1 killed, 13 wounded in farmers' protest in Kidapawan
MANILA, Philippines (7th UPDATE) – At least one farmer was killed and 13 others were wounded Friday, April 1, when police dispersed a farmers' protest action in Kidapawan City, reports said.
Two policemen are also "under critical condition" due to head trauma while 40 cops were hurt in the incident, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Malacañang said in separate statements.
The identity of the slain farmer was not immediately known. But the PNP said they arrested a number of protesters, including "an individual reported to be an NPA [New People's Army] Commander from Brgy Basak, Magpet, North Cotabato."
Police said about 3,000 protesters blocked the Davao-Cotabato Highway starting Wednesday, March 30, to demand government assistance in the wake of the effects of drought in the area. (Organizers put the number of protesters at 5,000.)
The Kidapawan City police dispersed the protest shortly before 11 am Friday and shot at the farmers, according to Kilab Multimedia on its Facebook page.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said soldiers joined the disperal. "Shots from M-16 rifles were allegedly fired," it added in a statement.
Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said the farmers were demanding that North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza release 15,000 sacks of rice to them, but Mendoza reportedly refused to talk to them.
The protesters said the money can be sourced from the province's calamity fund, adding they have been severely affected by drought in the past several months.
MindaNews reported that "North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of Febuary 17 listed 36,915 farmers affected by the drought, mostly corn, rice, rubber and coconut farmers." The province has been under a state of calamity since January 19, MindaNews added.
Mendoza is running for reelection unopposed.
Mayor Evangelista held a crisis meeting with the police and local authorities after the dispersal.
PNP spokesman Chief Supt Wilben Mayor said they are investigating the incident and will hold "anyone responsible for this tragic incident accountable."
In a chronology of events, the PNP said the permit to rally lapsed Friday morning. The highway protest that began 6 am on March 30 brought together farmers, members of indigenous groups, and other cause-oriented groups.
"Their presence continued to disrupt public movement in one of the major transportation arteries of Mindanao," the PNP said in a statement.
Upon "guidance" from the governor, the local police moved to disperse the crowd past 10 am Friday and coordinated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development "to rescue minors who were part of the picketline," the PNP added.
"Before the PNP could start their operation, however, protesters attacked them with poles and pieces of wood. Large rocks were also thrown at the policemen, and at the stationary fire truck deployed to the area," according to the PNP.
Presidential candidates condemned the incident in separate statements.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) also asked government to investigate what happened especially how the police acted during the dispersal. Government must "hold accountable anyone found responsible regardless of rank or affiliation," HRW said. – Rappler.com