Alarm grows as more hunger strikers collapse
Aquino urged to meet protesters
There was rising concern in Manila today after 21 more farmers on hunger strike collapsed and were rushed to hospital as the Catholic bishops’ conference appealed to President Benigno Aquino to cede to their demands to hold a meeting.
By this morning, 33 protesters had collapsed during a hunger strike started on Monday when the farmers – from Batangas, Bukidnon and Negros Occidental provinces – took over the fourth floor of the Agrarian Reform Department building in Manila calling for the government to speed up land redistribution.
All 33 farmers have promised to continue their hunger strike indefinitely until Aquino meets with them, said the leader of the group, Virgilio Jayme, a member of the peasant organization Task Force Mapaland.
“We are deeply concerned about the situation,” said Manila Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, chairman of the social action secretariat of the bishops' conference. “We appeal to the president to listen to their requests and to grant them an audience as soon as possible, before the number of hunger strikers collapsing increases."
Aside from a meeting with the president, the hunger strikers have urged the dismissal of Agrarian Reform Secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes accusing him of lowering this year’s land redistribution target from 260,000 hectares to 180,000 hectares.
As of a week ago, just under 50,000 hectares had been redistributed nationwide so far this year.
Some 900,000 hectares are still to be distributed under the program which requires the redistribution of farmland of more than five hectares to landless farmers before the end of June, 2014.
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