More than a thousand people on Friday converged at the Mendiola Peace Arch in Manila following on from the tragic events at Kidapawan in the island of Mindanao on 1st of April, when two people were killed during a peaceful protest by farmers requesting government support following severe drought in the region.
Suffering the brunt of the ongoing El Niño, just over a week ago, some 6 thousand farmers assembled along a national highway in Kidapawan to demand 15,000 sacks of rice and financial subsidies promised to them six months earlier by the provincial government. In response, government officials offered a meager 3 kilos of rice for each farmer to last them for 3 months.
The protesters held their ground despite the threat of forcible dispersal from security forces. The three-day stand-off was broken on April 1 when forces of the Philippine National Police fired at the farmers leaving two farmers dead, hundreds injured and at least 70 arrested and detained.
"We cannot fight for climate justice without fundamental human rights protections for those most impacted. When violence is used to silence protest, democracy is placed under threat. The farmers in the Philippines struggle are a struggle for system change—not just climate change."
A severe food and water crisis is fast spreading in Mindanao and the rest of the Philippines in the wake of what scientists say maybe the most severe El Niño episode on record. Global warming and climate change has been generating not only super typhoons but also super-El Niños. The Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) issued a warning early last year that there would be 34 provinces affected by El Niño by March 2016 and 68 provinces by April.
It is expected to peak between May and June or until the onset of the rainy season later this year. Some towns in North Cotabato have been categorised as in a state of ‘calamity’ since April 2015 whilst the entire North Cotabato was declared a state of calamity in January 2016.
The Mindanao farmers and indigenous peoples communities would have been in a stronger position to weather the effects of El Niño if their watersheds and water systems had not been damaged. The provinces badly hit by El Niño to date have one thing in common – most of their watersheds are severely compromised due to unregulated expansion of agribusiness plantations, mining operations and coal fired power plants.
The majority of the Philippine population is comprised of farmers who remain landless. In practice this means that they are getting an unjust share from their agricultural yields. Landlords and businesses control their inputs of production with high interest rates. Services that should be provided by the government for the farmers are being privatized such as the irrigation systems which come with extra fees to the farmers. This, compounded with the absence of a genuine agrarian reform program, leaves the farmers with low income and high debts. The prevalent set-up between the farmers and landlords has made it even harder for the struggling farmers to prepare and respond to the climate crisis.
Despite this the government has shown no urgency to respond to the imminent concern of the farmers. The farmers are now suffering from intense hunger and an immediate solution is necessary in the form of food aid. Unfortunately as a consequence of the local government’s ineptitude, these farmers were instead dealt violence rather than the support they so desperately need.
State terror and violence, as a response to disasters, is a reflection of the government’s criminal negligence towards the farmers. On the surface level, it illustrates the government’s unpreparedness and underestimation of the scale and urgency of the climate crisis that can still be evident in post-Haiyan stricken communities. Historically, our presidents come from families of big landlords who own the biggest industries in the country. Decision making in government therefore often favors their own interest. Our farmers have been demanding a genuine agrarian reform for more than two decades.
We cannot fight for climate justice without fundamental human rights protections for those most impacted. When violence is used to silence protest, democracy is placed under threat. The farmers in the Philippines struggle are a struggle for system change—not just climate change.
Our response is not to bow down, but to carry on building our numbers, standing strong as a unified movement. We continue to join and witness the undying strength of People Surge, a network of Haiyan survivors demanding for accountability and justice to the government. We saw the continued resolve from people at the Climate Walk last autumn in a 40-day, 875 KM journey from Manila to Tacloban City. Our base on the ground is growing in strength. Today we stand unified still. In May, we will be mobilizing yet again, together with many others from the global climate movement to “Break Free” from fossil fuels. These tragic events, illustrate how breaking free from the violence and destruction of extractive industries is more urgently needed than ever.