THE response of President BS Aquino 3rd to the ‘violent dispersal’ of the farmers’ rally was so sadly predictable, we could have written the news story about it as soon as the first shots were fired in Kidapawan City last Friday.
Once more, without feeling: Instead of displaying some empathy toward those who were injured or killed, Aquino had, at least as of midday yesterday, absolutely nothing to say. Instead of reassuring the nation that he does, in fact, understand that something went terribly wrong and that there is no circumstance in which people appealing for food aid should be met with gunfire, Aquino trotted out a functionary to offer an oblivious statement about the dangers of people “making hotheaded statements” and “rushing to judgment” about the massacre.
The only thing anyone wants or really needs to hear from the President of the Republic at this point is, “I am sorry this happened, and I will see to it that those affected quickly receive the aid and attention they need while we determine what went wrong and take immediate steps to prevent it from happening again.” But no such words of empathy came from him; instead, this President just let his spokespeople mouth blandly insincere phrases like “don’t rush to judgment” and “there were leftist agitators among the protestors” from the obsolete operator’s manual for authoritarian regimes.
For Aquino to apologize or even express carefully-worded regret for the incident would be to acknowledge the failures of his government—down to the level of his vassals in local government units—to respond effectively to a natural calamity.
North Cotabato, normally a productive agricultural area, is part of the region in Mindanao that has been laid bare by the drought sparked by the El Niño. The farmers there have not only lost their livelihoods—something which should gravely concern us all, as it puts food supply from that region at risk—they cannot even feed themselves. To be fair, even the government was aware there was a crisis as long ago as the beginning of this year and declared a state of calamity, but just as has been the case in different kinds of natural disasters, has hopelessly bungled the relief effort through either incompetence or misplaced political priorities, or both.
If the regime had the discipline to set aside its ulterior motives and do its job effectively, 6,000 desperate, starving farmers would not have felt their only recourse to obtaining the most basic assistance would be to block a main highway for several days. The so-called “leftist elements”—and we are under no illusions that there aren’t at least a few of those who do take political advantage of these kinds of circumstances—would have no reason to be there nor find support among the rural people, if the regime would do the job it promised.
As of yesterday, there were no fewer than seven different videos from witnesses to Friday’s violence making the rounds on the internet, each one with the same message to the viewer: “Here is a record of the incident. Watch, and draw your own conclusions.” We did, and we invite all of our readers to do the same. But as you do, ask yourself this: Which is the bigger issue, who drew first blood in the melee, or the conditions that made it almost inevitable in the first place?