On February 3, 2016 in Kidapawan, a city on Mindanao Island in the Philippines, the local government declared a state of calamity after El Niño brought record-breaking temperatures and severe drought. The resulting damaged crops and millions of pesos in losses left thousands of local families starving and without income. Declaring a state of calamity was supposed to allow the local government access to aid programs for families in need.

Aid, however, did not come.

On March 28, desperate, hungry protesters began gathering in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Kidapawan, demanding that the government deliver fifteen thousand bags of rice to the famers and their families. Government officials claim they were unable to distribute the bags because they would not have had enough left over to stretch aid supplies until the end of the year. Over the next few days the protesters’ number grew to over five thousand, amassing on the Davao-Cotabato Highway, a main artery to the city. Negotiations with officials were unsuccessful. Then, on April 1, police and SWAT teams began a clearance operation. Despite the fact that it is expressly illegal for law enforcement to carry firearms or lethal weapons within one hundred meters of a protest site, the police teams were heavily armed, and reportedly used water cannons, stones and batons to disperse the crowd. When protesters resisted and began to fight back, police opened fire.

Two people were killed. As many as two hundred more were wounded, and over eighty people, reportedly including senior citizens and three pregnant women, were arrested and charged. Bail was reportedly set at 12,000 pesos per farmer, but later reduced to 6,000 pesos, or about $127. The average household income for farmers in the area is around $3 to $5 per day.

The government claimed that many of the farmers protesting were from other municipalities, and that they should have been seeking aid in their home counties. They also justified the armed police units by reporting that militant groups planned to attend the protests.

Since the incident in April, now known as the Kidapawan Massacre, farmers have received scattered aid from local celebrities and private donations, but no assistance from the government. The drought conditions have not improved and now there is concern that La Niña, the counterpart weather pattern that generally follows El Niño within a year or two, will soon cause heavy rain and excessive flooding.

These are the faces of the men and women who survived the Kidapawan Massacre, along with the families of those who did not.

A farmer rides through his dead field of corn in the Arakan Valley, a region that has been decimated by El Niño-related drought.
Enrico Antonio, 64, a survivor of the Kidapawan Massacre, looks to the skies as a light rain falls. “It’s so little; it means nothing,” he says.
Post-drought, a bag of dried-up corn husks at Enrico Antonio’s home in the Arakan Valley.
Enrico Antonio’s home.
Enrico Antonio’s home.
Antonio’s daughter and grandchildren sit down for their only meal of the day.
Antonio’s daughter and grandchildren sit down for their only meal of the day.
Decorations in Darwin Sulong's home in the Arakan Valley. He was shot in the forehead by a high- caliber rifle and killed by police on April 1.
A still frame taken from a video recording during the protests on April 1, 2016, of armed police in combat gear. According to the Philippine National Police manual, police are not allowed to use firearms within one hundred meters of a protest zone. [Video Still Courtesy of Kilab Multimedia]
Eramen Bantalan, 82, grieves for her dead grandson, Darwin Sulong. "I expect justice, and the killers imprisoned; money is nothing,” she says.
Decorations in Darwin Sulong’s home in the Arakan Valley. He was shot in the forehead by a high-caliber rifle and killed by police on April 1.
Eramen Bantalan, 82, grieves for her dead grandson, Darwin Sulong. “I expect justice, and the killers imprisoned; money is nothing,” she says.
Bantalan with fellow Lumads, the indigenous people that their family is a part of.
Ernel Takyaw, 45, a farmer who was shot in the leg on April 1. The bullet broke his leg.
Ernel Takyaw, 45, a farmer who was shot in the leg on April 1. The bullet broke his leg.
Rotelio Dealto, 40, a farmer who was shot in the face on April 1. The bullet entered the left side of his face and exited the right side near his mouth.
Rotelio Dealto, forty, a farmer who was shot in the face on April 1. The bullet entered the left side of his face and exited the right side near his mouth.
A still frame taken from a video recording during the violence on April 1. [Video Still Courtesy of Kilab Multimedia]
A still frame taken from a video recording during the violence on April 1. [Video Still Courtesy of Kilab Multimedia]
Victor Lumondang, 17, a farmer who was shot in the throat by police. The bullet entered his throat and exited out of his back.
Victor Lumondang, seventeen, a farmer who was shot in the throat by police. The bullet entered his throat and exited out of his back.
Corn is the staple crop of the Arakan Valley and cannot survive in the conditions created by El Niño.
Corn is the staple crop of the Arakan Valley and cannot survive in the conditions created by El Niño.
Ebaw Sulong, 50, and his wife Analyn Sulong, 42, parents of Darwin Sulong, who was shot and killed by police on April 1, hold his little sister along with a photo of Darwin.
Ebaw Sulong, fifty, and his wife Analyn Sulong, 42, parents of Darwin Sulong, who was shot and killed by police on April 1, hold his little sister along with a photo of Darwin.
The residents of the Arakan Valley now wait nervously for La Niña, which will bring heavy rain and flooding to the region.
The residents of the Arakan Valley now wait nervously for La Niña, which will bring heavy rain and flooding to the region.

Todd Darling

Todd Darling is photographer at Polaris Images, living in Hong Kong. He covers a range of topics in Asia from Hong Kong's struggle for democracy to climate conflict in the Philippines.