ON March 30, farmers from different parts of North Cotabato, reeling from the debilitating effects of the drought brought about by El Nino, occupied the Kidapawan highway to demand from government immediate rice support and the releases of much needed calamity funds. They were demanding 15,000 sacks of rice for 6 municipalities, for the duration of the drought, until the farmers are able to recover. The root cause of the protest was government neglect of starving farmers and their families.
There were negotiations with the provincial government headed by Gov. Lala Talino-Mendoza. Instead of heeding their demands, Mendoza reportedly offered the farmers 3 kilos of rice each every three months. Government meanwhile claims there is adequate supply of rice especially for calamities. These are supposedly pre-positioned in agencies such as the regional DSWD. The drought should be considered a calamity, yet no rice was released.
ON April 1, the police conducted dispersal operations against the farmers. It is not true that they intended to “rescue” children who were with their protesting parents at the time. It is also not true that the first shots came from the ranks of the protesters as they were all unarmed. Notice also that there are no reports citing any policeman who was injured or killed by gunshots. Video footage will reveal that it was the police that charged the protesters. The farmers fought back as expected. The police started firing their weapons.
Under the law, the carrying of firearms by law enforcers within 100 meters of a protest action is a prohibited act. Firing on unarmed protesters is also illegal. Even if the protesters threw rocks, that does not justify the use of deadly force.
The police claim that they only fired warning shots. Videos will show that the firing of weapons lasted several minutes, belying the claim that these were mere warning shots. Video footage will also show that the police trained their guns on protesters. Three died as a result of the shooting. Some 116 were reported injured.
It is not true that armed groups or the NPA infiltrated the ranks of the protesters. This is a common lie peddled by the PNP to justify the shooting of unarmed civilians. The same lie was used during the Hacienda Luisita massacre in 2004 and the Mendiola Massacre in 1987.
As of this writing, we have yet to hear a strong condemnation by Malacanang of what happened in Kidapawan. We have yet to see any concrete action from the Palace that would address the demands of the protesting farmers.
All presidential bets not with the administration have come out strongly condemning the incident and the government’s failed response to the drought. Mar Roxas meanwhile has condemned the violece but kept silent on the root cause of the protest ; government neglect. Roxas then called on the PNP to probe the incident, a problematic response since the PNP was the one involved in the shooting of farmers. Roxas and Gov. Mendoza both belong to the Liberal Party.
The farmers regrouped at the local Methodist church. They were soon surrounded by hundreds of police. Power was cut off. On April 2, a search warrant was served where the police claimed that guns were being hidden inside the church compound. The search warrant storyline seems to support the earlier claim by the PNP that the first shots came from the ranks of protesters. The search ended with no guns found in the church premises.
There are also at least 78 detained protesters who were arrested during the dispersal operations.
We appeal to our friends to stand with the Kidapawan farmers during this very difficult time. We should continue to pressure the Philppine government to act on the just demands of the farmers, particularly the rice subsidy, and to stop the ongoing harassment of protesters in Kidapawan. Government must end the sige of the Methodist church in Kidapawan and allow the farmers to leave. We also call for the immediate release of all detained protesters. We appreciate all forms of material support, especially rice and other food that can be used by the farmers.
We demand justice for all the victims of the violent dispersal of protesters. An impartial probe must be carried out. Congress should also look into the issue. Police officials involved in the incident should be relieved. The provincial governor must also be held accountable for ordering the dispersal of the protesters. Lastly, the Aquino regime must shoulder responsibility for failing to address the needs of the farmers affected by the drought as well as for the continuing climate of impunity that enables state forces to carry out vicious attacks on unarmed protesters. ###