Police on Saturday detained dozens of farmers who joined a protest rally along a highway in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato province and searched a church compound for weapons that may have been hidden there by the rallyists.
Policemen served a warrant to church workers to search the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center but they found no guns.
Farmers sought refuge in the church compound after police brutally dispersed thousands of protesters on Friday that left three farmers dead and dozens more injured.
More than 100 protesters were detained by the police.
Arakan Parish Priest Fr. Peter Geremiah of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and actor and activist Robin Padilla visited the detained farmers and church workers on Saturday in Kidapawan City.
Padilla also spoke to farmers and later distributed 200 bags of rice he bought from a local warehouse.
The governor of the province, Emmylou Mendoza, took responsibility for the violence. She said police forces did not disperse the protesters who occupied the highway for the past four days, but cleared the area to allow motorists and travellers to pass peacefully. She said militant groups were behind the protests, noting that many of those who barricaded the highway were not from North Cotabato or Kidapawan City but from other provinces.
Local police officials said they are investigating the killing of the farmers, but were quick to deny that policemen opened fire on the protesters. Two policemen were injured in the violence.
The farmers have been demanding rice from the government because their families no longer have food to eat because of the long dry spell brought by El Niño.
The drought damaged 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 disputed claims that policement did not open fire on the farmers.
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 as much as 5,000 people joined the protests.
Roldan Gonzales, chairman of Sanlakas Mindanao called on the government to declare 68 provinces affected by El Niño in a “state of calamity.”
He said the government should not wait for these provinces to start reeling from the impact of the drought before taking action.
“The government has to cushion impacts by ordering a price freeze on basic commodities, expedite the release of financial aid, provide immediate employment, and ensure proper management of water resources among others,” he said.
The weather bureau had warned that as much as 85 percent of the Philippines will be affected by drought. Of the 68 provinces, Mindanao will suffer most with 22 provinces to seen to endure the dry spell until June or July this year.
“The protests in Kidapawan will soon spread to other places in Mindanao. Our members in Mindanao are talking about hunger and worsening water crisis in Bukidnon, the Lanao and Davao provinces,” Gonzales warned.
He also cautioned administration candidates against using social services by state relief agencies to win votes.
“The farmers may be hungry and desperate but they are wise enough to distinguish public service from political patronage,” he pointed out.
Sanlakas national chairperson Lidy Nacpil condemned the government for its inadequate preparation for El Niño.
“The President and national government officials are washing their hands and pinning the blame on the local government. It is the responsibility of government at all levels – but the national government especially – to address the impacts of El Niño and the state of climate-induced calamity,” Nacpil said.
“The incompetence, insensitivity and gross neglect of responsibility on the part of the Aquino administration is condemnable,” she added.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) blamed the Aquino Administration for the tragedy.
“What happened in Kidapawan underlines the Administration’s insensitivity and lack of compassion. The carnage is a result of government’s failure to seriously address poverty and hunger… but what is more revealing is that the bloody events that happened years ago in Mendiola, Hacienda Luisita and now Kidapawan highlight how prominent landowners in government treat farmers and farmworkers,” UNA spokesman Mon Ilagan said.
“Malacañang remains in denial over the crisis that beset our farmers in Mindanao. They failed to address the reality the poor farmers of Mindanao are facing on a daily basis. Tanging calamity assistance lamang ang hinihingi nila sa gitna ng ilang buwang tagtuyot at kawalan ng makain—pero bala ang isinagot ng gobyerno [Calamity assistance is all that they ask for, to cope with months of drought and lack of food—but the government has responded with bullets],” he noted.
Ilagan said that it is ironic that thousands of sacks of rice rot inside warehouses every year, but the government cannot spare 15,000 sacks of rice to farmers and lumads (indigenous peoples) seeking food assistance.
“Ang isang lider na bala ang isanasagot sa kumakalam na sikmura ng ating mga kababayan ay walang karapatang mamuno. Dapat walang politika sa kumakalam na sikmura [A leader who responds to the hunger of our people with bullets has no right to rule. Politics should not intrude into responding to the hunger (of our citizens)],” he added.
Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos said the incident could have been avoided had the government acted more decisively in solving the problems of drought-hit farmers.
“The tragedy should serve as a big lesson to the government to give priority to the agricultural sector,” he said. “The government has a big responsibility. Instead of helping them (farmers) you are hurting them. That’s a big mistake.”
“They are not asking for money. They are asking for food so they would survive but instead they were given bullets,” the senator said.
“The government should think of ways to help our farmers. We should give them the help to make them productive. It is our duty to provide them with good lives.”