The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said provincial and local officials as well as rally organizers were to blame for the tragic Kidapawan incident on April 1, 2016 that left two protesters dead and 179 farmers and police officers injured.
In a 46-page report, the CHR detailed the series of events that led to the violent dispersal of at least 3,000 protesters at the Kidapawan-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City, Cotabato.
The report noted that the protest was prompted by the farmers’ demand for rice from the government, their harvest having been affected by the drought caused by El Niño, and the failure on the part of the Cotabato provincial government to “release and deliver food supplies to the farmer-protesters despite the availability of resources.”
The CHR cited the failure of the provincial government to protect and promote the right to food and freedom from hunger of the farmers as the root cause of the protest action.
“The State agents, including, but not limited to, government officials of the Province of North Cotabato, led by Gov. Emmylou “Lala” Talino Mendoza; the City of Kidapawan, led by Mayor Joseph A. Evangelista, and other appropriate government agencies failed to fulfill the right to adequate food of the farmer-protesters and their families; to provide them with adequate and sufficient protection from hunger; and to recognize their freedom from hunger in times of disaster or calamity,” the report read.
On the other hand, the CHR also found evidence that a number of the protesters were “induced to join the protest action through deceit by the organizers and ‘unknown persons’.”
The report identified the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) as among the principal organizers of the protest rally that blocked the main highway for three days.
“The protest organizers or leaders of the rally, namely: Mr. Pedro Arnado, Regional Chair, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas; Mr. Jerry Alborme, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Provincial Chairperson — Cotabato; Miss Norma Capuyan, Chairperson of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa — Cotabato; and other entities and/or persons involved in organizing the rally, as appropriate, must be held accountable with regard to the abuse of the civil and political rights of others under pertinent provisions of Philippine laws and international human rights instruments,” the report also read.
The CHR also found that the violence erupted after the Philippine National Police (PNP) started dispersing the crowd.
The protesters then retaliated by throwing rocks and pieces of wood at policemen. The PNP personnel were eventually overrun by the protesters and had to retreat, leaving some of their members at the mercy of the protesters.
“The law enforcers, led by the P/Senior Supt. Alexander C. Tagum, and Kidapawan City Chief of Police P/Supt. John Miridel R. Calinga, who were involved in the April 1, 2016 violent dispersal of the rally of farmer-protesters at the Davao-Cotabato Road, committed civil and political rights violations against the farmer-protesters and innocent civilians, as recognized and guaranteed under pertinent provisions of Philippine laws and international human rights instruments,” the commission said.
According to the report, violence was not limited to members of the dispersal team alone.
The violent act of protesters that left two police officers battling for their lives was also strongly condemned.
Video footage showed protesters attacking two fallen policemen, repeatedly hitting them with wooden clubs.
The CHR called for the investigation of all persons who committed violent acts during the incident.
The report found that excessive force was used by the PNP against the protesters. Evidence gathered by the CHR showed that “the PNP fired the first [gun]shot.”
“Worse, the arrest and detention of farmer-protesters were attended by excessive and unjustified force, which it said must be investigated and responsible persons, prosecuted,” the agency said.
The CHR also took to task the Office of the Public Prosecutor of Cotabato, particularly the inquest prosecutors, who failed to properly exercise their mandate in determining probable cause in the arrest of the 81 farmers by the police in the aftermath of the protest.
“Had the inquest prosecutors been more discerning, they [w]ould have easily established the unlikelihood of pregnant women and senior citizens assaulting police officer[s],” it said.