MANILA—The Philippine National Police (PNP) and several groups supporting the farmers killed and wounded in a bloody dispersal of a protest in Kidapawan City on Friday, April 1 have readied charges against one another.
PNP has arrested and jailed 50 individuals at Kidapawan City jail for attacking policemen. They will be charged with direct assault while the PNP determines the groups and individuals liable for the violent incident.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) will also file administrative, civil and criminal charges against Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, police Supt. Alex Tagum and others, NUPL told Inquirer.net.
Civic group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has also expressed intent to join the group in filing charges.
The protest in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) in Kidapawan City was conducted by 6,000 drought-stricken farmers from North Cotabato, Bukidnon, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur and Sultan Kudarat. The farmers protested against the government’s failure to extend assistance to them and demanded that the government provide them 15,000 sacks of rice grains for their subsistence.
On Friday morning, riot police tried to disperse the protesters using water cannon which resulted in a brawl between the protesters and the riot police. Rocks were thrown and gunshots were fired as the two groups clashed.
According to NUPL, 3 protesters—Rotello Daelto, Victor Lumandag and Enrico Pabrica—were dead, 116 were wounded and 89 of the protesters are still missing.
PNP reported that 99 of their men were injured and one is in critical condition.
PNP’s Scene of the Crime Operations (SOCO) reported to have recovered two empty shells of caliber .45 pistol in an area occupied by the protesters and a caliber .38 bullet in the station of the policemen.
PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said one of the three farmers killed in the incident showed positive result in the paraffin test.
However, results could not be relied upon since elements like nicotine and soil can tamper result.
Presidential candidates in the upcoming election condemned the incident that caused lives of three protesting farmers and wounded many.
“Vice President Jejomar C. Binay deplores the use of violence to disperse farmers in Kidapawan demanding rice from government,” Atty. Rico Quicho, spokesman for presidential candidate Jejomar Binay said.
“Hunger is a reality that must be addressed not by violence but by compassion and concrete programs to improve the lives of the poor,” he added.
“Hungry people demanding food do not deserve to be shot,” Rodrigo Duterte’s camp said in a statement.
Duterte called on the administration to disarm, investigate and deal with the individuals involved in the shooting.
“An unarmed, defenseless throng of people asking for food poses no danger. In fact they are in danger… This government has been impervious to the suffering of the people,” the statement read.
Sen. Grace Poe said in a statement that she believed the farmers “staged their activity for a rightful demand.”
“This should have been attended to by the concerned agencies at the outset that would have prevented the farmers from taking to the streets… The situation calls for authorities and concerned agencies to immediately investigate and resolve this case, and bring to justice those responsible,” she said.
Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago echoed the sentiments of her co-candidates. As a constitutional expert, she believed that the violence towards the farmers “violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.”
“It is vile enough that this administration has failed to support the farmers and lumads of Kidapawan during the prolonged drought in Mindanao. But it is downright inhuman for them to shoot at the same people begging for help,” she said.
Manuel “Mar” Roxas II called the violent incident ‘worrisome.’
“I call on the PNP and other concerned agencies to investigate as to the true cause of the clash and, if warranted, punish those who may be accountable,” Roxas said.
On the other hand, Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in an interview with dzRB that many are exploiting the situation to mislead the people and advance anti-government propagandas.
“Kailangang maunawaan ng ating mga kababayan na ito ay isang kaganapang hindi naman natin nais maganap at hindi rin dapat ito maging okasyon upang tayo ay linlangin at lokohin ng mga nais maghasik ng kasinungalingan (Our countrymen should understand that we did not want this incident to happen and this should not be the occasion for us to be deceived and mislead by those who want to propagate lies),” Coloma said.
The Commission on Human Rights condemned the police for using guns during the incident. The commission has sent a fact-finding team in Kidipawan City to conduct investigation.
In a statement released to The Standard, CHR Region 12 Director Erlan Deluvio said that the police who shot at protesters violated the latter’s human rights.
The five-member CHR team in Kidapawan has gathered information and took statements from witnesses who were under oath. They have also prepared a formal report.
However, the CHR team in Kidapawan is yet to gather statements from the police and examine their culpability in the incident. They will also determine if the provincial police director of Kidapawan and the chief of the Philippine National Police should be held liable.
Deluvio added that the government’s failure to provide help the farmers needed is also a violation of their human rights.
The CHR team is expected to submit their report by April 8. Their findings will be sent to the House of the Representatives and the United Nations.