The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) again raised the alarm over the continuing crisis spawned by El Nino expressing concern that once the furor over the bloody Kidapawan dispersal subsides, the desperate plight of thousands in El Nino affected areas will be in danger of being forgotten once again.
“Certainly the Kidapawan dispersal brought the issue to national consciousness. It focused attention on the worsening situation in many areas in Mindanao including South Cotabato and put much-needed pressure on the government’s sluggish El Nino effort. But with media and public attention increasingly being pulled towards the elections, there is a risk of the crisis getting drowned out,” Sammy Gamboa, FDC Secretary-General said.
FDC stressed that the hunger and desperation resulting from the worst El Nino episode since 1997-1998 continues and is in fact worsening in some places.
“Three weeks after Kidapawan, we continue to receive reports from our members and partners in affected areas that the situation has not improved and delivery of support remains limited. By the Department of Agriculture’s own estimates, production losses have already reached P4.5 billion for rice and P4.53 billion for corn between February 2015 and March 2016. A total of 373,494 hectares of farmlands have already been affected,” Gamboa said.
FDC said the current administration and the President himself had a lot of explaining to do in relation to its delayed reaction to the El Nino crisis.
“Pres. Aquino needs to explain why they waited so long to act and why there was no sense of urgency. We find it inexcusable for example, that despite more than a year of advance warning in 2014, Pres. Aquino only ordered the creation of the El Nino Task Force led by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) in mid-August of 2015. As a result, the El Nino response plan called Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Nino (RAIN) was only approved in December 2015,” Gamboa said
FDC said the Aquino government’s foot-dragging on El Nino response worsened the crisis saying much more could have been done if government had taken PAGASA’s May 2014 warning seriously.
“Obviously, the opportunity for an early roll-out of mitigation measures early was wasted. The opportunity to procure the necessary supplies and to pre-position them was wasted. It was a disaster compounded by inept and callous government handling,” Gamboa noted.
FDC brushed aside government claims that election-related restrictions, red-tape and stricter Commission on Audit rules severely hampered its ability to respond.
“Everybody knew there was an election coming. Everybody knew there was an El Nino coming. How can they claim that they cannot move because of Comelec restrictions? Even granting that red tape and COA rules are slowing the process down, that would not have been such a big issue if they had not dilly-dallied for over a year,” Gamboa said.
FDC also lambasted the PNP for its inhumane treatment of arrested Kidapawan protesters, particularly elderly farmers and pregnant women who were detained for days in the aftermath of the April 1 confrontation but were recently released.
“The blatant disregard for basic human rights was evident in the detention of elderly farmers who were only recently released by the PNP. No one in his right mind believes that an 78-year old woman, weak from the heat, hunger and lack of sleep will physically assault a uniformed police officer. It was a trumped up charge meant to cow the defenseless lady into silence--cruel insult added to the hunger and injury of the protester,” Gamboa added.