By: Izobelle T. Pulgo, Victor Anthony V. Silva April 25,2016 - 10:42 PM

FRESHWATER FISH IN DRIED BONBON RIVER: Residents in barangay Bonbon one of Cebu City mountain barangay take advantade of fishing freshwater fish in Bonbon river that almost dried up cause by the heat of El Niño. in Bohol freshfish products has declined already.(CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)

FISH CATCH. Some residents of mountain Barangay Bonbon in Cebu City have at least a reason to be happy amid the dry spell. As the water level of Bonbon River drops, it has become easier for villagers to walk through the shallow river and catch freshwater fish with just their bare hands. (CDN PHOTO/JUNJIE MENDOZA)

No relief is in sight yet for mostly farmer residents of Cebu province hard hit by the long dry spell because the provincial government cannot offer them any kind of assistance without getting into trouble with the law in the absence of a clearance from the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

In the meantime, the toll on agriculture wrought by the months of dry spell continued to rise, from P186 million last week to P196.7 million this week, according to a report released yesterday by the Cebu Province Rapid Assessment Team (CPRAT).

The election period is hampering efforts of the Capitol to respond to those affected by the dry spell due to a ban on the distribution of relief assistance, according to Baltazar Tribunalo Jr., head of the Cebu Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (PDRRMO).

“The election ban has slowed down our relief efforts in the midst of the calamity,” said Tribunalo.

He said towns and cities are having a hard time deciding whether or not to declare a state of calamity because they are afraid of getting accused of electioneering, he added.

“Even I am afraid,” Tribunalo added.

The Cebu provincial government recently placed the province under a state of calamity due to the dry spell brought on by the El Niño weather phenomenon, supposedly to allow the province access to the Capitol’s quick response fund of P34 million.

But the provincial government could not extend relief aid to affected farmers yet due to an election ban that prohibits elected officials to distribute any form of assistance during the election period.

Doing so constitutes an election offense, punishable with one to six years imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from holding public office, among others.

The poll body earlier recommended that all forms of assistance to affected families or individuals be coursed through the Philippine Red Cross or the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

In the meantime, Tribunalo said his office will coordinate with the Philippine Red Cross and DSWD.

Last April 8, Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III sent to the Comelec in Manila a request to exempt the provincial government from the ban so it can provide assistance to dry spell-stricken areas in the province.

Davide also told the Comelec that the poll body would be welcomed to monitor the distribution or even directly assist during the distribution of aid.

The letter was addressed to Commissioner Robert Lim, the commissioner-in-charge of the campaign finance office of Comelec, and was coursed through Cebu’s acting provincial election supervisor Eliseo Labaria. CDN sought Labaria for comment, but he could not be reached despite repeated calls to his cellular phone.

Comelec Central Visayas Director Jose Nick Mendros, reached by phone last night, said he would not know the status of the request for exemption since it was not coursed through his regional office.

Mendros also declined to comment further since he was not in a position to release any statement until the Comelec en banc issues a resolution on the Capitol’s request.

Mendros said all requests for exemption from the election ban on the distribution of social welfare assistance must be addressed to the Comelec en banc while those for infrastructure should be addressed to the Comelec campaign finance office.

The poll executive said the Comelec en banc has no particular criteria on the approval of requests and that requesting parties only have to prove in hearings that there would be a need to release the funds.

In his letter to Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, Davide said that with El Niño continuing to affect the water sources and farmlands of Cebu, he believed the province would need to help those affected residents.
The Kidapawan experience

In an apparent attempt to stress the urgency of having to help farmers before they become desperate, the governor’s letter made reference to the incident involving the protesting drought-stricken farmers in Kidapawan City which left three farmers dead after they clashed with the police on April 1.

“The recent incident in Kidapawan City is attributed to the ill effects of El Niño, which not only damaged the environment, but also social relations between the citizens and the government,” the governor said.

In an earlier interview, Davide said the PDRRMO was tasked to prepare El Niño relief packages to include water pumps, storage and transport equipment, 5,000 sacks of rice, vegetable seeds and fruit seedlings for 25,000 affected farmers, and school supplies for 25,000 children worth P25 to P27 million.

Tribunalo said each relief pack would provide each affected family two weeks’ supply of food.

The provincial government, he added, will prioritize those living in the affected agricultural areas such as Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, Tuburan, and Asturias, among others.

He added that while his office is spearheading relief efforts, it is the office of the governor that was tasked to follow up on the request for exemption.

The CPRAT, meanwhile, reported that the dry spell affected 3924.25 hectares of farm lands in Cebu, with the mango industry still sustaining the worst damage at P151 million, followed by corn crops (P27.5 million), vegetables (P8.6 million), rice (P1.2 million), and bananas (P876,000). Livestock damage was placed at P6.7 million while the fisheries sector lost P500,000, the CPRAT report said.

Tribunalo said farming communities in upland villages would be prioritized should Comelec allow the distribution of aid.

With regards to cloud seeding, Tribunalo said that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) planned to do it first in Bohol this week, which has been declared by Pagasa as among the drought-stricken provinces in the country.

“Hopefully, if they were done in Bohol, they would come and do the same in Cebu,” Tribunalo said.

Fishery losses

The intense dry spell in the country has also taken its toll on Region 7’s fisheries sector, with losses now placed at P130 million, mainly resulting from the drop in production of freshwater fish. Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) 7 Assistant Regional Director Allan Poquito said their initial report showed that Negros Oriental sustained the worst damage at P82.3 million, followed by Bohol (P44.8 million), Siquijor (P1.7 million) and Cebu (P1.2 million).

Despite these figures, Poquito explained there was no reason to be alarmed as there was no report of fish supply shortage in the market because of the abundance of fish catch during the summer months from March to May.

Poquito attributed the increase in fish supply normally seen during these summer months to the beneficial effects of sunlight on fish health.

To mitigate the effects caused by the El Niño on the fisheries sector, BFAR 7 planned to provide alternative livelihood training to fishers, to include teaching the fishermen how to strengthen the shelf-life of fishery products.

The full implementation of bangus and tilapia fingerling dispersal was also planned in the month of May or June, right after the El Niño is over, to help fishers recover from the aftermath of the drought, said Poquito.

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