KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 12 April) – Farmer Valentina Ebon Berdin, 78, smiles from across the fence of the Kidapawan City Convention Center recalling how she got detained along with at least 70 others for alleged direct assault, following the violent dispersal on April 1 that left at least three persons dead and scores wounded.
Lola (Grandmother) Valentina had just taken a bath in the river when they heard gunshots and people were scampering for safety. She herself ran and was nearing the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center when she saw several policemen and decided to approach one of them. “Sir, dili na nako kaya magdalagan, kuhaa na lang ko” (Sir, I can’t run anymore, just get me).
Organizers of the barricade set up along a portion of the national highway here demanded, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. The barricade was on its third day when what was supposed to have been a dispersal by water cannon ended up bloody.
Two of the three persons who died were felled by gunshots — farmer Darwin Sulang of Arakan and Enrico Fabligar of Kidapawan a welder who just happened to pass by. The third, farmer Lito Salon returned home to Arakan on March 31, a day before the dispersal, complaining of headache and back pains from two days at the barricade along the highway, under temperatures of at least 35 degrees Celsius. He was rushed to the hospital in neighboring Antipas on April 3 and died on April 4 due to heat stroke, the family was told by the doctors.
Farmer Valentina Ebon Berdin, 78, wants to return home to Barangay Ma. Caridad, Arakan, North Cotabato. She left her village on March 28, spent the night in Arakan gym, moved to Kidapawan City’s Spottswood Methodist Mission Center on March 29, slept at the barricade along the national highway on March 30 and 31 and since April 1, has been detained at the Kidapawan Convention Hall on charges of “direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority.” MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Lola Valentina was the first to board the police patrol vehicle, on the front seat, awaiting the rest of her companions who, like her, would find themselves detained at the Kidapawan Convention Hall for the women, and the Kidapawan Gymnasium for the men.
The police personnel at the gate of the convention hall refused entry to reporters who ended up interviewing Lola Valentina from across the fence on Friday afternoon. MindaNews returned on Monday afternoon and spoke with Lola Valentina from across the gate.
The mother of five and grandmother to “sobra kuwarenta” (over 40), narrated that 59 of them from Sitio Kibaba in Barangay Maria Caridad in Arakan, including her two sons, traveled for two hours to the Arakan Gym where they spent the night on Monday, March 28, and the next day, March 29, were transported to the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center in Kidapawan City, some 60 kilometers away.
She recalled that a nephew who was an ex-councilor asked her and her two children to join the group that would go to Kidapawan where North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza was going to give them a sack of rice each.
She became even more convinced the Governor would give away rice because the driver of the jeepney told her that the Governor provided for the transportation.
Mendoza said she made no promise to give a sack of rice each and did not provide transportation for the participants to the barricade.
For a sack of rice
Lola Valentina who takes care of three grandchildren aged 2, 4 and 5, and who tends to her vegetable garden, initially did not want to join. But the thought of bringing home a sack of rice made her sign up Monday afternoon, March 28, for the trip that they were told would take only three days.
It was not her first time to join a trip to Kidapawan. The native of Pandan, Antique remembers a “sadya” (happy) camp-out in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Kidapawan City in 1998 where she claimed to have received 25 kilos of rice. She said she attended another activity in Kidapawan with fellow women but can’t remember what it was about.
She joined this time to bring home a sack of rice as promised them rice promised them by the organizers but did not expect a violent dispersal and a detention for a crime she did not commit.
Lola Valentina said she was informed by the police and by a social welfare officer that she might go home soon, possibly by Monday, April 11. But Monday’s hearing on the motion to reduce bail from P12,000 to P2,000 did not lead to a resolution. Another hearing is set on Wednesday (see other story).
She finds the sleeping area and the food at the center “okay” and giggled as she described it is airconditioned. But Lola wants to go home because “kasubo ko magtulo luha ko sa pamilya ko” (I grieve and weep for my family”).
As of Monday, April 11, she had been gone from her village and from her grandchildren for 14 days – one night in the Arakan gym, one night at the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center, two nights on the highway with a tarpaulin as mat, and since April 1, at the convention hall.
On April 7 in Davao City, Chief Inspector Adriel Gran, Legal Officer of the Philippine National Police in Region 12 told the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights during its probe on the Kidapawan dispersal, that they have filed 81 complaints against the protesters before the Office of the City Prosecutor (OCP).
Senate Committee chair Aquilino Pimentel III asked how many of the 81 complaints prospered, how many were charged in court, but was told it was still at the OCP.
Pimentel’s sister, Commissioner Gwen Pimentel-Gana of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) told the Senate hearing that while it will take them about two weeks to submit their report, “there are indeed disturbing findings which we are still pursuing in terms of investigation.”
She appealed to the PNP to “please review the cases they have filed individually against these people,” adding she saw three pregnant women “and we have observed that a lot of senior citizens were picked up, both women and men.”
She wondered if these were “indeed the ones involved in direct assault.”
Like Lola Valentina, 60-year old Dionisio Alagos, of Kabalantian, Arakan, and Edwin Enagong, 39, also from the same barangay, came to Kidapawan because they were promised a sack of rice each.
Alagos and Enagong were interviewed at the Kidapawan Gymnasium on Friday near the town hall whose upper bleachers had become the sleeping quarters of government security forces. Enagong was later transported with 16 others to the provincial jail in Amas.
“Pigado gid” (It’s really difficult), Tatay Dionisio described life in his village in the hinterlands. He said he has lost his source of income because of the drought. He earns on a “tres-dos” basis, where for 10 sacks of corn, he gets seven sacks and the land owner gets three. He used to go into kaingin farming but corn plants could not survive the drought.
DETAINED. Farmers Dionsio Alagos, 60 and Edwin Enagong of Barangay Kabalantian in Arakan, North Cotabato said they came to Kidapawan when told they would be getting a sack of rice each from North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza. Both have been detained on charges of “direct assault upon an agent of a person in authority” following the bloody dispersal on April 1. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
Tatay Dionisio said they rely on “lagutmon” (root crops) for breakfast and lunch, and rice for dinner, if rice is available. But he would give up his share if his grandchildren wanted more.
Enagong said he thought they would just come to collect the rice and did not expect they would sleep on the highway. He was afraid he’d get sick because “init maskin gabi-i” (hot even in the evening) on the back but the front of the body is “bugnaw” (cold).
One of their townmates from Arakan, Lito Salon of Barangay Malibatuan, returned home with his brother Allan on March 31, a day before the dispersal, complaining of headache and back pains and died five days later.
Enagong, also a farm worker, has been without work since farming activities stopped due to the drought. He relies on cardaba banana for income, earning 200 pesos every 15 days from selling it at five pesos per kilo.
The binangay variety, a table banana, fetches a higher price but it cannot survive the heat. “Maluto sa kainit” (It gets cooked by the heat)
Like Tatay Dionisio, Edwin also relies on “lagutmon” for meals, along with alugbati, a drought-resistant vegetable.
Both Tatay and Edwin said the food given them since they left their village on March 28 until the dispersal on April 1 was “bastante” (enough).
“Damo pagkaon” (plenty of food), Tatay said.
Tatay sought refuge with four others in a house near the highway. It turned out to be the house of the Fabligars, whose son Enrico, a welder who just happened to pass by during the dispersal was shot dead.
Edwin ran along with six others in another house where they sought shelter.
The police found them there.
At the Senate hearing on April 7, Efraim Cortez of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said the court had set bail for (P12,000) for each of the detainees but they would move for the reduction of the bail to P2,000.
Pimentel said “the Committee will join you in the manifestation.”
Cortez said some of the women were told they would be brought home, were fed spaghetti but ended up detained.
He said they were trying to negotiate options for the recognizance for the three pregnant women and senior citizens “and hopefully church leaders will agreed to be custodians.”
The motion to reduce bail was filed by Dionesio Alave, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in North Cotabato, on April 8 and was heard on April 11, with another hearing set for April 13. (see other story)
Fr. Peter Geremiah, assistant parish priest of Arakan, told MindaNews on Friday that two of their parish health workers — nurse Allie Ray Palma and volunteer Jolito Marianto Gomez — were released on bail Friday upon payment of P12,000 each.
He said the two came from Arakan and were approaching Spottswood after the dispersal to check on parishioners who may have joined the barricade and needed medical attention, when they were arrested by the police. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)