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PHILIPPINES: Government inaction in spite of starvation due to severe drought in Mindanao

At least three families of indigenous people belonging to Dulangan Manobo tribe in Kulaman Valley, Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, are presently experiencing severe starvation and hunger. They are among the 3,408 people whose crops have been destroyed by rat infestation and severe drought, which began in September 2004.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

21 July 2005
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HA-16-2005: PHILIPPINES: Government inaction in spite of starvation due to severe drought in Mindanao

PHILIPPINES: Starvation and malnutrition; Abject poverty; Government neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed that three families are suffering starvation and are in desperate hunger in the municipalities of Sultan Kudarat province, Mindanao. They are among the thousands of villagers reported to be vulnerable to hunger. Infestation of rats and severe drought left most of the affected families with not enough food to eat, and their farm crops destroyed.

According to Maricel Hilario, a researcher for the Indigenous Peoples Apostolate (IPA) in Sultan Kudarat the affected areas have not yet been declared as under a state of calamity. There is an urgent need to declare those areas as facing a calamity to release funds from the local government to assist the victims.

This is yet another incident of starvation and hunger in Mindanao. The AHRC has previously reported similar starvation of farmers in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato due to severe drought (please see HA-14-2005). However, after they experienced similar problems, the provinces of North and South Cotabato were placed under a state of calamity. They were also able to initiate food-for-work programs and release funds for the calamity.

Although the local Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Food Authority (NFA) initiated a food-for-work program in Kulaman Valley, Sultan Kudarat it was only run for one distribution and stopped due to lack of funds. The program, which was supposed to last for six months, was stopped before it could even complete its implementation.

We urge your urgent action to pressure the government to initiate steps to address the hunger and starvation of the victims and to ensure that food, basic needs and other alternative means of livelihood are immediately afforded to the affected families.

Urgent Appeals Desk – Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Name of persons experiencing starvation: Alina Gunong (30) and her seven children aged one to 19 of Kalupingon; Dama Dakias and his wife Leonor (22) of Lower Sakuling; Adung Bongalus (38) and his family of Lower Sakuling
Name of the tribe: Dulangan Manobo
Date of when the incident began: Since September 2004 up to present
Location: Kulaman Valley composed of the municipalities of Bagumbayan, Senator Ninoy Aquino and Palembang, in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao

At least three families of indigenous people belonging to Dulangan Manobo tribe in Kulaman Valley, Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, are presently experiencing severe starvation and hunger. They are among the 3,408 people whose crops have been destroyed by rat infestation and severe drought, which began in September 2004.

Thirty-year-old Alina Gunong said that in her village Kalupingon, the rats ravaged the corn crops they planted this April. For the last three years, Gunong said the rats have been ravaging their crops every time they plant. They no longer have corn seeds for planting left. Gunong has seven children depending on her. One of her siblings previously died due to malnutrition. Gunong's husband also died in April because of tuberculosis.

Since Gunong's husband died, she had been working as a labourer in the lands of migrant farmers for P50 (USD 1) per day. Her income, however, was not enough to feed her family. Sometimes, Gunong said, they had to eat klut or kayos, a root crop that could be poisonous if not prepared and cooked properly. Alina and her mother had to sell a precious indigenous belt for P2,000 (USD 36) to have money to buy rice and milk for her children.

Most of the people in Kulaman Valley had been starving due to scarcity of food, especially the staple corn and rice. Their source of food is root crops: sweet potato, cassava, other varieties of local root-crops, and small amounts of bananas, which are also getting scarce due to rat infestation and severe drought.

Some of the residents have taken the risk of selling endangered species of animals to earn money. On June 10, a woman and her 10-year-old daughter reportedly sold an endangered flying lemur just to have money to buy rice. She traveled barefoot from their remote village to sell her animal catch. The woman, who has nine children, was with a baby girl who was crying because of hunger.

Another farmer, Dama Dakias, a resident of Lower Sakuling, Kulaman Valley, had to borrow money from his brother, Roman Menom, to buy rice for his family. Dama's wife is named Leonor (22). The couple's cornfields and lowland rice field have been ravaged by rats. Rats ate the upland variety of rice that they previously planted. Dama's family only ate sweet potato and cassava for their meals, and they have had to work as labourers on another farm, or sell spring onions they have grown in their backyard to earn money and to buy food to eat.

Dama's neighbours, Adung Bongalus (38), also experienced similar problems. However, Bongalus has continued planting two sacks of rice although his farm has just been recently infested with rats. Adung had no harvest for past two years due to infestation. But despite knowing this, he was hopeful that he could still have a good harvest.  Like other farmers, his family also had to eat root crops. Most of the villagers can't even afford to buy salt, coffee, sugar, gas, matches, laundry soap and other basic needs due to abject poverty. They also do not have seeds to plant should they want to farm.

In the village of Benibol, a woman said she could no longer eat rice as often as before. She could hardly afford to pay P60 (USD 1) for one ganta of rice (two and a half kilos) to feed her family. The farmers had lost around 40 rice varieties to rat infestation in the past two years.

The food for work program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Food Authority (NFA) in Kulaman Valley has been put on hold for lack of funds. The program, which is supposed to last for six months, had only released rice and other basic needs once to 916 beneficiaries. The program is supposed to provide P1,200 (USD 27) worth of rice and goods to each beneficiary per month for 12-days of work. It is supposed to cover the villages of Nati, Midtungok, Kiadsam, Poblacion, and Tacupis, all in Kulaman Valley.

It was reported that the DSWD main office in Quezon City, Manila stopped or delayed the release of card coupons for the program. The DSWD only released rice and goods once on March 21. Despite the situation, the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat has reportedly not placed the areas under a state of calamity. Its neighboring provinces, North Cotabato and South Cotabato, have already declared their entire provinces in calamity after they experienced severe drought. They have also initiated a food-for-work program and released calamity funds even though some of the victims have yet to benefit from the programs.

It is important to place the affected areas under a state of calamity to facilitate the release of calamity funds needed to assist the victims. The legislative body of the local government concerned could take measures, including the amount of funds to be released, once they declare the area under a calamity. At least five percent of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) could be utilized for calamity assistance.

During a recent survey conducted in March it was reported that of the 1,917 households in 63 villages in the municipalities of Bagumbayan, Ninoy Aquino, Palembang, and Lebak, all in Sultan Kudarat province, about 3,408 people out of the total 8,877 population, are vulnerable to hunger.


SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please send a letter to Ms. Lualhati F. Pablo, officer in charge of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in Quezon City, Manila, asking her department to hasten the release of food coupons for the food-for-work program in Kulaman Valley, Sultan Kudarat. The DSWD must comply with the implementation of the program and ensure its sustainability. Also ask the provincial government of Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, in particular Governor Datu Pax Mangudadatu, to immediately declare the affected municipalities under a state of calamity and take appropriate steps to arrest the starvation and hunger.

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SAMPLE LETTER:


Dear _________,

PHILIPPINES: Government inaction in spite of starvation due to severe drought in Mindanao

Name of persons experiencing starvation: Alina Gunong (30) and her seven children aged one to 19 of Kalupingon Village; Dama Dakias and his wife Leonor (22) of Lower Sakuling Village; Adung Bongalus (38) and his family of Lower Sakuling Village
Date of when the incident began: Since September 2004 up to present
Location: Kulaman Valley composed of the municipalities of Bagumbayan, Senator Ninoy Aquino and Palembang, in Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao

I am writing to draw your attention to the starvation and hunger experienced by at least three families of indigenous people in four municipalities within the Kulaman Valley, Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao. I have learned that thousands of villagers have also experienced a similar situation following severe rat infestation and drought, which have left their farms ravaged and destroyed.

I am alarmed over reports that affected farmers have had to eat root crops that could be poisonous if not properly prepared and cooked and have had to be content with root crops for their daily meals. Some have had to be engaged in illegally selling endangered species of animals just to have money to buy food. I have also learned of two incidents of deaths that could be related to malnutrition. I am deeply sad that some children do not have food to eat.

Although the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the National Food Authority (NFA) initiated the food-for-work program they failed to sustain its implementation. They only released rice and basic goods once even though the program is supposed to last for six months. They shouldn't create a program that gives victims expectations and then fails. They should properly address constraints on lack of funds instead of abandoning the scheme. I urge the DSWD and NFA to sustain the food-for-work program, and hasten the release of food coupons.

The local governments of Sultan Kudarat, Mindanao, in particular the municipal governments of those severely affected areas, have also reportedly not placed those areas under a state of calamity, which they should have done to facilitate the release of calamity funds to address the situation. I urged the local government to follow the initiative of its neighboring provinces, North Cotabato and South Cotabato, who have placed their provinces under a state of calamity. The two provinces also were able to release calamity funds. I further request the DSWD to closely coordinate with the local governments on this concern.

Under the Republic Act 8425 or the Social Reform and Poverty Alleviation Act, the government is mandated to ensure that the minimum basic needs of Filipinos, which include food, nutrition and health, are met. Indigenous people are also classified as a vulnerable sector. I therefore urge the Philippine government to take appropriate and immediate action on the victims' plight.


Sincerely yours,


___________________

PLEASE SEND A LETTER TO:

1. Ms. Lualhati F. Pablo
Officer in Charge
Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)
Batasan Pambansa Complex, Constitution Hills
Quezon City
PHILIPPINES
Tel/Fax: +63 2 931-8138
Tel.: +63 2 931-8101 to 07

2. Governor Pax Mangudadatu
Province of Sultan Kudarat
Office of the Governor
Provincial Capitol Compound
9805 Municipality of Isulan, Sultan Kudarat
PHILIPPINES
Tel: +63 64 201-3027 / +63 64 201-4814
Fax:+63 64 201-3021/ +63 64 201-4282

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Ms. Rosalinda Tolosa
Regional Director
Commission on Human Rights (CHR)
Sy Compound, Leon Lldio Street
Barangay Lagao
9500 General Santos City
PHILIPPINES
Tel/Fax: +63 83 553-8887
Cotabato City extension Office
Tel: +63 64 482-0384 / +63 64 421-6307

2. Dr. Nicolas Alipui
Resident representative
United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF)
31/F Yuchengco Tower, RCBC Plaza
Ayala Ave. cor. Sen. Gil J. Puyat Ave.
Makati City, Metro Manila
PHILIPPINES
Telephone: +63 2 901-0173
Fax: +63 2 901-0195
Email: manila@unicef.org

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
Attn: Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066, C/o OHCHR
CH-1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel.: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 917 9010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

4. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 6554413
Email: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org

Thank you

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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