By Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chairperson
IN THE Bicol Region, rice and vegetable farmers decried the damage and losses to their crops due to El Niño and the typhoon last December and government aid is out of sight. This is the height of callousness from the Duterte regime, which, via its agriculture department, has repeatedly drumbeat the huge impact of the climate phenomenon, but concrete or material aid to the affected is nonexistent.
More than a hundred poor peasants from Camarines Sur, Masbate, Albay and Sorsogon provinces appealed for government relief as their crops were devastated by the El Niño. On top of that, they have yet to recover from the flooding brought about by typhoon Usman in December 2018.
Farmers belonging to the National Federation of Peasant Women, or Amihan-Bicol, and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bikol (KMB) organized a forum dubbed “Tigang na Lupa-Dalitang Buhay: Kalagayan at Panawagan sa Pagbabago ng Klima” in cooperation with the Amihan National Secretariat, Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives Inc. and Philippine Network for Food Security Programmes in Pili town, Camarines Sur.
Amihan-Bicol and KMB said that Camarines Sur and Albay declared a “state of calamity” but direct victims are yet to be assisted. Farmers in the other provinces are also bearing the impact of the drought. Around 31,000 farmers were affected and 32,000 hectares of rice, corn, vegetables and coconut lands have been damaged.
Peasants suffered low yields such as two cavans from a two-hectare rice land, while others reported a 20 to 50 percent decline compared to last year’s. One farmer from Albay lost and harvested nothing from her ampalaya and vegetable farm and is in huge debt for borrowing money from lending institutions.
The government made noise about El Niño, but continued to neglect the direct victims, the poor peasants, who are at present facing bankruptcy, indebtedness and eventual displacement from their lands. The government should offer them immediate aid, food and financial assistance to help them recover from the calamity.
The calamity also displaced sources of livelihood of peasants, forcing them to take odd jobs in urban centers like working in construction or working as a maid, among others.
As part of the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector, peasants also demanded support services, such as irrigation, seeds, farm inputs and implements, to counter the increasing costs of production.
Amihan-Bicol and KMB vowed to continue to demand immediate aid from appropriate government agencies and local government units and urged farmers from traditional organizations to join the call.
To demand aid amid calamity is social justice. Government neglect is a continuing crime against the already poor peasants of the Bicol Region.