KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/03 April) – Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista maintains that “maximum tolerance” was employed by the police at the barricade last Friday and that they were forced to fire warning shots only when the protesters broke the defense of outnumbered police personnel assembled in front of five trucks that sprayed water to disperse the protesters.
Ariel Casilao, Anakpawis party-list’s first nominee, told MindaNews that “maximum tolerance” does not include the firing of live ammunition which he said killed three protesters. Evangelista and Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza maintain rocks, not bullets killed two protesters while provincial police chief Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum claimed the police only fired warning shots.
Casilao acknowledged protesters from outside North Cotabato joined the barricade, explaining that hunger knows no boundaries.
He said the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse was supposed to be the target of the protest and “it so happened that it belongs to Kidapawan City as a political center, it so happens that the local authority is the province of Cotabato under (Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza) , and Mayor Evangelista. So kababawan kung sabihin, hindi ka taga North Cotabato wala kang karapatan mag-rally” (it’s shallow thinking to say you don’t have a right to rally if you’re not from North Cotabato).
He said that aside from protesters from North Cotabato, there were also those who came from Kitaotao in Bukidnon, and Sultan Kudarat province.
Police said some protesters came from the Davao region as well.
“Kini ba mga tawhana wala gigutom? kini mga tawhana dili mag-uuma? Kini mga tawhana wala naigo sa El Nino? Kini mga tawhana wala nabiktima sa pag-pangharass sa military? (Are these people not hungry? Are these people not farmers? Are these people not hit by El Nino? Are these people not victims of military harassments?), if not, they are not supposed to be here? The issue is that they are hungry,” Casilao said.
Friday’s bloody dispersal came on the third day of the barricade of farmers and members of militant groups demanding, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as food assistance due to the drought.
Protesters retreat, police retreat
Evangelista showed a six-minute video footage taken by a drone camera of the city government showing what happened between 400 police personnel and some 4,000 protesters shortly after 10 a.m. Friday, after protesters were told to leave the barricade.
Part of the footage shows protesters resisting dispersal while firetrucks sprayed water directed at them. The frontliners among the protesters continued to resist for about 40 seconds until they were forced to retreat. Soonafter, the video showed some of the police shielding themselves from stones and rocks thrown their way from afar. But in less than two minutes, the video showed protesters approaching the police line, throwing stones at them and finally clashing with the police personnel who retreated behind the firetrucks. One policeman was left behind. He remains in coma as of Sunday afternoon.
Evangelista said on Saturday that 99 personnel from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFO)-North Cotabato and 41 protesters were injured, for a total of 140.
Governor Mendoza’s count Friday evening was 116 persons injured: 93 from the police and 23 from the protesters. Of this number, she said, 100 were outpatients while five police personnel and 11 protesters were admitted at the hospital. A policeman was in critical condition.
Evangelista claimed there were two deaths and no missing on the side of the protesters. Evangelista said the victims died after being hit by rocks but Casilao said it was due to gunshots. No autopsy had been done as of Saturday.
At 9:14 p.m., Friday, Casilao reported three dead at the Kidapawan Doctors Inc: Rotello Daelto, of Brgy. Binoongan in Arakan, Victor Lumandang of Brgy. Alobayon in Magpet, and Enrico Pabrica, of Kidapawan. He said 116 were wounded, 89 missing including six minors, “two tortured namely Ondo Paonel and Leonaora Paonel, both still missing.”
Visit from PNP chief
Director-General Ricardo Marquez of the Philippine National Police (PNP) proceeded to Kidapawan a day after the clash, to find out if the police violated any rule of engagement.
Evangelista told MindaNews in his office last Saturday that Marquez joined the conference meeting with him, Governor Mendoza, and North Cotabato police director Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum at City Hall from 9 a.m. until around noon.
He said they are willing to take full responsibility if any investigation would point to the police for being remiss in their duties.
At around 2 p.m., Marquez also went to the Kidapawan Doctors Inc. to visit SPO2 Ricky Untalan, of M’lang PNP, the police officer who lapsed into coma after the protesters struck him as the policemen were retreating behind the firetrucks.
Casilao said that “in a democratic manner of holding demonstrations, kung naka-violate sa traffic rules, the operation should be in accordance to the standard operating procedure. It’s not stated in the SOP manual of the PNP that there should be armed personnel. If violence occurs and the PNP should neutralize the violence, maximum tolerance allowable is Civil Disturbance Unit, water cannon, tear gas, and rubber bullet,” he said.
The protesters moved to the Spottswood Methodist Center for refuge. But tension continued to fill the air as police waited outside and early Saturday morning, armed with a search warrant, conducted a search of eight buildings inside the Spottswood Methodist Center between 8:25 a.m. and 12 noon Saturday,
The police searched eight buildings and found no firearms, ammunition, and explosives, according to Casilao.
He said a team of Makabayan congressmen – Representatives Terry Ridon, Carlos Isagani Zarate and Neri Colmenares went around the hospitals at 2 p.m. on Saturday to look for the reportedly two missing women fatalities.
He said the Representatives went to the hospitals to check on the conditions of the wounded, to the Kidapawan Police Station and Kidapawan Gym to check on what he caid were “illegally arrested and detained farmers.”
“Even the congressmen were denied (permission) to check the cadavers of those reported killed,” Casilao said.
Mayor Evangelista added they tried to hold a dialogue with the leaders twice last March 29 but none of the leaders showed up until he requested last March 30 the administrator of the Diocese of Kidapawan, Fr. Lito Garcia to facilitate a negotiation between the City Government and the protesters.
Evangelista said the protesters demanded the release of 15,000 sacks of rice but their respective barangays and municipalities had started releasing two weeks ago from their calamity funds. He said the support from the provincial government is ready for distribution for the three-month period after El Nino.
He said they offered the protesters a transport to go home and get the rice from their respective barangays, not at the barricade. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)