By Amor Larrosa and Desserie Dionio, Panahon TV Reporters
Gunshots echoed as protesters hurled stones against the police. Blasts of water cannons were directed toward rallyists, who ran for their lives amidst deafening screams. According to reports, such was the scene that unfolded in Kidapawan in Cotabato that took the media by storm on the first day of April – an incident that would later be tagged by others as “Bigas, Hindi Bala.”
On March 29, 500 El Niño-stricken farmers and agricultural workers staged a rally in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) in Kidapawan City to ask the government for rice rations and aid after the El Niño had dried up their crops, leaving them penniless, in debt and hungry.
The local government agreed to talk to the farmers, but on March 30, their numbers rose to 6,000, allowing them to occupy the highway. A couple of days later, the event led to a violent dispersal, killing two farmers and one civilian, with more than a hundred protesters and members of the police wounded, and 80 farmers missing.
TWO SIDES OF THE COIN
Last April 7, the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights held a hearing in Davao City as some of farmers who were still recovering from injuries could not travel to Manila.
During the session, a farmer named Arlyn Oti Aman recalled how she, along with colleagues, were treated violently. “We went here to ask for food, but they looked upon us as like dogs, like animals.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) claimed that they have proof that the demonstrators initiated the violence. North Cotabato Chief Police Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum said that maximum tolerance was implemented during the outbreak of violence. He also showed an aerial video of the incident showing that cops were not raising their batons.
There are always two sides to every story, but what’s certain is that one of the factors that sparked the Kidapawan violence is the El Niño. This phenomenon aggravated the Dry Season in Mindanao, threatening food security.
WHAT IS EL NIÑO?
El Niño is characterized by the unusual warming of the ocean or the unusual rise in sea surface temperature (SST). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the term El Niño was originally recognized by fishermen off the coast of South America as the appearance of uncommon warm water in the Pacific Ocean.
“El Niño” is also a Spanish term meaning “Little Boy” or “Christ child” because this phenomenon usually arrives around Christmas.
As early as 2014, PAGASA warned the public about the possible threat of El Niño, which was expected to bring below-normal rainfall patterns and higher air temperatures. Though the average number of tropical cyclones could still be normal, PAGASA stated that the El Niño could affect the cyclones’ movement and intensity, causing them to be stronger and more erratic.
EL NIÑO SETS IN
On March 11, 2015, PAGASA confirmed the ongoing El Niño in a press statement.
In the same month, the Dry Spell started to affect farmlands and water sources in Kidapawan City. The veterinary office in the city also reported deaths of hogs and cows because of the severe heat. The city office also received reports that some farm animals had weakened, possibly due to heat stroke.
After enduring the effects of El Niño for months, North Cotabato was placed under a state of calamity on January 2016. Thousands of hectares of farmlands and millions of crops like rice, corn, cacao, and other high-value crops were affected.
Provinces that are vulnerable to the effects of El Niño are mostly in Mindanao, mainly because of its location. According to PAGASA-Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section (CLIMPS) Chief Mr. Anthony Lucero, areas which are at the nearest distance from the equator normally experience the highest temperatures and least precipitation.
“Kapag kasi may El Niño, nagkakaroon ng reversal of winds—5 degrees north and 5 degrees south of equator. Humihina ‘yung effect ng Easterlies pagdating sa part na ‘yun. So walang moisture, wala ring ulan,” Lucero said.
This April, North Cotabato remains to be on the list of areas that are more likely to experience drought. Drought is defined by three consecutive months of way-below normal rainfall condition, wherein the average rainfall is reduced by 60%.
WERE WE PREPARED FOR EL NIÑO?
In the Senate Committee hearing, Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño Mendoza stressed that the provincial government took El Niño-mitigating measures after being warned by PAGASA.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala belied reports that farmers in Mindanao have become hungry because of the government’s failure to prepare for El Niño. According to Alcala, when PAGASA declared a mild El Niño, the DA immediately provided P2.666 billion worth of mitigation assistance as early as 2015. He also said that P979.9 million worth of assistance was released from January to March 2016, including the provision of water pumps.
According to Alcala, DA’s projection of palay harvest loss due to El Niño for 2016 to date is 970,000 metric tons; “But the actual loss was 203,000 metric tons, meaning that the government has implemented the necessary interventions.”
From April to July this year, DA targets to distribute a total of 89,260 bags of rice varieties and seeds; 80,000 kilograms of soil ameliorant/zinc sulphate; and 5,000 bags of organic fertilizer for distribution to affected farmers.
As early as January, Pasig City Representative Roman Romulo called for the administration to disclose how it intended to spend the multimillion-peso budget for El Niño mitigation.
Likewise, in his statement during the hearing, Majority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano condemned the administration for its failure to immediately release funds to mitigate the effects of El Niño.
“Enough of excuses and lies: we actually have P45 billion worth of funds in 2016 that may be used for the projects that will curb the impact of this crisis. If the Palace wanted to resolve this, they can… why are there so many farmers who are still starving and facing poverty?” said Cayetano.
EL NIÑO AND CLIMATE CHANGE
In an interview with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Atty. Gia Ibay said climate change does not cause El Niño, but the frequency of El Niño occurrence may be linked to it.
Lucero affirms this, saying it is a common misconception that El Niño is caused by climate change. He added that though El Niño is a natural occurrence, climate change may worsen its effects.
“Sa nakikita natin in the recent years, dumadami at dumadalas ang pagkakaroon ng disasters dahil sa climate change – kasama dun ‘yung drought. Ang climate change, connected sa pagtaas ng temperatura ng mundo. So kapag nagkaroon ng El Niño, lumalala ang effect. Mas mainit at lalong nagkukulang sa ulan,” Lucero explained.
According to Lucero, the current El Niño is still categorized as “strong” but is expected to weaken in the next few months. Probably by the end of July, our country may experience a “neutral” climatic condition.
AWARENESS + PREPAREDNESS
To date, the PNP has started its own inquiry on the Kidapawan dispersal, but there are calls for the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a parallel probe to ensure an impartial and independent investigation.
Meanwhile, in Senator Loren Legarda’s press release, she said that this incident would not have happened if necessary interventions addressed the impact of El Niño on farmers and communities.
“…the government can no longer deny the link between climate change and development. What we saw is just one of the human faces of climate change and our farmers, who did not cause this phenomenon, is among the direct victims of its impacts,” Legarda stated.
With the increasing frequency of El Niño and extreme weather events, it is evident that we are already facing a serious challenge. We have all been warned about the development of an El Niño phenomenon, but awareness is not enough without preparedness. It is the state’s responsibility to see to it that measures are effectively carried out from planning to implementation, making sure that the very backbone of the country’s food security—the farmers—benefit from them.
Panahon TV Blog: Decrypting the Dry Spell
Panahon TV Blog: El Niño getting stronger, threatens PH until 2016
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
According to the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), a dry spell has been affecting different parts of the country since December 2014. Dry spell happens when below the normal rainfall conditions (21% to 60% reduction from average) are experienced within three consecutive months or two consecutive months of way below normal rainfall conditions (more than 60% reduction from the average). As of April 7, 2015, 30 provinces have been affected – 13 in Luzon, 3 in Visayas and 14 in Mindanao.
PAGASA Weather Forecaster Meno Mendoza clarified that the dry spell is a normal phenomenon in the Philippines. However, this year’s spell is triggered or worsened because of the ongoing weak El Niño.
Prior to the termination of the northeast monsoon, PAGASA issued the first El Niño advisory in early March. In a press statement dated March 11, 2015, an on-going weak El Niño was confirmed through the climate monitoring and analyses of the state weather bureau. El Niño is a climatic condition characterized by the unusual warming of the ocean or an increased sea surface temperature (SST) in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific (CEEP).
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the term El Niño was originally recognized by fisherman off the coast of South America as the appearance of uncommon warm water in the Pacific Ocean. “El Niño” is also a Spanish term meaning “Little Boy” or “Christ child” because this phenomenon arrives around Christmas.
In Philippine context, the weak El Niño is expected to bring below the normal rainfall pattern and warmer air temperatures in different parts of the country in the coming months. Though the average number of tropical cyclones could still be normal, PAGASA has stated that weak El Niño could affect the cyclones’ movement and intensity, causing them to be more erratic and stronger.
Dry spell on electricity and agriculture
Along with the rise in temperatures, the Manila Electric Company (Meralco) said that electricity consumers might also experience an increased generation charge in their bills.
According to Meralco, electricity rates on April went up by 27 centavos on the back of the one-month maintenance shutdown of the Malampaya gas field, which forced power plants to use the more expensive liquid fuel. The overall electricity rate in April is P10.68 per kilowatt-hour, higher than the P10.42 per kwh rate in March, but lower than April 2014’s P11.49 per kwh. Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla said in an interview with the Philippine Star that the more critical period is in May, with demand expected to shoot up to as high as 9,100 megawatts.
Despite the escalating temperature, power industry players believe that the Luzon grid may survive the hot and dry season because there are no expected blackouts as feared by the public.
But the dry spell has posed a more concrete threat to the farming industry.
Zamboanga City has already been placed under a state of calamity. Reports said that as of March 30, the dry spell and bush fires have resulted to extensive damage in hectares of rice, corn, vegetables, bananas, cassava and coconuts amounting to more than P132 million.
Meanwhile, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council also declared M’lang and Kabacan in North Cotabato under a state of calamity. Due to dry spell, about P230 million worth of crops were reportedly damaged. Aside from the occurrence of grass fires, the absence of rains the past couple of months has also worsened the situation.
If humans feel the effect of soaring temperatures, animals suffer from their impact, too. The veterinary office in Kidapawan City reported that at least seven hogs and a cow died because of severe heat. The city office has also received reports that some farm animals have weakened, possibly due to heat stroke.
Conserving water is a must during this current dry spell in the Philippines. Here are some of the water conservation tips that you can begin in your home:
Check and Fix. Regularly check your faucet for leaks. A small drip from an impaired faucet can waste gallons of water per day. Also, check your toilets for leaks. The rule is if there’s a leak, repair it immediately.
Turn it off. Make it a habit to turn off the faucet when not in use— even just for a short time while soaping hands, brushing your teeth and scrubbing the dishes.
The National Water Resources Board (NWRB) suggests turning off the faucet firmly to prevent leakage. It is better to install low volume/high pressure (LV/HP) nozzles or flow constrictors to reduce water usage by up to 50%.
Pair a pail with a dipper. When taking a bath, use a dipper and pail instead of always using the shower. In this way, you’ll be utilizing just the right amount of water.
Shorten baths. Due to the blazing heat, many of us love to take our time in bathing. However, this can contribute to the dry spell. By reducing your bath time by a couple of minutes, you can save gallons of water per day.
Get it fully loaded. It is recommended to wash only full loads in your washing machine to save water. You can also adjust the water levels to match the size of the load.
Know when to water your plants. Watering your plants is best done during the early morning or in the late afternoon. Early morning helps prevent the growth of fungus, and is also a defense against garden pests. Doing this can also reduce water loss or evaporation.
For energy saving tips, read here:
Going Beyond Earth Hour | Panahon TV Blog
The Philippine Star
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Philippine News Agency