“The government should prioritize resolving starvation in drought-affected farms and release all those it arbitrarily arrested and continue to detain, especially the senior-aged, pregnant and minor persons who were part of the Kidapawan protests last week,” de Jesus added.

On Monday Party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis, together with Makabayan lawmakers, filed House Resolution 2684, urging a congressional inquiry by the Committees on Human Rights and on Agriculture and Food, and the Special Committee on Food Security, on the bloody dispersal.

Hicap also filed House Resolution 2685 urging Congress to condemn “the atrocious human-rights violations against hungry farmers.”

“We urge the House leadership to act on the resolution, these are of utmost importance and being busy with the elections is no excuse not to serve the welfare of starving farmers in the country,” Hicap said.

Meanwhile, Hicap and Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of Valenzuela also denounced Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala’s downplaying of the effect of El Niño on farmers.

Gatchalian said he is wondering why Alcala chooses to downplay the effects of El Niño instead of reporting to the public what his department had done to help the 181,687 farmers whose farmlands have been hit by severe drought.

The lawmaker, citing the data released by the Department of Agriculture (DA) as of April 2, said the total cost of agricultural damage suffered by the country from the ongoing El Niño and several pest infestations already reached P6.6 billion, up by 24 percent from the last month’s update which was only at P5.3 billion.

“The amount is equivalent to a volume of 520,978 metric tons [MT] of production loss, which affected a total of 181,687 farmers and a total area of 224,834 hectares,” he said.

“Of the total 181,687 farmers affected by El Niño, we would like to know how many of these farmers have received actual help from the DA and the DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] since both agencies claim that they have not been remiss in their duties of giving assistance to these poor peasants,” Gatchalian said.

The DA had reported that majority of the production loss recorded during the period were from rice crops which experienced damage amounting to P3.3 billion and 229,579 MT of wasted crops, followed by corn with P2.3 billion worth of damage from a loss of 201,701 MT owing to extreme heat.

Damage recorded by other high-value crops also hit P924 million and volume of 89,698 MT.

Gatcalian also said, “It’s crucial for the DSWD to strengthen its monitoring to see if, indeed, the aid it said it gave to local governments are being transferred to intended beneficiaries and if the amount of such assistance is enough.”

The DSWD claimed that it has released since October nearly P600 million worth of assistance to local government units. In particular, North Cotabato local government units were given 13,519 food packs.

Gatchalian also said the budget for El Niño is not the problem since it has long been made available by Malacañang as part of the government’s preparation for the worst El Niño onset to hit the country since 1998.

“The government’s P19-billion allocation for the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño already include aid to farmers and a cash-for-work program to give supplementary income in rural areas. The plan also seeks to boost rice production in areas that are less affected by droughts. All the DA has to do is to make sure that this road map is properly implemented,” Gatchalian said.



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