KIDAPAWAN CITY (MindaNews/22 January) — Soldiers belonging to the Task Force Cotabato of the Philippine Army in North Cotabato on Friday removed placards and streamers which were hanged on barbed wires and trees along the highway here by militant groups to commemorate the 24th year of the Mendiola massacre on Saturday.
Lt. Col. Jose Alberto, commander of Task Force Cotabato, said he ordered the removal of the placards and streamers to maintain cleanliness in the province.
“We consider these streamers garbage. Usually, after hanging these streamers, these groups would just leave these trashes along the highway. And who did the cleaning afterwards? It’s us. It’s our men,” said Alberto.
Alberto stressed he was just following orders from higher officials to keep the Cotabato highway clean to attract tourists and to secure the province from different “threats groups”.
“If they want justice for victims of Mendiola Massacre, the highway is not the right venue. What they’re doing will just destroy the tourism potentials of the city and the province as well,” he said.
Members of the Anakbayan in North Cotabato on their way to a rally were also held for more than an hour by soldiers and police who were aboard 10 vehicles.
“Wala kami’ng kalaban-laban. Ang dala lang namin mga posters na naglalaman ng mga hinaing ng mga magsasaka (We’re defenseless. We simply brought posters voicing out the demands of the farmers)”, said Cherry Lyn Estremos, secretary-general of Anakbayan-Cotabato.
Estremos said that some of the soldiers who surrounded them took their pictures.
Frelix Tingzon, Anakbayan chapter chair, complained that one of the soldiers collared him when he took photographs of them.
“It was so frustrating. I thought the soldiers were our protectors. What they did was a violation of our right and our freedom to speak,” said Tingzon.
Estremos and her group, along with the placards and streamers, were brought to the local police.
After a dialogue with the city police director, Supt. Chino Mamburam, they were allowed to go and the posters were given back to them.
Around 10 a.m., also on Friday, the student activists proceeded to Kabacan town for a short rally.
Tingzon is the son of a peasant leader in North Cotabato whose group is set to stage a protest rally today to demand the distribution of some 3,000 hectares of agricultural lands inside the reservation area of the University of Southern Mindanao in Arakan to them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
Anakbayan and other militant organizations in North Cotabato were planning to hold a protest march in Kidapawan City to mark the 24th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre where 13 farmers were killed.
“We’re just doing this to show our quest for justice to victims of Mendiola Massacre and to show our support to farmers’ cry to own lands that they till,” said Tingzon. (Malu Cadelina Manar/MindaNews)