Editorial: Hunger in the food basket

IT’S easy to see irony in hindsight. In 2014, the Province of Cotabato received P4 million from the agriculture department as an incentive for prioritizing “rice-related projects.”

Last week, a violently dispersed protest of some 6,000 farmers in Kidapawan, capital city of Cotabato, ended in the deaths of three persons and injuries for an unconfirmed number of protesters and police.

Both state and non-government investigators are still going over the evidence to find out who needs to answer for the violence and figure out how such a tragedy can be prevented.

Yet beyond assigning blame, it is important for local governments to realize, finally, the need to prepare for extreme weather and how it can harm communities, especially those who are poor and vulnerable.

“Climate change will only bring about more, recurrent and fiercer calamities,” the Commission on Audit (COA) has said.

It was COA who pointed out that in 2014, Cotabato spent P24.48 million or about 94 percent of its funds for disaster preparedness. How much of that went to farmers who are now, less than two years down the road, going hungry in Mindanao’s food basket?

The same COA report observed that 16 of the 27 water system projects the province had budgeted for in 2014 were “not yet started” when the year closed. It’s not that Cotabato’s provincial officials failed to plan for investments that would make farms more productive. They did. Their priorities in 2014 included—apart from the purchase of heavy equipment or “weapons of mass construction”—investments toward greater productivity in potential dollar earners like rubber, palm, coffee and coconut.

The point of all this is not to torment Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza or Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, both of the Liberal Party, for apparently falling short of creating the “peaceful, climate change-adaptive and disaster-resilient communities” the Province envisioned.

But one way of seeing the violence in Kidapawan is as a reminder of additional qualities our local leaders need in these climate-vulnerable times: the foresight to make communities less helpless, the compassion to assist those already suffering.

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