Bloody dispersal of farmers seeking drought assistance leaves 2 dead

Dear Friends,

Join us as we strongly denounce the bloody dispersal of a farmers’ rally in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato last April 1, 2016. The three-day protest, which started in March 30, 2016, ended violently when state security forces openly fired at protesters.

The incident left two persons dead, at least 37 hurt and wounded. Many are still unaccounted for after the violent dispersal, including women, elderly and six minors. At least 45 men were illegally arrested and are now under police custody at the Kidapawan Gym, while 27 women (three are pregnant and two senior citizens) were and are now at the Kidapawan City Convention Center.


The rest of the protesters who are in sanctuary at the Spottswood Methodist Center of the United Methodist Church (UMC) continue to experience harassment, as combined elements of the police and military surround the church compound and restrict the entry and exit of farmers, their supporters, and church-goers.

The farmers mounted the protest to call the government’s attention to the much needed distribution of relief goods and agricultural assistance amid the impact of the El Niño phenomenon. However, government action is stuck on issuing warnings against the severe effects of El Niño especially among farmers and the issuance of press releases on billions of pesos allocated to mitigate the situation. Nothing followed.

Let us call for the immediate release of drought assistance, pull out the police and military from the UMC grounds and vicinity, stop the continuing harassment and intimidation, as well as arrests and threat of arrests against the protesters. Join us in our call to hold Pres. Benigno Aquino III, Department of Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, and P/Supt. Alexander Tagum accountable for the violent dispersal. As we stand with the farmers, we call for justice for all the victims of government’s criminal  negligence and state fascism.


ACCOUNT OF THE INCIDENT

On March 30, 2016, at around 6 a.m., some 6,000 farmers from different towns of North Cotabato staged a barricade along the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidapawan City, in front of the Spottswood Methodist Center. The farmers were from several municipalities of North Cotabato such as Makilala, Mlang, Tulunan, Magpet, Roxas, Antipas, Arakan and Kidapawan. They demanded for: 1.) the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance; 2.) subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides until the drought ends; 3.) increase of farmgate prices of agricultural products; and 4.) the pullout of military troops in their communities.
On the same day, 20 elements of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team arrived with the Philippine National Police-Special Action Forces (PNP-SAF). Police Inspector Calinga, Chief of Police in Kidapawan, P/Supt. Alexander Tagum, Director of North Cotabao provincial PNP, and Col. Badian, Director of Police Region 12 were also at the rally site. The farmers refused to negotiate without the presence of North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Taliño-Mendoza. The farmers have directly addressed their demands to the governor.  

Late in the afternoon, Governor Mendoza sent word that she will only speak to the leaders of the protest and would only do so in the City Hall. Leaders refused, fearing possible arrest and also because they wanted the governor to see the protesters at the barricade.   

On March 31, 2016, as early as 1:30 a.m., sleeping protesters were awakened by loud announcements from the police who repeatedly told them to go home. The police even claimed that the rice support was already sent in their respective municipalities. The announcements were temporarily stopped at around 5 a.m. and then resumed after an hour. This time, the police already  threatened the protesters of mass arrest.

Throughout the day, there were several attempts by the police to harass the farmers. Some farmers were violently grabbed from the barricade ranks while others were forced to ride the trucks and brought to the police precinct.

Attempts at negotiations resumed even as Governor Taliño-Mendoza refused to face the farmers. The protesters reiterated their call for the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as drought assistance. Gov. Mendoza rejected this, saying that three kilos of rice will be distributed on a quarterly basis. Negotiations remained unsuccessful. By evening, reports came in that the barricade would be dispersed.

In the morning of April 1, protesters received a call from Gov. Mendoza saying she was open to talk with the protesters but only after her press conference at 10 a.m. At around 10:30 a.m., however, Mayor Joseph Evangelista and P/Supt. Tagum arrived, asking to speak to the leaders of the barricade. Minutes later, P/Supt. Tagum ordered the police to gear up, saying the barricade will be dispersed in five seconds. Negotiating team on the side of the protesters tried to appeal but to no avail.

The violent dispersal started. The police advanced and broke up the protesters’ line, hit them with truncheons, threw stones at the protesters and blasted with water cannons mounted on fire trucks. Some were beaten up. The protesters retreated and started throwing stones at the policemen. The police responded by firing shots directed at the people in the barricade. Protesters ran away; some took shelter at UMC. Police continued to fire as protesters ran for safety.

According to Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous People and Peasants (SAGIPP), two died of gunshot wounds—Enrico Fabligar and Darwin Sulang. Enrico Fabligar was a resident living near the rally site and was not among the protesters. Victor Lumandang, earlier reported killed, is in the Midway Hospital-Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and in critical condition. Rotello Daelto, who was also reported killed, is now in San Pedro Medical Center in Davao City. Daelto has gunshot wounds in the face and legs.

At least 37 were hurt and wounded and many are still unaccounted for, including women, elderly and six minors. At least 45 men were illegally arrested and are in the custody of the police in the Kidapawan Gym, while 27 women (three pregnant and two senior citizens) were arrested and detained at the Kidapawan City Convention Center.

After the violent dispersal, the protesting farmers sought sanctuary at the UMC compound in Kidapawan. They were cordoned off by some 200 members of the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). At around 5 p.m., support groups arrived in the UMC compound to give aid to protesters. They were allowed to enter the compound but not without having their bags searched and their names listed down on a logbook. The police and military had set up camp at the entrance of the UMC compound.  

By 6:20 p.m., the police and military prevented some 20 people from going out of the UMC. The group was tasked to search for the missing persons. A certain Inspector Maginiw, who identified himself as the ground commander, insisted that no one can leave without having their identities confirmed in the list of names. A PNP officer took photos while the group and the police negotiated.

At 8:40 p.m., the lights went out inside the UMC compound even as lights in the residential dwellings and streetlamps remained lit.  At 10 p.m., protesters received a report that P/Supt. Alexander Tagum has produced a search warrant for the UMC.

On April 2, 2016, harassment continued. At 6:25 a.m., police officers  Col. Tuzon and Col. Ajero of the Cotabato Provincial Police Office, along with Major Sumugat, arrived to serve a search warrant. The warrant was applied for by P/Supt. Alexander Tagum, citing the presence of firearms inside the UMC compound. The police searched the seven structures inside the compound, but aside from a police cap and a pouch, nothing else was found. As of this posting, police and military elements continue to loiter around the UMC compound, restricting the entry of food, medical supplies, and other resources.

The authorities have blamed the victims, questioned permits, blamed militant groups, threatened farmers of arrest, even accused protesters of having firearms, awarded medals to the police officers who conducted the violent dispersal; they have done everything except address the fundamental problem which brought the farmers to the barricade. We can only wait for what fictional tale they will tell of next.

BACKGROUND OF THE INCIDENT

On January 20, 2016, the province of North Cotabato has been placed under a state of calamity due to the El Niño phenomenon. In 2015, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services (PAGASA) released statements that the dry spell is expected to reduce rainfall by 60 to 80 percent, affecting more than half of the country. It was expected to be one of the strongest in the last decades, predicted to endanger livelihoods, harvests and nutritional status of rural poor households in the agricultural sector.

In North Cotabato, agricultural losses have reached PhP1 billion due to drought, affecting the towns of Alamada, Pigcawayan, Kabacan, Matalam, Aleosan, Mlang, Magpet, Pikit, Tulunan, Carmen, and Kidapawan.  In Kidapawan, the damage to crops has already amounted to more than P30 million, affecting 11,000 families, according to the City Social Welfare and Development Office. Given this, the city government was set to use its calamity fund to aid farmers affected by the drought, promising 15,000 sacks of rice.

On December 2015, the Department of Budget Management announced a PhP19.2 billion fund allotted to aid El Niño affected communities. Government plans included cloud seeding operations, distribution of early maturing rice varieties and heat-resistant crops, and maximizing crop production in regions and provinces not severely affected by drought. However,  reports indicate that the funds have yet to be disbursed by the national government. Local disaster executives admitted that the cloud seeding operations have not been successful. The P4 million initiated by the Department of Agriculture for cloud seeding have produced little rain. Other calamity assistance has yet to be released.


Recommended actions:

Send letters, emails or fax messages calling for:

1.    Immediate independent investigation of the incident;
2.    Pull-out of police and military elements blocking the entry and exit of protesters and support groups in the UMC compound;
3.    Release of protesters illegally detained by the PNP;
4.    Immediate distribution of the rice support and other calamity assistance to the farmers;
5.    Relief and prosecution of police officials involved in the dispersal and shooting of farmers pending an impartial investigation;
6.    The accountability of Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza and all involved officials; and
7.    The Philippine Government to adhere to respect the basic fundamental right of its citizens to freedom of association and assembly, and to come to its defense and aid when disasters have deprived them of their basic needs.

You may send your communications to:

H.E. Benigno C. Aquino III
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel
Manila, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph

Sec. Teresita Quintos-Deles
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7th Floor Agustin Building I
Emerald Avenue
Pasig City 1605
Voice:+63 (2) 636 0701 to 066
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216
stqd.papp@opapp.gov.ph

Ret. Lt. Gen. Voltaire T. Gazmin
Secretary, Department of National Defense
Room 301 DND Building, Camp Emilio Aguinaldo,
E. de los Santos Avenue, Quezon City
Voice:+63(2) 911-6193 / 911-0488 / 982-5600
Fax:+63(2) 982-5600
Email: osnd@philonline.com, dnd.opla@gmail.com



Emmanuel L. Caparas
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Manila
Direct Line 521-8344; 5213721
Trunkline:  523-84-81 loc.214
Fax: (+632) 521-1614
Email:  soj@doj.gov.ph

Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188
Fax: (+632) 929 0102

Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below:



URGENT ACTION Prepared by:
KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
National Office
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central,
Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES
Voice/Fax: (+632) 435 4146
Email: urgentaction@karapatan.org; karapatan@karapatan.org
Website: www.karapatan.org