Malacañang was urged to send a “humanitarian army” to North Cotabato and other areas in the South hit by a dry spell which has parched lands and raised peasant protests against government inaction to a boiling point.
“Don’t rush troops. Send in a humanitarian army instead. Let it be an invasion of kindness, hope and assistance,” Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said in the aftermath of a police dispersal Friday of a farmers’ highway barricade in Kidapawan City that left one dead and scores wounded.
Recto said Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) and Department of Agriculture (DA) officials should lead the Malacañang contingent that “will address, with immediate aid, and not just Powerpoint presentations, the grievance of farmers.
“For signalling purposes, that’s the best response. Two Cabinet heads holding office there, on the ground, to address the concerns. Dinky and Procy are excellent troubleshooters. Both have good rapport with the grassroots,” he said.
Recto was referring to DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman and DA Secretary Proceso Alcala. “Sila ‘yung pwedeng umayos ng problema sa baba kasi hindi police or military solution ang kailangan, ngunit tulong at kalinga.”
Recto also called on Malacañang to release part of the P39 billion of this year’s Calamity Fund “for food assistance, cash-for-work projects, emergency employment, farm aid” for farms hit by El Niño.
“There is a calamity. The damage is obvious. Many local governments have placed their areas under an official state of calamity. These are enough to trigger the release of funds,” Recto said.
“Ang tanong: Magkano na ang naibigay para sa mga lugar na tinamaan ng El Niño? Para malaman natin kung may batayan ang mga hinaing ng mga magsasaka,” the senator asked.
In addition, Recto said the P6.7 billion Quick Response Fund (QRF) has been distributed among 12 agencies, with P1.32 billion given to DWSD, and P500 million each to DA and the National Irrigation Administration (NIA).
Other QRF recipients are DepEd (P1 billion); DOH (P510 million); DPWH (P1.3 billion); DOTC, including Philippine Coast Guard (P200 million); PNP (P75million); BFP (P75 million); DND (P200 million); Office of Civil Defense (P530 million).
“As its name denotes, it’s for quick release. An emergency fund that is already prepositioned with the agencies for rapid use. Again, the affected agencies must disclose how much has been spent,” he said.
But even without the QRF, huge allocations for the DA and DSWD can mitigate the effects of El Niño, Recto said.
“There are lots of programs within the DSWD’s P104 billion budget for 2016 that can cushion the effects of El Niño,” he said.
“I am quite sure that most calamity victims have been enrolled under the Conditional Cash Transfer,” Recto said.
The whole DA, including attached agencies and the four offices under the Office of the Presidential Assistance for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (OPAFSAM), has a budget of P91.7 billion.
One of the biggest recipients, NIA, has a budget of P32.7 billion for projects, “which, if implemented, can generate short-term jobs for affected farmers,” Recto said.
But if the above allocations are not enough then national government should make public if it has approved the reported request of the DWSD and the DA for funds to address El Niño effects, Recto said.
In an official statement last February, DSWD said it had submitted a P6.7 billion “action plan” to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) for funding.
The plan involves the grant of a P10,000 livelihood assistance to each of the affected families and money for eight days of Cash-for-Work (CFW) per month to half of the affected households.
Also last February, DA Secretary Proceso Alcala was quoted by the press that his agency will be needing an immediate budget of nearly P1 billion from the national government to mitigate the impact of the lack of rain on the country’s agriculture sector.
“DSWD and DA can only do so much without funding support. Pondo ang kailangan ng humanitarian army,” Recto said.