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What DA, DSWD have been doing to help El-Niño affected farmers in Mindanao

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) senatorial bet Win Gatchalian would like to know what concrete steps the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) have been doing to help El Niño-affected farmers in Mindanao.

Based on the data released by DA as of Apr. 2, the total cost of agricultural damage suffered by the country from the ongoing El Niño phenomenon and several pest infestations already reached P6.6 billion, up by 24 percent from the last month’s update which was only at P5.3 billion.

The amount is equivalent to a volume of 520,978 metric tons (MT) of production loss, which affected a total of 181,687 farmers and a total area of 224,834 hectares (ha).

“Of the total 181,687 farmers affected by the El Niño, we would like to know how many of these farmers have received actual help from the DA and the DSWD since both agencies claim that they have not been remiss in their duties of giving assistance to these poor peasants,” said Gatchalian.

The DA had reported that majority of the production loss recorded during the period were from rice crops which experienced damages amounting to P3.3 billion and 229,579MT of wasted crops followed by corn with P2.3 billion worth of damages from a loss of 201,701 MT due to extreme heat. Damages recorded by other high-value crops also hit P924 million and volume of 89,698 MT.

Gatchalian, however, is wondering why Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala chooses to downplay the effects of El Nino instead of reporting to the public what his department had done to help the 181,687 farmers whose farmlands have been hit by severe drought.

“I believe that if DA officials only did their job of looking after the welfare of El Nino-affected farmers especially in Mindanao, the protest of some 5,000 farmers in Kidapawan City which resulted in a bloody dispersal could have been averted,” explained Gatchalian.

The DSWD, meanwhile, claimed that it has released since October nearly P600 million worth of assistance to local government units. In particular, North Cotabato local government units were given 13,519 food packs, said the agency.

“It’s crucial for DSWD to strengthen its monitoring to see if indeed the aid it said it gave to LGUs are being transferred to intended beneficiaries and if the amount of such assistance is enough,” the  Valenzuela City lawmaker noted.

Gatchalian has strongly condemned the brutal dispersal of famers in Kidapawan City which led to deaths of three protesting farmers. He likewise deplored the suicide of Jimmy Tamberya, a 37-year-old corn farmer in the Maguindanao, who was depressed over the failure of his crops due to the prolonged dry spell.

Gatchalian maintained that budget for El Nino is not the problem since it has long been made available by Malacanang as part of the government’s preparation for the worst El Nino to hit the country since 1998.

“The government’s P19-billion allocation for the Roadmap to Address the Impact of El Niño already include aid to farmers and a cash-for-work program to give supplementary income in rural areas. The plan also seeks to boost rice production in areas that are less affected by droughts. All the DA has to do is to make sure that this road map is properly implemented,” said Gatchalian. (Monica Cantilero)