Bacolod City

Marcos brings El Niño aid to Bacolod, but protesters say it’s not enough

Ambo Delilan

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Marcos brings El Niño aid to Bacolod, but protesters say it’s not enough

BACOLOD VISIT. President Marcos is greeted by a group of officials and government aid beneficiaries during his visit in Bacolod on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

Ambo Delilan/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Street protest greets President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he visits Bacolod to distribute cash aid to farmers, fisherfolk, and local governments

BACOLOD, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Western Visayas has started assessing the extent of the damage caused by the recent El Niño phenomenon episode in the region so the government will know exactly how to help those impacted, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said on Thursday afternoon, June 27.

Marcos visited Bacolod City, where he distributed cash aid of P10,000 each to 8,315 farm- and fishery-dependent families in Bacolod and from other areas in Negros Occidental who were still reeling from the effects of months of dry weather and sweltering heat due to El Niño.

On top of that, he also gave the Bacolod city government P10 million and the provincial government of Negros Occidental P50 million to help them cushion the impact of El Niño.

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PROTEST. Protesters greet President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as he visits Bacolod City on Thursday, June 27. – Human Rights Advocates Negros

However, outside the University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos (UNO-R) where Marcos spoke and distributed aid, more than 100 activists staged a demonstration, criticizing the President for what they saw as temporary relief to recipients of the Presidential Assistance to Farmers, Fisherfolk, and their Families (PAFFF) program.

The demonstrators, many of them carrying placards denouncing the Marcos administration, called for long-term solutions and sustainable programs for needy families in Bacolod and elsewhere in Negros Occidental.

The El Niño phenomenon caused some P2.912 billion in agricultural losses in Western Visayas, the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) reported, quoting data from the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) and the agriculture department.

The report also provided the following breakdown:

  • 28,199.47 hectares of farms were destroyed
  • 39,208.47 hectares of farms were damaged
  • P1.56 billion in rice production losses
  • P728 million in high-value crops losses
  • P728 million in corn production losses
  • P215.7 million in sugarcane production losses

Negros Occidental alone incurred agricultural losses of P518.1 million, next to Iloilo’s P1.5 billion, the report showed.

Pete Pico, chairman of the Negros Consumers Watch (NCW), said the aid distribution was just a “pakulo” (gimmickry).

“What about the millions of Bacolodnons and Negrosanons? Why [were the beneficiaries] only a few? Selective?” Pico asked.

Noli Rosales, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) in Negros, criticized the Marcos administration for what he described as a late response. He said Marcos should have provided relief at the height of the El Niño episode.

Rosales also said the 8,315 families were only a fraction of those impacted and still suffering from the adverse effects of El Niño in Negros Occidental.

He said Marcos would help more if he made good on his election promise to reduce rice prices to P20 per kilogram and work to lower the cost of living.

“Rice prices here right now range from P50 to P65 a kilo,” said Rosales, adding that the government should do something concrete in response to inflation.

Addressing a crowd at UNO-R, Marcos said the cash aid distribution was meant to acknowledge the hard work of its recipients who suffered in Bacolod and Negros Occidental during the El Niño months.

Marcos said the P10,000 that more than 8,000 families received was meant to give them start-up capital so they could recover from their losses.

For 77-year-old farmer Rogelio Areglo of Barangay Rizal, Sagay City, the P10,000 aid would go a long way for him and his family. He said he would use it to buy fertilizers and replant his half-hectare rice field and two-hectare sugarcane farm. 

Negros Occidental Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson and Bacolod Mayor Alfredo Abelardo Benitez said the assistance brought by Marcos to the city and province was much appreciated.

Kanlaon eruption impact

Meanwhile, Marcos also expressed his concern over the impact of the recent Kanlaon Volcano eruption on five localities in Negros Occidental – La Castellana, Pontevedra, Moises Padilla, and the cities of La Carlota and Bago. 

Officials said the eruption affected at least 9,000 families, with agricultural damage estimated at P11 million. A total of 135 farmers and fisherfolk were severely impacted by ash fall, sulfur contamination, and lahar flows. 

He promised more aid for them on top of the P24 million in cash assistance to the affected residents distributed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Engineer Albert Barrogo, DA-Western Visayas assistant director of DA-6, said their soil analysis in the affected areas showed high acidity levels, but they were still awaiting recommendations from a soil laboratory team on necessary additives to restore soil viability for farming. 

Barrogo also said there was a need for sugar molasses as silage for affected animals and suggested importing grasses from other towns to address the food requirements of ailing livestock.

Dr. Adriano Suba-an, director of the Department of Health (DOH) in Western Visayas, confirmed that water from 13 sources in La Castellana remained unsafe for drinking due to sulfur contamination from the eruption.

The Office of Civil Defense (OCD) in Western Visayas said there was also a need to clear the four-kilometer Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ) around Kanlaon Volcano, and urged the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to demarcate the danger zone to prevent human habitation within the zone.

OCD Regional Director Raul Fernandez said there were at least 83 families from barangays Masulog and Biak na Bato who were still within the danger zone, with more families in La Carlota City and Canlaon City likely affected. – Rappler.com

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