ZAMBOANGA CITY: Police searched Saturday a church compound in Kidapawan City, capital of the southern Philippine province of North Cotabato, for weapons as authorities detained dozens of farmers, who barricaded a highway there to demand for government aid after drought had devastated their farms.
Policemen served the warrant to church workers, to search the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center, but they found no guns.
Farmers sought refuge in the church compound after police brutally dispersed thousands of protesters on Friday that left three farmers dead and dozens more injured.
More than 100 protesters were also detained by the police, among them an alleged communist rebel leader, and activists.
The governor of the province, Emmylou Mendoza, took responsibility for the violence, saying police forces did not disperse the protesters who occupied the highway the past four days, but cleared the area to allow motorists and travelers to pass peacefully. She has also blamed militant groups as behind the protests.
She said many of those who had barricaded the highway were not from North Cotabato or Kidapawan City, but from other provinces.
Arakan Parish Priest Fr. Peter Geremiah, of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, and actor-activist Robin Padilla also visited the detained farmers and church workers on Saturday in Kidapawan City.
Padilla also spoke to the farmers and later distributed 200 bags of rice he bought from a local warehouse.
Police have said they were investigating the killing of the farmers, but officials quickly denied that cops opened fire on the protesters and claimed that two of their officers were also injured in the incident.
The farmers have been demanding rice from the government, saying their families have no more food to eat due to the long dry spell brought about by El Niño, which has destroyed over P240 million worth of crops.
The drought damaged rice, corn, banana, rubber, coconut, oil palm and vegetables planted by small farmers in over 27,500 hectares in Kidapawan City and the towns of Arakan, Antipas, President Roxas, Magpet, Makilala, Tulunan, M’lang, Matalam and Kabacan – all in North Cotabato.
The party-list women’s group Gabriela said the wounded farmers were shot in the stomach, mouth and legs.
“Initial reports reveal that farmers suffered bullet wounds in the stomach, mouth and legs,” Rep. Emmi de Jesus said. “These were obviously not warning shots. These shots were meant to kill farmers holding barricade and demanding for food.”
Gabriela said as much as 5,000 people joined the protests. AL JACINTO