Cops 'may have used unnecessary lethal force' in Kidapawan
MANILA, Philippines – International watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its findings after conducting a probe into the violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan.
In a statement released Saturday, April 9, HRW said “police used batons and guns against the protesters, including women and children, some of whom threw rocks at the police.”
HRW deputy Asia director Phelim Kline called on the Philippine government “to determine why the police found it necessary to fire at protesters.”
“Transparent and impartial investigations are needed to find out what went wrong, who should be held accountable, and what is needed to restore trust in the police,” he said.
Kline called the situation at Kidapawan "difficult", and added that it “got out of control.” He also said that despite the protesters’ violence, there should have been no bloody dispersal.
“Some protesters were throwing stones, but lethal force may only be used as a last resort to save lives,” he explained.
They came to this conclusion after speaking with farmers, eyewitnesses, and government officials.
Police as sitting ducks
During a Senate hearing on Thursday, April 7, however, Police Superintendent Alexander Tagum, who was ground commander of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during the bloody dispersal, said it was his men, not the protesters, who were the victims.
Tagum narrated what happened, showing drone video of the dispersal. The audio-less footage showed a small group of policemen holding up their shields as they were surrounded by more than a thousand protesters. (READ: Police prepare charges vs Kidapawan rally leaders)
“No one is raising their baton to hit anybody. They are virtually sitting ducks here,” Tagum said. “Sir, are we not human that we are not protected against this violence?" Tagum asked the Senate panel.
The same drone video showed protesters throwing rocks, wood, and steel bars at the officers. Fire trucks then began to hose down the protesters.
HRW spoke with 25 people in Kidapawan City at the Spottswood Methodist Center, the Kidapawan City gymnasium, and establishments around the protest area; and conducted phone interviews with officials involved.
One of the protesters, Efren Marapan, said a police officer struck him "with a truncheon in the left side of (his) torso."
According to Marapan, protesters were also throwing rocks, but then gunshots were heard. "I saw SWAT members around 20 meters away, in the front and side, armed with M-16s, some of them on the ground, firing at us," he told HRW, and added that the shooting went on for 10 to 15 minutes before protesters retreated.
Two other protesters, Arnel Takyawan and Rey Suat, said they saw police firing from a fire truck. Takyawan himself was injured by someone he claimed to be a sniper on a fire truck.
Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista told HRW the shots were "warning shots” to protect two policemen who were supposedly "about to be killed", and added he wanted to negotiate for a peaceful resolution, but protesters did not want to meet. (READ: 'I have no regrets' – Kidapawan mayor)
One of the defenses the police used against charges of unnecessary force was that there were links between the protesting farmers and members of the New People's Army.
Police Superintendent Jerson Berrey said they had received reports of "armed elements" having infiltrated the protest. He cited Kidapawan's being "very prone to terror attacks and bus burnings and kidnappings."
HRW, however, said they could not confirm Berrey's assertion. – Rappler.com