Scarce relief and economic aid for millions of farmers, fisherfolks; rights abuses persist nationwide

One month after Enhanced Community Quarantine and lockdowns

Almost a month after Malacanang enforced the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), farmers and rural sectors bared that they have received none to lacking food aid and economic relief from the government. “The first month of the lockdown focused on implementing stringent quarantine measures and starkly lacked in providing much-needed aid and economic relief for most of the locked-down population. Pati ayuda na-lockdown at hindi lumalabas,”  peasant leader Antonio Flores says.

Based on an initial survey conducted by farmers’ rights watchdog Tanggol Magsasaka, the affected population in rural barangays received insufficient or no aid at all. Among the highlights of the situation in rural areas, almost a month after the lockdown are as follows:

1) Food aid came too late. Food pack distribution started two weeks after the lockdown commenced, after three weeks in many areas, and only after so much public pressure, constant follow-up, and complaints by residents. Far-flung barangays were among the last to receive food packs and not all households received food packs.

2) Food aid is not enough. Households that received food packs reported that they only got 2 kilos of rice, 2 canned sardines, and 2 instant noodles. This is not enough for large households with five or more members. Thousands of families were practically left to fend for themselves. Hunger has worsened especially among rural poor families.

3) Local health response to the pandemic is severely lacking and rural barangay health centers are not equipped to monitor the health status of residents. In rural villages where there are health centers, the Barangay Rural Health Emergency Response Teams (BHERT) could only do as much as give very basic information on how coronavirus is transmitted and to constantly remind the residents about physical distancing.  

There was no community disease surveillance or active contact tracing was conducted to know the extent of community transmission in rural barangays with COVID+ cases or prevention of such in areas with no recorded cases. No distribution of face masks, alcohol, and disinfectants to rural households was done. Government-initiated massive information drive on the pandemic was also lacking, making the rural population susceptible to false information, panic, and distress.

4) Millions of farmer and fisherfolk families have not yet received support or assistance from the government’s Social Amelioration Program (SAP). The bureaucratic implementation and continued non-distribution of the P5,000 to P8,000 emergency cash assistance by local government offices aggravated the plight of farmers and fisherfolk families in rural and coastal communities.

Most farmers have not yet received any cash aid or financial assistance from the SAP and other existing DA programs. The DA is mostly offering loans to farmers through SURE AID but even such loan programs have very stringent requirements, making it almost impossible for poor farmers to access. Farmers and fishers have not yet received necessary production subsidies for food production.

5. Checkpoints, curfews, and other stringent quarantine rules significantly disrupted and hampered vital economic activities like farming and fishing.  

There were also delays or non-delivery of agricultural produce to markets due to checkpoints and non-recognition of food pass and permits. This led to the wastage of produce, income losses for farmers, and unwarranted increase in prices of foodstuff. Fishing activities were also affected.

While the government’s aid to the population is evidently lacking throughout the ongoing ECQ, human rights abuses have persisted.

“The fact that more arrests that COVID19 tests were conducted throughout the ECQ is only a consequent of the government’s unpreparedness and belated response to the pandemic.”

Tanggol Magsasaka points out in particular two cases of extra-judicial killings against farmers which occurred during the ECQ period: the killing of youth leader Marlon Madlos last March 17 in Bohol, and the killing of peasant woman leader Nora Apique last March 31 in Surigao del Sur.

The group also took note of the incident of a police shooting 63-year old farmer Junie Dungog at a quarantine checkpoint in Barangay Amontay, Nasipit, Agusan del Norte because the victim was not wearing a face mask and allegedly violated quarantine rules. 

“A lockdown extension without a comprehensive and effective plan on how to deliver the much-needed socio-economic aid to the people and raising of health capabilities in battling the coronavirus will only prolong and worsen the peoples’ agony and suffering,” Flores declares.

Tanggol Magsasaka said the government must ensure that all 18 million low-income families receive urgent cash aid, food support and other assistance. The government must also ramp-up mass testing by setting up more centers and laboratories, hiring more health workers and equipping public hospitals for the treatment of COVID19. ###

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