KIDAPAWAN, North Cotabato (April 6): Pres. Benigno Aquino III, along with heads of different government agencies, are culpable for the conditions leading to the death of two farmers and injuries among hundred others, a fact-finding mission concluded today.
The National Fact-finding and Humanitarian Mission (NFHM) in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, is comprised of, led by Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN). Along with lawyers, paralegals, medical practitioners, and members of support groups, the mission conducted a rigorous investigation of the series of events leading to the police shooting last April 1.
The mission, conducted from April 4-6, used interviews with the protesters, photo-and video-documentation of the area of the crime, psychosocial intervention with the victims, and consultation among lawyers.
According to the report, the economic problem faced by the farmers in the region were realities that the local and national government neglected to address.
“It was sufficiently established through the testimonies of the victims interviewed by the Mission that the effects of the drought, which is continually ravaging hundreds of hectares of farm land in Mindanao and other parts of the Philippines, impacts on thousands of farmers and their families. There is no denying as to the extent of the damage caused by the drought, and the untold suffering and hunger brought to the affected farmers. These expose the lies being peddled by the government belittling the effect of the drought in the farmlands to this date,” the report said.
On the calamity funds, it was written “If the “calamity fund” was not distributed to affected farmers like the protesting farmers in this case, it was surely used for other purpose other than for calamity funds which should have benefited the farmers.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of Karapatan and head of the mission, said that Proceso Alcala, secretary of the Department of Agriculture, was part of the violence too.
“By sheer ineptitude, Alcala has failed to remedy the problems brought by the drought, thus pushing the people to extra-legal measures,” Palabay said.
She adds that PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez played a role as well.
“With the magnitude of the protest, it is impossible that Marquez would be out of the loop, considering that an important figure of the current regime, vice-presidential candidate Mar Roxas, was in Cotabato City in the hours leading to the killings,” Palabay surmised.
“It would have been a priority to dismantle the barricade, to pave way for the president’s bet, and prevent any bad image,” she added.
Among the information confirmed during the mission were the following:
1) Killing of Enrico Fabligar and Darwin Sulang, both civilians. Fabligar was a welder who only happened to be at the barricade site at the time of the dispersal/shooting;
2) At least 10 individuals wounded by the police shooting spree remain confined in hospitals in Kidapawan;
3) At least two eyewitnesses/victims – farmers Arnel Takyawan and Loreto Lizardo — saw policemen positioned on top of the fire truck firing their guns towards the direction of the protesters;
4) At least 70 individuals were illegally arrested and are currently detained at the Kidapawan City Gym and Kidapawan Convention Center for charges of direct assault, including Richard Emboc and Eric Santos, who were merely bystanders during the police dispersal. Among these, 25 are women, including three pregnant, and three elderly. In almost all accounts of the women detainees, they were deceived by police officials to go the Kidapawan Convention Center.
Palabay pointed out that the killings “were an inter-agency effort to further impoverish the farmers, by finally killing them.”
“The truth of the matter is clear: the government, after a year of first recognizing the drought threat, failed to provide aid, and killed those who dared to decry it,” Palabay declared.
The following were the recommendations of the report:
1. To demand from the provincial government of North Cotabato and the Department of Agriculture to immediately release the calamity fund to the individual farmer beneficiaries.
2. Investigate Gov. Mendoza, for misappropriation of the Calamity Fund.
3. Investigate and prosecute Pres. Benigno Aquino and Sec. Proceso Alcala for their negligence and failure to put up appropriate measures to mitigate the effects of the El Niño Phenomenon, and their negligence and failure in providing assistance to those affected.
4. Investigate and prosecute Pres. Benigno Aquino, the Secretry of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin, the Commanding General of the Philippine Army Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, PNP Director General Ricardo Marquez, Gov. Mendoza, and the different police and military officers of the different police and military units operating in Central Mindanao for their participation and complicity in the violent dispersal of the farmers on April 1, the various human rights violation committed as a result thereof, and other violations committed thereafter.
5. Indict and prosecute police operatives on the ground responsible for killings and other criminal acts committed during and after the dispersal.
6. Recommend to concerned government entities the following:
a. Immediate release of all farmers detained for their participation in the barricade, and of other civilians who happened to within the perimeter of the Spotswood compound;
b. Immediate pull-out of police units assigned to monitor and restrict the interactions of the injured farmers recovering in hospitals;
c. Production of a written agreement that no retaliatory action shall be undertaken by the PNP, Philippine Army, personnel of Gov. Emmylou Mendoza, and other parties allied to the aforementioned groups, against the farmers who participated in the barricade, and the support groups and individuals who came to their aid.
7. Strongly recommend to the National and Provincial Governments to meet the following demands of the protesting farmers, to wit;
a. The release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance.
b. Subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides until the drought ends.
c. Increase of farm gate prices of agricultural products.
d. The pullout of military troops in their communities.
“We ought to make accountable the local actors in the killings, but their puppet masters as well, and their assistants in the theater of terror last April 1. Only so can we provide justice for the farmers,” Palabay declared.
Karapatan is the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights.
It is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.