CHR probes violent Kidapawan dispersal
(The Philippine Star) - April 2, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) will conduct a fact-finding investigation into Friday’s violent dispersal of a farmers’ protest in Kidapawan City that left three people dead and 116 injured.

The investigation by the CHR regional office in Soccsksargen (Region XII) will look into the circumstances surrounding the dispersal of the farmer protesters who had blocked the main highway in North Cotabato, demanding government help as the raging dry spell had destroyed hundreds of hectares of farmlands.

“(The investigation will) determine the facts as they unfolded as well as to clarify who might be held accountable for the violence and the injuries that resulted therefrom,” CHR chairman Chito Gascon told The STAR.

“We ask the local government officials and law enforcement to restore order and ensure safety for all,” he added.

This developed as Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento awarded medals to policemen wounded in the clash with protesters.

“It’s a wounded personnel medal given to a police officer injured in a police operation, we saw the drone footage, police who got pinned down, receiving rocks and getting hit from the ralyista,” Sarmiento told The STAR.

“Two of our own police officers are in critical condition due to head trauma, reportedly due to attacks initiated from the assembled crowd,” Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, PNP spokesman, said in a statement.

A quick response team organized by the Solidarity Action Group for Indigenous People and Peasants (SAGIPP) identified the fatalities as Rotello Daelto, Victor Lumandang and Enrico Pabrica.

The group said it was also verifying reports that two still unidentified women were killed.

SAGIPP also reported that 89 protesters were missing, including six minors.

Earlier, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said more than 40 of its officers were injured after the protesters attacked them.

The PNP claimed it was the protesters who started the violence after they attacked the dispersal unit with poles, pieces of wood and large rocks.

No live ammo

Gascon emphasized law enforcement personnel are barred from using live ammunition in crowd dispersal operations.

“The mandate of our police is to restore peace, order and the protection of citizens from any harm,” he said.

“It should be done both by being conscious of all persons’ rights to their safety and security as well as the ability of the law enforcer to self-defense,” he added.

Law enforcers are not allowed to carry firearms within 100 meters from a group holding protest activity or rally, based on Section 13 of Batas Pambansa 880 or the Public Assembly Act of 1985.

Vencer Crisostomo, chairperson of the militant youth group Anakbayan, said more than 5,000 farmers who participated in the protest were being held “hostage” by the police stationed around the Spottswood Methodist Center.

The farmers supposedly took shelter at the center following the violent dispersal.

“Heavily armed police and military men are right outside the church grounds, preventing the exit of people inside the compound,” Crisostomo said on Facebook.

“Groups said their paralegal and medical teams were prevented to go out and search for the dead and wounded. They were also prohibited to exit the compound to meet those arrested,” he added.

Crisostomo went to Kidapawan City yesterday with senatorial candidate Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares, Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, and Anakbayan deputy secretary general Einstein Recedes.

He alleged that the police held “cover-up operations, bulldozed the road and covered evidence of the shooting.”

Police have also secured a search warrant for supposed illegal firearms at the religious center.

Speaking over radio dzRB, Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III said President Aquino has “always been very firm about the need to exercise maximum tolerance” as part of maintaining discipline in the police force, but would not rush to any conclusion.

“He has never been one to back down from demanding and insisting and requiring a thorough, impartial investigation and let the chips fall where they may as a result of that. What he has never done is rush to judgment and to speak imprudently, particularly in an instance when lives are lost,” Quezon said.

“I do believe the President will refrain from making any statements until he has fully studied the matter and is given and is satisfied with all the answers that he has received as a result of demanding an impartial and thorough investigation,” he added.

He said it is just fair for everyone to demand a thorough investigation and swift justice. “There is no reason why people must die in order to be asking for assistance from their own government. At the same time, there is no reason why a tragedy must be compounded by hotheaded statements or rushing to judgment. It will not help anyone,” Quezon stressed.

‘Protesters exploited’

After drawing flak from militant groups for Friday’s violence, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza accused the protesters of allowing themselves to be used by groups with vested interests. She said most of the protesters were not even from North Cotabato.

But Mendoza, chairperson of the provincial peace and order council, said she and the mayors of the towns where the farmers had come from were taking full responsibility for the incident.

“Don’t take advantage of us in North Cotabato because we’re serious about serving the people,” she told reporters in Filipino.

Mendoza explained there should be a process in the distribution of rice and other relief assistance to farmers – specifically through their respective LGUs and not through militant groups.

Militants have accused her of sending bullets to the farmers instead of the 15,000 sacks of rice they had demanded.

She said the protesters blocked and rendered practically useless the Davao City-Cotabato national highway, prompting authorities to take action. Mendoza claimed most of those injured in last Friday’s violence were policemen.

Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista earlier said Mendoza was set to have a dialogue with the leaders of the farmers in his office Wednesday night, but none of them came to talk with the governor.

Humanitarian army

For Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, what farmers in North Cotabato need is a “humanitarian army” and not soldiers. 

“Don’t rush troops. Send in a humanitarian army instead. Let it be an invasion of kindness, hope and assistance,” he said in a message to Malacañang.

He said officials from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) should lead the Malacañang contingent that “will address, with immediate aid, and not just Powerpoint presentations, the grievance of farmers.”

He said Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala “are excellent troubleshooters” and “have good rapport with the grassroots.” 

Recto also called on Malacañang to release part of the P39 billion of this year’s Calamity Fund “for food assistance, cash-for-work projects, emergency employment, farm aid” for farms hit by El Niño.

“There is a calamity. The damage is obvious. Many local governments have placed their areas under an official state of calamity. These are enough to trigger the release of funds,” Recto said. With Edith Regalado, John Unson, and Cecille Suerte Felipe

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