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Drought-affected farmers block Kidapawan City highway to demand relief

Drought has dried up this rice field in Tulunan town in North Cotabato. John Unson

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - Thousands of farmers on Wednesday blocked stretches of the Cotabato-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City, to demand government action on the hunger besetting their communities as a result of a five-month drought in Cotabato province.

Authorities estimated at least 5,000 farmers joined the rally, with some of them picketing at the entrance to the provincial office of the National Food Authority in Kidapawan City, capital of North Cotabato.

Hundreds of commuters on jeepneys, buses and private vehicles have been stranded since Wednesday morning because of the blockade.

Pedro Arnado, chairperson of the North Cotabato chapter of farmers' group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said they want immediate government action on the widespread hunger in their communities due to heavy crop losses because of the drought.

Officials of the North Cotabato police and sources from the office of Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said the farmers came all the way from the drought-affected towns of Magpet, President Roxas, Antipas, Arakan, Magpet and Makilala.

Some of them reportedly carried placards and streamers bearing appeals to the government to give them rice to feed their families.

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They also asked for seeds of drought-resistant vegetables and demanded the suspension of military operations against communist rebels in drought-affected areas to prevent the dislocation of villagers.

Aerial cloud-seeding operations by the regional office of the Department of Agriculture in Region 12 produced scattered light rains in North Cotabato but that was not enough to prevent crops from withering from the drought and scorching heat.

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