Farmers set up blockade to protest El Niño relief efforts

POLICE exercised maximum tolerance as thousands of farmers in North Cotabato yesterday blocked the national highway connecting Davao City and Cotabato City to demand relief from the effects of El Niño.

Sr. Supt. Alex Tagum, provincial director of the Cotabato Police Provincial Office (CPPO), said they exerted their best effort in dealing with the farmers without hurting or violating anyone’s rights.

“We are on top of the situation and we have contained the demonstrators in the national highway approaching the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Upper Singao, Kidapawan City,” said Tagum.

But Tagum stressed that they have “contingency plans to initiate a calibrated police response in case they will decide to raise their level of activity into street anarchy.”

According to Tagum, there were 4,000 protesters who blocked the national highway after they formed a human barricade on both sides of the road. But the farmers claimed that their number reached 5,000.

Pedro Arnado, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in Southern Mindanao, said they demanded for rice and other financial subsidy which the provincial government allegedly promised to the affected individuals when the area was placed under ‘state of calamity’ last January.

Aside from the 15,000 sacks of rice, the protesters also demanded free vegetable seedlings from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and increase in the prices of their agricultural products, especially rubber.

Meanwhile, Arnado stressed that they will continue to protest in the national highway until officials from the Cotabato provincial government especially Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza would talked to them and meet their demands.

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who was negotiating with the protectors, said that Taliño-Mendoza was in Manila as of Wednesday afternoon.

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