Chiz: hold peace talks with NDF to address hunger in Mindanao

Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday urged government to use the last few months of its term to revive negotiations with leftist rebels in Mindanao to lessen hunger and increase agricultural output on the island.

”Continued fighting will only lead to more displacements and misery for the poor and hungry,” the 40-year-old lawmaker stressed.

Dozens were killed and injured on both sides during recent clashes between government soldiers and the New People’s Army (NPA) on Oct. 6 in Bukidnon and Nov. 14 in Surigao del Sur.

Escudero agreed with Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that the previous weekend’s release of a soldier captured by the communist rebels last Nov.2 in Compostela Valley should pave the way for the resumption of talks.

A survey conducted by the Social Weather Station in December 2008 revealed that of the estimated 4.3 million Filipinos who were in a state of involuntary hunger, or experienced hunger at least once in the last three months, around 1.43 million of them were based in Mindanao.

The conflict in Mindanao has displaced at least 600,000 people based on recent studies conducted by Geneva-based Internally Displaced Monitoring Centre.

They have also severely affected agricultural production to a point that Mindanao has contributed only around 25 percent to the overall national rice production in the last few years, as indicated by NGOs under the Philippine Network of Rural Development Institutes.

”It comes as no surprise then that we have held tenders to import 1.45 million metric tons of rice this year, making us dependent on foreign suppliers who can easily decide to limit their exports and hold us hostage,” Escudero stressed.

“This should give impetus for government to push for talks so we can harness even more the agricultural potential of the island and limit to the barest minimum agricultural imports,” he said.

He added that the continuing armed conflict plus the devastation wrought by recent typhoons, which resulted in an estimated P30B damages to agriculture, could result in more Filipinos going hungry.