El Niño-affected Ilonggo peasants demand food aid

ILOILO City – The broadest peasant alliance in Western Visayas, Pamanggas, continues their demand for the release of food subsidy as they suffer the most from the effects of El Niño for the past six months already.

In a picket-protest of 200 farmers, indigenous peasants, and with the support of various people’s organizations under Bayan Western Visayas at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office 6 today, the groups demanded for the immediate release of food subsidy especially rice to our hungry farmers.

Nay Aurora, a farmer in Janiuay town of Central Panay, some 45 kilometers north-west of Iloilo City, told Panay Today that they no longer eat three times a day.

“We cannot harvest anything. All our crops have died because of the intense heat and jobs in the farm are very scarce. We don’t eat thrice a day anymore.”

“We now eat root crops late in the morning and would not eat at noon. That will already serve as our brunch (breakfast and lunch). We will eat our dinner earlier than usual to compensate for the missing lunch,” said the 65-year old Nay Aurora.

Upland indigenous farmers of Calinog, about 60 kilometers from Iloilo City, are also experiencing intense hunger. They only rely on rain for their crops the entire year.

“We only produce rice once a year. And if this intense heat continues, surely our crops will die. We have even consumed our rice seeds because of hunger,” said Nay Remia, an indigenous Tumandok.

As alternate to rice, the Tumandoks also serve root crops such as cassava, banana or sweet potato instead.

“If this (El Niño) continues, we are expecting to go hungry until September or even until October,” the IP leader continued.

Relief assistance ready for distribution
The picket was also packaged with a dialogue of Pamanggas leaders from various towns in Iloilo – Oton, Janiuay, Calinog, Barotac Viejo, Dumangas – and from Tapaz, Capiz province with DSWD regional director Rebecca Geamala and social welfare officers Rosario Sanagustin, and May Castillo.

Director Geamala assured the peasants that relief assistance in the form of food subsidy are already in place.

“We have augmented resources for those affected by El Niño. For food assistance, 24 kilos of rice per family together with assorted canned goods will be given directly to the people and it will not pass the LGU,” Geamala said.

Geamala told the farmers to have their names listed with the MSWDO. Assessment will be done by the MAO, she added.

But the said food assistance is one-time opportunity only.

“The 24-kilo rice is only the first assistance. Next to be implemented are food and cash for work programs, and the sustainable livelihood program,” added Geamala.

Cash and food for work is for one-day only per family. The cash to be given is 70% of the region’s minimum wage (P298.50), or P208.95. For food-for-work, about 10-15 kilos of rice with assorted canned goods will be given.

Geamala stressed that assistance should be given not later than next week and that no politicians will be present during the distribution. This will be held in neutral grounds such as churches to avoid political biases, she added.

Collective effort
Anakpawis regional coordinator Cris Chavez said that with their collective effort, they are a step closer to their demand.

“We have proven that through our collective action we can demand what is due for us. This is just the first step, we have to go back to our respective barangays and include ourselves in the list as beneficiaries to claim our food package,” Chavez said./PT


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