Caritas Philippines calls for release of government funds

Emergency aid will alleviate burden of drought-stricken farmers
Caritas Philippines calls for release of government funds

A farmer points to his dried up land in the southern Philippine province of Cotabato. (Photo by Mark Saludes) reporter, Manila
April 20, 2016
The social action arm of the Philippines' Catholic bishops called on the government to release funds to help ease the burden of farmers affected by drought brought about by El Nino.

"We have already seen enough bloodshed [that is] rooted from the government’s inaction to this national concern," said Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of Caritas Philippines. 

The priest made that statement in light of the violent dispersal of protesting farmers who were demanding food aid in the southern Philippines on April 1. The incident resulted in the death of at least three farmers.

Father Gariguez said the government needs to act immediately, saying "time is of the essence." He said loss of livelihood means hunger for people who are already living in poverty. 

He said government funds are available but were not fully disbursed despite requests by local government units in areas affected by El Nino. 

The government's social welfare department has announced that some US$29 million is available as a "quick reaction fund" for 2016 while another US$145 million is available for the implementation of cash-for-work and livelihood assistance for families affected by the drought.

"What is taking them so long to release these available funds?" the priest said. 

Several peasant groups in the southern region of Mindanao have already threatened to stage mass protests to demand government support.

"Our livelihood is dependent on the land which is now too parched to grow anything," said Ireneo Udarbe, secretary-general of the Philippine Peasant Movement. 

On April 12, some 5,000 farmers received sacks of rice from the government after marching to the provincial capital of Bukidnon province.

In San Fernando town police and military personnel barred some 3,000 farmers from marching to the town hall to demand rice on April 17.

"The farmers are only affirming to the government what they already know, that the extreme drought is death not only to the crops but also to the people," said Ubarde.

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a group of Catholic priests and nuns based in rural areas, said the government "did not take preparations against the drought seriously."

The group called on church leaders "to accompany hungry people in knocking at the doorstep of the state to address the issue."

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