Firing at protesters in Kidapawan bloody dispersal: “judgment call,” says police

DAVAO CITY ( MindaNews/07 April) – The Provincial Police Office of North Cotabato was under fire Thursday at the Senate probe on the April 1 bloody dispersal of protesters along the national highway in Kidapawan City, for using live ammunition in its dispersal operations.

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BUGAS DILI BALA. Farmer Arlyn Oti Amar, one of the protesters, said during the Senate hearing that they kept shouting “Bugas dili bala” (Rice not bullets) when they were given five minutes to disperse during the Kidapawan barricade on April 1. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

But Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum, provincial police chief of North Cotabato, said he did not order members of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and Special Action Forces (SAF) to fire shots as it was their judgment call to do so after seeing their comrade, SPO2 Ricky Untalan being beaten by angry protesters.

Tagum has been ordered relieved by Philippine National Police Director-General Ricardo Marquez pending results of an ongoing investigation into last Friday’s violent dispersal of protesters in Kidapawan City that left at least two persons dead and scores of protesters, police and fire department personnel wounded.

Tagum said not one of the members of the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) unit was armed but admitted they brought members of the SWAT and SAF as part of the security contingent.

But Chief Inspector Adriel B. Gran, legal officer of the Police Regional  Office 12,  said the armed contingent was dispatched outside the 100-meter limit, which he said, is allowed in the manual of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

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JUDGMENT CALL. Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum, provincial police chief of North Cotabato, testifies that he did not order his men to fire shots but it was “judgment call” on the part of his men upon seeing a fallen comrade. The senators st the probe said live ammunition is not allowed during dispersals. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

Tagum said he heard shots fired when he called on his men to get Untalan.

In his presentation, Tagum said they received intelligence reports that there might be armed members of the New People’s Army (NPA) among the protesting farmers.

“The threat that there might be armed men in the rally is real,” he said during the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights’ “Public Hearing and Consultation on  the Violent Dispersal of Farmer Protesters in Kidapawan” on Thursday at the Social Hall of the University of Southeastern Philippines.

Tagum claimed that PO2 Reynaldo C. Roque Jr. was hit by a low caliber pistol on his left leg while Insp. Arvin John D. Cambang and SPO2 Ricky Untalan sustained head injuries. Untalan is still critical at the Kidapawan Doctors Inc.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said SWAT and SAF members’ trainings are different from that of the members of the CDM units who are trained on how to handle rallies where “maximum tolerance” is enforced.

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AERIAL SHOT. The viral drone video footage of the dispersal of the protesters, and the ensuing clash between rallyists and policemen, is shown during the Senate hearing. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

He said the police are not supposed to use firearms during rallies, citing Batas Pambansa 880, also known as the Public Assembly Act, which “ensures the free exercise by the people of their right peaceably to assemble and petition the government.”

He said Section 13 (E) prohibits the “unnecessary firing of firearms by a member of any law enforcement agency or any person to disperse the public assembly” while Section 13 (G) prohibits armed police within 100 meters area of activity.

He said the police are only allowed to carry, among others, batons and shields.

Chief Inspector Adriel B. Gran, of Regional Legal Office 12, claimed the police were dispatched outside the 100-meter limit, which is also allowed in the PNP manual.

He said members of the CDM unit were stationed in front of the five fire trucks that sprayed water cannons at the protesters who, in turn, threw rocks at the responding officers.

A video taken by a drone camera of the Kidapawan City Government on the rally was also shown where the protesters could be seen retreating and later returning hurling stones at the police officers who eventually also retreated, with Untalan left behind.

But Senators Cayetano, Teofisto Guingona, and Aquilino Pimentel, chair of the justice committee, complained they could not identify when the guns were fired, as the video had no audio.

Gran insisted that no member of the CDM carried firearms at the time of the incident and that “warning shots” were fired only when a member was beaten up.

He said the 30 armed security contingent underwent paraffin tests shortly after the violent dispersal.

Pimentel said if the police officers wanted to help they should not fire their guns.

“These procedures are contained in your manual. You don’t fire your guns,” he said.

Arlyn Oti Amar narrated at the Senate hearing that they were shouting “bugas dili bala” (rice not bullets) when they were given five minutes to disperse.

“We did not come down to create trouble. We came to ask for rice,” she said in Cebuano.

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North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza narrates the series of dialogues they conducted with the protesting farmers before the violent dispersal. MindaNews photo by Toto Lozano

“Nagtinulakay among mga kauban, gipangbunalan ang mga tiil, gipangbunalan mga ulo. Wa mi nisukol. Niatras mi. Pag atras namo, (ni)sulod sa among hanay mga pulis. Nakit-an namio mga kauban dugo-on na. Nibati mig kaluoy sa mag-uuma ngano gyud ingon ato,” (Our companions were pushing. They were hit on their feet and their head. We did not fight back. We retreated. When we did, the police came to our ranks. We saw our companions bloodied. We pitied the farmers why did they do this to us?) Amar asked.

Roger Emoy, who sustained gunshot wound on his left elbow said they tried to resist the dispersal but moved back when he realized he sustained a gunshot wound.

Commissioner Gwen Pimentel of the Commission on Human Rights said they had gone around Kidapawan and talked to most of the stakeholders involved but cannot as yet share its findings as they are still vetting information and evidences.

But Pimentel acknowledged that “there are indeed disturbing findings which we are still pursuing in terms of investigation.”
She said she saw three pregnant women and a lot of senior citizens who were detained and asked the Philippine National Police to “please review the cases they have filed individually against these people .” (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)