KIDAPAWAN CITY: All 78 farmers arrested during the bloody dispersal operation on April 1 here have been released from detention after posting bail, as they vowed to pursue their call for justice and failure to receive rice assistance from the government.
The last batch, composed of 48 farmers, was freed on Saturday after the amount was raised to pay for their bail bond, according to the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) lawyers.
Earlier, 30 other farmers, some of them women, were released after a series of court proceedings in connection with their petition to post bail for their temporary liberty.
The farmers were rounded up during the violent dispersal and charged with direct assault, including Gerardo Pequero, 66, Crisanto Carlum, 72, and Mark Anthony Delgado, 33, who were charged with frustrated homicide. About 97 others were reported missing, but 75 of them have returned to their families.
All accused were arraigned on April 14 except for Delgado, who was undergoing medical treatment for a gunshot wound in his right foot.
The released farmers are expected to attend the court hearings after the pre-trial conference for Pequero and Carlum on May 4. Delgado was also scheduled for arraignment during the day.
Lawyer Sarah Villamor, an NUPL member from Bacolod City, said “jobs were all done” for the release of all the detained farmers in a case in which it was “unjustified for the government to kill people simply because they are exercising their rights.”
The NUPL is rendering free legal assistance for the farmers with the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), the Public Interest Law Center (PILC) with the local Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), and the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) lawyers.
Various individuals, groups and institutions had sympathized with the aggrieved farmers, who were protesting a few kilos of rice being distributed by the North Cotabato provincial government.
The supporters, including artists, celebrities and politicians, have donated more than 500 sacks of rice to the protesters, and also generated an amount for the detainees’ bail bond.
Meanwhile, Jerry Alborme, spokesperson of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) – North Cotabato, said the “long march to justice had just begun.”
“Our struggle continues, as we demand the immediate release of Darwin Magyao and Alfie Awe. We continue to seek justice for the attacks made by the North Cotabato police committed against us. We also demand accountability from the local and national government who have yet to provide their food subsidy to us. Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza and Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista should be relieved from their posts for their criminal acts,” he said in a statement.
The protesters were also tracking down 24 missing people, including Magyao and Awe, who was discharged from Madonna Hospital on April 13 and were allegedly picked up by a vehicle owned by the mayor of Arakan town, North Cotabato.
Yangyang Amoguis, Bayan media liason officer, said 22 people are still missing after the bloody clash, and their families are waiting for their return.