NDF indicts PNoy, North Cot officials on Kidapawan dispersal; Duterte says “that’s for the courts to decide”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 02 April) — The National Democratic Front in Southern Mindanao indicted former President Benigno S. Aquino III, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, Kidapawan City mayor Joseph Evangelista, North Cotabato Representative Nancy Catamco, among others, for “war crimes, crimes against humanity,” and other serious human rights violations over the violent dispersal of 6,000 farmers in Kidapawan on April 1, 2016.

Farmers and members of militant groups from seven towns and one city in North Cotabato block a portion of the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidapawan City on March 30, 2016. The protesters (around 5,000 according to organizers and estimated at 3,000 by the police) demanded, among others, the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance. MindaNews file photo by TOTO LOZANO

In a statement issued on the first anniversary of the tragedy last Saturday, the NDFP said it found a compelling evidence to indict the respondents for ”gross neglect and apathy and willful acts and/of omissions” and held them criminally liable for gross negligence, and failed to act promptly, if at all, ease the suffering and ameliorate the livelihood of the people.

Sought for comment, Mendoza told MindaNews, “I have nothing to say.” Evangelista said “no comment for now.” Catamco said, “I don’t understand why they included me.”

“I didn’t have any participation in that incident except that I went to ask Mayor Evangelista not to file a case against the farmers because they were just victims,” Catamco said.

In Cagayan de Oro City, President Rodrigo Duterte said, “that is for the courts to decide,” when a reporter asked him to comment on the NDF’s indictment of Aquino and the North Cotabato officials.

“There could be but it’s a.. I really do not know but at the end of the day kung ako man, akin talaga yan” (if it’s me, I’ll take responsibility), he said.

He said he is ready to be jailed and “kung ihabol ninyo si Aquino, okay lang” (if you let Aquino follow, that’s okay).

The NDFP said the respondents also violated the fundamental rights of civilians guaranteed in international tenets, covenants and instruments such as the government (GRP)-NDFP 1998 Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, the 1996 International Covenant on Civil Political Rights, the 1966 International Convention on Economics, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Geneva Conventions of 1949.

“The indictment described the inutility of the reactionary national and provincial government over the widespread damage caused by the severe drought to the lives and livelihood of the Lumad and farmers,” it said. “It, likewise, underscored that in the face of such devastation, the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) with the consent of the provincial reactionary officials continued to unleash fascist abuse in the countryside, especially in arming and mobilizing the paramilitary Bagani in North Cotabato.”

On April 1 last year, some 6,000 farmers from several parts of North Cotabato, Kitaotao in Bukidnon, and Sultan Kudarat province blocked the national highway in Kidapawan to ask for the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as food assistance due to the drought.

But the protest later turned into a violent dispersal that killed two – farmer Darwini Sulang from Arakan town and Enrico Fabiligar from Kidapawan City who was passing by at the time of the incident –  and 34 others seriously injured, including 22 people who sustained gunshot wounds.

Citing as grounds for indictment, the NDFP said authorities willfully shot at the protesting farmers that resulted in “multiple violent deaths and serious injuries, the incarceration and the maltreatment of civilians were all deliberate acts of aggression against defenseless civilians and vulnerable sections of the civilian population long considered under the IHL as protected persons.”

It also added that the “premeditated and arbitrary use of superior and overwhelming armed force and military might against defenseless civilians constitute a most severe crime of mass murder – what ensured was a massacre in broad daylight on a national highway ordered by state officials and implemented by state forces, without compunction or fear of accountability and with extreme prejudice.”

The NDFP added that the “naked terror persisted after the barricade was fully destroyed and the civilians were subjected to more contemptible attacks.”

It added that the indictment recounted the illegal arrest and detention of the civilians who were also physically assaulted by the fully-armed Philippines National Police (PNP) and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) personnel.

“It also showed how the respondents connived to conceal the facts regarding the cause of death of the civilians in order to shrouad their culpability,” NDF said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)