MANILA – Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Senen S. Sarmiento on Monday ordered the creation of two fact-finding panels to investigate the bloody confrontation between farmers and policemen in Kidapawan, North Cotabato Friday.
Sarmiento said that the first panel, which will focus on the operational aspect of the dispersal, would be headed by the National Police Commission (Napolcom) under Commissioner Job M. Mangente; and the second panel, which will focus on the local government units (LGUs), would be headed by Director Manuel Q. Gotis of the DILG’s Bureau of Local Government Supervision (BLGS).
He added the Napolcom’s fact-finding panel would focus on the actions made by the Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel and their commanders who were on the ground when the incident happened while the LGU panel would look at the measures taken by the concerned LGUs in addressing the El Niňo problem in their area of responsibility.
Sarmiento said that like most people, he was puzzled as to how the farmers’ protest became violent that left at least three people dead and 10 farmers and at least 99 policemen injured , two of whom sustained serious trauma injuries.
Of the three fatalities, two were killed as a result of the confrontation while one died of heat stroke.
“I have ordered the creation of a fact-finding task force which would investigate this Kidapawan incident without fear or favor. I myself have several questions that can only be answered through a full and objective investigation,” Sarmiento said.
For one, Sarmiento said that there was a need to find out if the policemen who were deployed to keep the peace exercised maximum tolerance and observed duly established police operational procedures or rules of engagement before resorting to the use of reasonable force.
He said all the firearms issued to the policemen who were involved in the incident would be subjected to ballistics test to find out who fired their firearms. He noted that one of the farmers who died in the incident was positive of gun powder during paraffin test that indicated that he might have fired a gun when the melee broke out.
The fact finding task force should also find out who organized and financed the mobilization of the protesters who demanded for rice subsidies from the provincial government of North Cotabato.
He said that based on initial reports, many of the protesters were not even from North Cotabato and therefore had no right to demand any form of subsidy from the provincial government.
“Who misled them by saying that rice will be given? Why is it that the protesters were carrying banners condemning the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Internal Peace and Security Plan or IPSP Bayanihan which has nothing to do with El Niňo? Why is it that the protesters were carrying banners of certain political personalities and partylist groups seeking office this May elections? What are their real motives?” Sarmiento asked.
“These questions are very important because the violence that took place might have programmed and planned beforehand by their handlers to advance their May elections agenda. We should find out who instigated this incident and find out if we can actually hold them accountable for what happened,” Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento added that the fact-finding task force would also be tasked to review the actions taken by the local governments in North Cotabato in order to adequately support constituents who were affected by El Niňo.
“Did our LGUs implement their Disaster Risk Reduction Management (DRRM) plan in providing support to the El Niňo affected families? Did they use protocol under the DRRM law? Did they use their LGU Crisis Management manual in dealing with the protesters?” Sarmiento asked.
Sarmiento also defended his decision to pin wounded personnel medals to the policemen who were injured in the incident because all them were in the line of duty when they sustained their injuries.
“When you are injured in the line of duty, you get a wounded personnel medal,” Sarmiento said.
In related development, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP Spokesman said that policeman wounded in the Kidapawan melee on Friday, April 1, was hit by gunfire, doctors confirmed.
According to Kidapawan Doctors’ Hospital Inc., Dr. Mark Hazel Aguayo, surgeon, the wound sustained by PO2 Reynaldo Roque in his left leg is from a gunshot.
However, Dr. Aguayao said that the caliber of the said gunshot cannot be determined.
Mayor said that the PNP extends its sympathies to those killed and injured among the protesters but asks the same sentiments for those who were also injured among the ranks of policemen.
On the other hand, cases of Direct Assault upon Agent in Authority were filed against 20 respondents (18 male and 2 female); and Conspiracy to Commit Direct Assault upon Agent in Authority against 61 respondents (33 male and 28 female) before Prosecutor Melvin Lamata of Kidapawan Prosecutor’s Office starting Sunday (April 3) until Monday by Kidapawan City Police Station.