3 dead, scores injured as hungry farmers, policemen clash in Kidapawan
Policemen opened fire on hungry farmers who barricaded a highway in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato on Friday to dramatize their protest against the government’s failure to provide them food.
At least three persons died in the clash that brought to mind the killing of farmers who marched to Mendiola Street in 1987.
Policemen were trying to disperse the protesters but shots were fired, killing at least three people and injuring many others, according to the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
The KMP said more than two dozen farmers were wounded in the brutal dispersal.
Some of the protesters, however, hurled rocks at policemen, injuring a few of them.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, said two police officers who were injured in the head are in critical condition.
Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa North Cotabato, a farmers’ organization, said the police shot at the protesting farmers.
The farmers have been demanding rice from the government, saying their families have no more food to eat because of the dry spell brought by El Niño.
Drought had destroyed over P240 million in crops, mostly rice, corn, banana, rubber, coconut, oil palm and vegetable 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 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. These were obviously not warning shots. These shots were meant to kill farmers holding barricade and demanding food,” said Rep. Emmi de Jesus.
Gabriela said 5,000 people joined the protests.
De Jesus condemned the dispersal, calling it “brutal.”
“We strongly condemn the government’s brutal response to the farmers’ demand for relief and aid. We hold President Aquino, Liberal Party-backed North Cotabato Gov. Lala Mendoza and the local police forces responsible for the killings and the wounding of at least 30 farmers as police responded to protesters with bullets,” she said.
Gabriela’s Bai Ali Indayla, who was among the protesters, said security forces cordoned them off at the Methodist Church compound where they sought refuge.
Indayla added that the provincial officials refused to talk or negotiate with barricading farmers to end the crisis.
She said the province has long been declared under a state of calamity because of the drought but farmers received no assistance from the Aquino administration.
“This bloody response to the farmers’ just and legitimate demands and depriving farmers of relief will have its political costs and Liberal Party bets will suffer greatly in this obstinate display of brutality and callousness,” Indayla added.
Ariel Casilao, of the pro-farmers group Anakpawis, said, “This is the latest atrocity that the Aquino presidency has inflicted on poor farmers. We totally condemn this brutal act and we hold him and his Liberal Party as primary responsible. We demand justice and accountability.”
Casilao, citing reports by his group, noted that at least 30 farmers were reported missing and believed taken by the police.
He said among those wounded in the dispersal were human rights workers.
About 5,000 farmers and their families have camped along portions of the Cotabato-Davao Highway since Monday, according to North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza.
On Friday morning, Mendoza said about 500 police officers were deployed to disperse the protesters who blocked the highway.
But, she added, the farmers resisted and attacked the law enforcers, triggering a commotion and a series of explosions.
Mendoza insisted that violence erupted when the farmers attacked the policemen, who were ordered to exercise maximum tolerance.
The police, she said, were with social welfare workers who were to bring the children and minors out of the barricade.
She added that the farmers were given permission to hold a rally by the city government of Kidawapan only for Monday but they kept on blocking the highway until yesterday.
“The first shot came from the protesters,” Mendoza told reporters.
Senior Supt. Bernard Tayong, North Cotabato police spokesman, said the protesters threw stones and metals at the law enforcers.
One of the farmers allegedly shot and wounded a police officer.
Mendoza said she could not grant the farmers’ demand because part of the calamity funds had been allocated to drought-affected farmers while the rest of the money will be used for calamities that may hit this year.
Malacañang and the police said an investigation is ongoing.
“Accountability is being established and appropriate sanctions will be meted out if justified by the findings of the investigatios,” Presidential Communications Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
“According to DILG [Department of Interior and Local Government] Secretary [Mel] Sarmiento, the provincial government had assumed responsibility for the law enforcement operations pertaining to the mass action on the Davao-Cotabato highway,” according to Coloma.
“The PNP is conducting a thorough investigation, and has reported that 40 members of the police force were wounded, including two police officers who suffered severe head trauma injuries as an offshoot of the clash between the authorities and mass action participants,” he said.
Mayor said the PNP is consolidating information on the incident.
“We believe that, in the spirit of thoroughness and fairness, a complete and accurate narrative must be constructed,” he added. “The public may rest assured that any violation of PNP rules and regulations shall be meted the appropriate penalty.”
The camp of presidential aspirant Rodrigo Duterte strongly condemned the violent dispersal of farmers.
In a statement, Leoncio Evasco Jr., Duterte’s national campaign manager, blamed the Aquino administration for the incident, saying the farmers were only seeking aid amid the drought that hit them.
“President Benigno Aquino 3rd cannot escape blame and responsibility for the bloody assault against the hungry farmers demanding food after a prolonged dry spell. A hungry people demanding food do not deserve to be shot,” Evasco said.
“First there was the Mendiola massacre, then Hacienda Luisita, then the Mamasapano and now the Kidapawan carnage. Blood, blood of enraged and hungry people, are soaked in the hands of the landlord class personified by the Aquino-Cojuangco clique of the ruling elite,” he added.
The Presidentis a Cojaungco on his mother’s side.