KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews / 07 April) – A National Fact-Finding and Humanitarian Mission (NFFHM) led by the human rights group Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) wants President Aquino, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alacala, the Philippine National Police and North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza investigated for the violent dispersal on April 1 that left two persons dead and scores injured.
In its report, the NFFHM said the President and Alcala must be investigated and prosecuted for their “negligence and failure to put up appropriate measures to mitigate the effects of the El Nino Phenomenon, and in providing assistance to those affected.”
It also wants Aquino, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin; Maj. Gen. Eduardo Año, the Commanding General of the Philippine Army; Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Ricardo Marquez, Gov. Mendoza, and police and military officers of the different police and military units “for their participation and complicity in the violent dispersal of the farmers on April 1, 2016, the various human rights violation committed as a result thereof, and other violations committed thereafter.”
The 27-member mission started Monday and released its findings in a press conference at the Spottswood United Methodist Mission Center on Wednesday noon.
It acknowledged it gathered facts only from the protesters’ side. It said the mission “used interviews with the protesters, photo-and video-documentation of the area of the crime, psychosocial intervention with the victims, and consultation among lawyers.”
At the end of the press conference, Mae Templa, Balsa Mindanao co-convenor said 25-kilo bags of rice would be distributed to a total of 1,114 of those who participated in the barricade – 1,024 who had stayed on at Spottswood after the dispersal, 79 of those detained by the police and 11 who were confined in the hospital.
Templa said they received donations of a total of 1,223 50-kilo sacks of rice at the Center since April 2, of which 245 sacks had been consumed and the remaining 978 to be distributed.
She told MindaNews they are still campaigning for more donations to distribute to the 4,846 others who had returned home. She said distribution would be in their respective villages.
On Day One of the barricade on March 30, organizers said some 5,000 farmers from the towns of Arakan, Antipas, Magpet, Makilala, M’lang, President Roxas and Tulunan and the city of Kidapawan, had participated in the barricade. The provincial police chief estimated the number at 3,000.
The protesters demanded, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice.
After the dispersal, individuals and groups donated rice for the protesters, the first of which came from movie actor Robin Padilla who gave 200 sacks.
The City Council of Davao City on Tuesday approved the donation of 15,000 sacks of rice worth 31.5 million pesos. But Templa said this donation would be coursed through the Philippine Red Cross, in accordance with the Omnibus Election Code.
Records from the Provincial Agriculturist’s Office showed a total of 42,000 farmers from North Cotabato’s 17 towns and Kidapawan City have been affected by the drought.
The NFHM confirmed two persons dead: Enrico Fabligar of Kidapawan City and Darwin Sulang of Arakan town. Fabligar was a welder who only happened to be at the barricade site during the dispersal, the report said.
At the press conference, the NFHM leaders maintained the two died from gunshot wounds and that there appears to be efforts to manipulate the records to make it appear the victims died from injuries caused by rocks.
Ariel Casilao, Anakpawis party-list representative acknowledged that two persons earlier reported dead — Rodello Daelto and Victor Lumandang –were not dead but injured and confined in hospitals.
The NFHM report confirmed “at least 10 individuals wounded by the police shooting spree remain confined in hospitals in Kidapawan.”
It said farmers Arnel Takyawan and Loreto Lizardo “saw policemen positioned on top of the fire truck firing their guns towards the direction of the protesters.”
It also reported “at least 70 individuals” who were “illegally arrested and are currently detained at the Kidapawan City Gym and Kidapawan Convention Center for charges of direct assault,” including two who were merely bystanders.
The NFHM recommended the following: demand from the provincial government of North Cotabato and the Department of Agriculture to immediately release the calamity fund to the individual farmer beneficiaries; investigate Gov. Mendoza, for misappropriation of the calamity fund; investigate and prosecute President Aquino and Secretary Alcala for their negligence and failure to put up appropriate measures to mitigate the effects of the El Nino Phenomenon, and in providing assistance to those affected; investigate and prosecute Aquino, Gazmin, Año, Marquez, Mendoza, and the different police and military officers for their “participation and complicity in the violent dispersal of the farmers on April 1, 2016, the various human rights violation committed as a result thereof, and other violations committed thereafter.”
It also recommended the indictment and prosecution of “police operatives on the ground responsible for killings and other criminal acts committed during and after the dispersal” and urged concerned government entities to immediately release “all farmers detained for their participation in the barricade, and of other civilians who happened to within the perimeter of the Spottswood compound;” immediate pull-out of police units assigned to monitor and restrict the interactions of the injured farmers recovering in hospitals; production of a written agreement that no retaliatory action shall be undertaken by the PNP, Philippine Army, personnel of Gov. Mendoza, and other parties allied to the aforementioned groups, against the farmers who participated in the barricade, and the support groups and individuals who came to their aid.”
The report also recommended to the national and provincial governments to address the demands of the protesters: the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance; “subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides until the drought ends;” increase of farm gate prices of agricultural products and the pullout of military troops from their communities.
Hold them accountable
“We ought to make accountable the local actors in the killings, but their puppet masters as well, and their assistants in the theater of terror last April 1. Only so can we provide justice for the farmers,” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.
Mendoza told a press conference in Kidapawan City April 1 afternoon that she would “take full responsibility” for what happened.
Mendoza on Day One of the barricade said assistance would be given to the protesters in their respective barangays and towns.
She said she will ask the protesters to “go back to your barangays” for validation and release of the assistance.
Mendoza explained that barangays and towns have their respective calamity funds (actually the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund but still popularly referred to by many as “calamity fund”) and the provincial government is for augmentation only.
She said if the assistance from the barangay and town is not enough, the province can step in. “We have to stretch our calamity funds until December because this is not only for the drought,” she said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)