The Senate investigation into the violent dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City has proved the accountability of President Aquino as one of the lead probers accused the administration of lying to the public.
"The Senate probe into the incident showed us one thing: Aquino's criminal negligence has led our farmers to starve, prompting them to protest. The national government knew about the protest since the first day," said League of Filipino Students (LFS) national chairman Charisse BaAez as students and other groups took part in the Global Day of Action for Food and Justice.
"We heard a familiar horrible story - a narration of how the government is missing in action when thousands upon thousands of victims of a calamity are desperately asking for help. Just like the people of Eastern Visayas who suffered from typhoon Yolanda, the farmers in North Cotabato were also abandoned by the Aquino regime in the middle of El NiAo," she stressed.
BaAez noted that the farmers were already suffering great damage for seven months and that the local government of North Cotabato even declared a state of calamity in the province.
According to her, the hearing revealed the national government did not respond to the farmers' plea for help.
"In Kidapawan alone, at least 25 percent of the local population or 11,000 families have been affected and could go hungry anytime because 266 hectares of agricultural crops have wilted since the last quarter of 2015. Meanwhile, in the whole province of North Cotabato, around 50,000 hectares of corn and rice became unusable due to extreme temperature leading to agricultural losses up to a billion pesos. It has resulted in 25,000 farmers losing their only source of food and income," BaAez said.
"The probe raised the same question we are asking since the first day of the protest. Where is the President? Where are his secretaries and their agencies responsible in aiding the farmers? The farmers are already starving for seven months and no action was done to relieve them from the effects of the drought."
BaAez noted that there is a total of P131 billion from the Department of Agriculture (DA), six-attached agencies, four agencies under the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, the National Irrigation Administration (NIA), the National Food Authority (NFA), Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management also known as the Calamity Fund, all of which could have been used to satisfy the demand of the farmers.
As of December 2015, the Department of Budget and Management also announced the P19.2 billion allotment for El NiAo.
BaAez said there were no details on these funds and the Aquino government did not provide specific instructions on how to use the money.
"This is like the Yolanda tragedy. There are funds, there are foods, but the people are starving and dying. The Aquino has criminally neglected its duties to the people and the victims of calamities such as this," she added.
BaAez also said while the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the local governments headed by North Cotabato Gov. Lala TaliAo-Mendoza and Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista must be accountable, the Senate hearing showed that the national government is also involved in the violent dispersal.
The youth leader echoed the statements of the provincial governor that there were members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), which is directly commanded by Aquino, who were involved in the bloody dispersal.
"It is impossible that the President did not know what was happening in Kidapawan. It is clear that he decided to dismiss our farmers and abandon them to be smothered by his killing machine. Aquino is involved from start to finish and should be immediately held accountable," said BaAez.
For the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Aquino's accountability on the Kidapawan incident is further underscored by his continuing silence on the farmers' demand for food aid and justice.
KMP chairman Rafael Mariano noted that "instead of addressing the impacts of drought and the farmers' urgent demand for food aid, and punishing the perpetrators, Aquino deliberately remains silent."
"It's been a week since the bloody dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan and the President has not spoken a word," he lamented.
"President Aquino also sends a strong signal to the people that he tolerates and absolves the perpetrators of the cold-blooded murder," he added.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano hit back at MalacaAang for trying to downplay the people's clamor for help amid the El NiAo.
"Governor Mendoza, who happens to be a Liberal Party member, told us herself during the hearing that their local government wrote a letter to the national government to ask for assistance, but nothing came," Cayetano said.
"Enough with the lies. We actually have P45 billion worth of funds in the 2016 budget that may be used for projects that will curb the impact of this crisis," he added.
Cayetano stressed that if the national government had immediately taken action to heed the people's demands, thousands of farmers would not have staged a protest, and the tragic incident in Kidapawan could have been avoided.
He particularly questioned the absence of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in the hearing, saying he would have wanted the Cabinet member to explain his statement that the areas where the protesting farmers came from did not suffer much from the El NiAo.
"Perhaps Seretary Alcala has his own version of reality? I wanted to ask why he would utter such an insensitive statement. But he didn't show up at the hearing. This is a national issue, but the national leaders were missing in action," the senator stressed.