Press Release
April 3, 2016


Independent vice-presidential bet Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero has accused the government of hiding the truth about the extent of the damage brought by El Niño phenomenon to the country's agriculture sector.

Escudero said the tragic dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City has exposed the sufferings of peasants from the devastating effects of El Niño-induced drought which, according to him, appeared to have been deliberately downplayed by the government.

The veteran lawmaker is particularly putting to task Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, who earlier painted a quite optimistic picture about the current state of the agriculture sector amid a strong El Niño being experienced in the south.

"Secretary Alcala is known for sugar coating problems of the agriculture sector. Who would forget his much-publicized 'rice self-sufficiency' roadmap which turned out to be just a figment of his imagination?" Escudero pointed out.

He noted that Alcala also came under fire for ignoring the infestation of scale insects, locally known as "cocolisap," until it had destroyed millions of coconut trees, mostly in Southern Tagalog.

"It took the government two years to take a proactive stance against cocolisap, which had already damaged millions of coconut trees. Until now, coconut farmers are still fighting to save their plantations against the pest," Escudero said.

Just last March 26, the Department of Agriculture (DA) issued a press release claiming minimal damage of the drought to the agriculture sector.

In the release, the DA said it is "optimistic that only a negligible percentage in production and yield decrease will be felt" in spite of the strong El Niño episode.

The department said that for one full year--February 2015 to February 2016--less than 195,000 hectares from combined rice and corn production areas were reportedly affected by the drought.

"This is 361,046 hectares less than the affected areas during the 2009-2010 dry spell. The minimal damage, according to agri-experts, may be attributed to the prompt distribution of support and assistance, as well as the dissemination of information to farmers," the DA claimed in the same press statement.

Escudero said that instead of confronting problems hounding the sector, Alcala is fond of projecting that everything is fine and dandy in the sector under his leadership.

"Secretary Alcala is making himself look good at the expense of our poor farmers who suffer from the lack of support services from the government under his leadership," the leading vice-presidential candidate said.

"It's unfortunate that the sufferings of our farmers from the effects of the drought were exposed through this tragedy," Escudero said of the Friday's violent dispersal of protesting farmers, including lumads, in Kidapawan City who were demanding immediate relief from the effects of El Niño.

Three were reported dead�two when police tried to break up the barricade and one from heatstroke�and 30 other protesters were injured during the clash.

The farmers were dispersed on the third day of their protest along the Cotabato-Davao highway after they rejected an offer of three kilos of rice quarterly. Their immediate demand was for 15,000 sacks of rice to stave off hunger until they can resume planting.

They also asked for free seeds and other agricultural inputs so they can replace the crops they have lost since the drought struck in November, as well as reasonable increase in the market prices of their produce.

Escudero, who is running under the "Gobyernong may Puso" platforms of rapid and inclusive growth, poverty alleviation, transparency and global competitiveness, has been prodding the government to be more proactive in shielding farmers from the effects of drought on their livelihood.

He had also pushed for the inclusion of farmers affected by El Niño in the government's conditional cash transfer program called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, to help mitigate the impact of the drought to subsistence farmers.

"Binigyan ba natin ng alternatibong kabuhayan yung ating mga magsasaka na tatamaan ng El Niño? Sinakop ba natin sila sa conditional cash transfer dahil tatamaan sila ng El Niño? Lahat po yun ay wala pong nagawa ang gobyerno," he said.

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