Police order probe on deadly dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - First Page - (Text by Mindanao Examiner. Photo by Kilab Multimedia)

Armed policemen open fire on protesting farmers in Kidapawan City in North Cotabato province during a violent dispersal April 1, 2016.

KIDAPAWAN CITY – The Philippine National Police ordered a thorough investigation into last week’s deadly dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City that killed at least 3 people.

Policemen opened fire on farmers who barricaded the highway to dramatize their protest on the government’s failure to provide them food aid after being devastated by drought in Mindanao.

The farmers’ group called Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said dozens of farmers were also wounded in the brutal dispersal. This after some of the protesters hurled rocks and attacked policemen with wooden clubs injuring some of them. The farmers have been demanding rice from the government, saying, their families have no more food to eat due to the long dry spell brought about by El Niño that had already destroyed over P240 million in crops.

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 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 as much as 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 Governor 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.

Bai Ali Indayla, of Gabriela who was among the protesters, said security forces has cordoned them off at the Methodist Church compound in Kidapawan City where they sought safe refuge.

Indayla said the provincial government refused to talk or negotiate with barricading farmers to end the crisis and resolve the woes of the protesters. She said the province has long been declared in a state of calamity due to the drought, but farmers received to assistance from the Aquino government.

“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 said.

Ariel Casilao, of the profarmers group Anakpawis, said: “This is the latest atrocity that the Aquino presidency has inflicted on the 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, said at least 30 farmers were reported missing and believed taken by the police during the violent dispersal. He said among those wounded in the dispersal were human rights workers Roger Imuy, Leo Deyong, Darwin Madiao, Roland Jampas, Mario Ansabo, Alce Awi, Ejay Salaber, Ricky Maat, Rodolfo Tanyo and Sheena Duazo, a spokesperson for the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in southern Mindanao. Police chief sacked Senior Superintendent Alexander Tagum, the police chief of Kidapawan City, was sacked last week.

Tagum was removed from his post while defending his role during a senate hearing in Davao City on the bloody dispersal. The senate hearing was headed by Aquilino Pimentel and Alan Cayetano.

Policemen also searched a church compound where farmers fled to escape the brutal operation where at least 80 protesters – demanding rice subsidy from the government – have been arrested and detained.

The order to sack Tagum came from Philippine National Police Director General Ricardo Marquez. He also ordered an investigation into the violent dispersal that also injured several policemen who were hit with rocks thrown by protesters.

He said Tagum was replaced by Senior Superintendent Jose Briones.

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