PNP finalizing raps vs Kidapawan protesters
Bebot Sison Jr., Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) - April 3, 2016 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) is finalizing charges to be filed against more than 50 people arrested for allegedly attacking policemen during the bloody dispersal of protesting farmers who blocked the main highway in Kidapawan City on Friday.

North Cotabato police director Sr. Supt. Alex Tagum said the charges are based on evidence showing how police personnel were pinned down during the dispersal operation in Kidapawan that resulted in the death of three people and more than 100 wounded.

Tagum said the more than 50 suspects are now detained at the Kidapawan police jail and would be charged initially with direct assault.

“We are finalizing our inquest case for filing against the arrested accused involved in the attack against our personnel who were clearing the national highway,” Tagum told The STAR.

The police dispersed over 6,000 farmers who blocked the main highway in North Cotabato to protest the failure of the government to provide 15,000 sacks of rice and other assistance to the farmers and their families suffering from the effects of the drought in the region.

Tagum said the police are also investigating who are responsible and could be held liable for the shooting that killed three demonstrators.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor said the police organization sympathized with the families of the farmers and policemen hurt in the incident.

“We extend our deep sympathies to the families of the farmers who died during the protest incident, as well as to those who were injured, in Kidapawan City,” Mayor said.

“In fulfilling our commitment to pursue truth and justice, we also wish to update the public on the result of the SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operations) investigation of the incident,” he added.

Tagum conducted a briefing for Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento and PNP chief Director General Ricardo Marquez in Kidapawan City on Saturday.

Quoting Tagum’s report, Mayor said one of the three slain farmers showed positive results in the paraffin test.

Paraffin tests, however, can be unreliable since even nicotine and soil can lead to positive test results.

The SOCO team also recovered two empty shells of a caliber .45 pistol in the area that was previously occupied by the demonstrators.

A deformed caliber .38 bullet was also found at a makeshift station previously occupied by the police.

Police confirmed that two demonstrators died, while 10 were injured, during the incident.

The PNP said that 99 policemen were injured, including one officer still in critical condition.

“We note, however, that these figures reflect only those that sought medical attention. We understand that some demonstrators might have suffered other injuries that either did not require medical attention, or they chose to treat through their own means,” he said.

Mayor said people who participated in the protest were identified as residents of North Cotabato while others came from Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Bukidnon and Sultan Kudarat.

“We request the public to stand by for further updates on the ongoing investigation,” he added.

Donation for farmers

Davao residents have donated hundreds of sacks of rice to be given to the farmers in Kidapawan City after the bloody police dispersal of protesting peasants.

The Dabawenyos, supporters of presidential candidate Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, have responded after volunteer members of the Duterte Media Group started a donation drive for the farmers who are suffering from the effects of El Niño.

“They need our help now that the government is not responding and even playing deaf and blind to their sorry situation after shooting at them,” said Peter Laviña, head of the Duterte Media Group.

Davao residents have sympathized with the protesting farmers from different parts of North Cotabato, which has been placed under a state of calamity.

The farmers have not planted their crops since the onslaught last year of the El Niño phenomenon that had dried up their farmlands.

Duterte on Friday night committed to give food as humanitarian assistance to alleviate suffering and save lives.

Infiltrated

Malacañang believes that militant groups had infiltrated the ranks of the  farmers in Kidapawan City as part of anti-government propaganda.

Presidential Communications Operations Office  Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told radio station dzRB that the government had learned that many groups were involved and many people who joined the protest action were not residents of the area.

“Many have asked and have noticed that the situation is being used by those who want to exploit the incident for propaganda purposes and mislead the people,” he said in Filipino.

Coloma did not mention any particular group but said the Philippine National Police and the Commission on Human Rights are conducting their own investigations.

Coloma said bringing peasant groups from other areas aside from Kidapawan showed that there was a “mobilization effort,” aside from observations that the farmers were carrying paraphernalia and placards, and were chanting advocacies whose slogans were a far cry from concerns over the El Niño dry spell.

He said it is important to note that this issue only came about “at the height of the campaign period” in the run-up for the May 9 presidential elections.

Contrary to what the peasant groups claim, President Aquino has created an El Niño Task Force as early as August 2015 where Cabinet members were tasked to ensure food security, stable water supply and prepare the provinces’ readiness on the ill effects of the dry spell.

Water supply covers enough irrigation for the affected farmlands nationwide.

The Cabinet member pointed out that such was a “comprehensive program” where affected local government units (LGUs) did extensive cloud-seeding operations, planting materials called drought resistant crops were distributed and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) also implemented cash-for-work programs. 

The National Water Resources Board was also involved in the El Niño task force, where small water impounding projects were done in the grassroots level, particularly areas that have been hardest hit by the drought.

The coordinator in this task force is the National Economic and Development Authority that submits a regular report to President Aquino, with the latest report submitted last March 18.

Coloma also defended the injured policemen during the clearing operations.

Ninety-nine out of the 100 anti-riot policemen deployed in the rally have sustained injuries after the farmers threw rocks at the police ranks. Two policemen allegedly sustained serious head injuries.

Former senator Panfilo Lacson, who was also a former PNP chief, said the police personnel involved in the Kidapawan City violence deserve at least due process and the benefit of a full investigation.

Lacson also suggested that investigators examine video clips of the incident and interview witnesses to help establish the truth.

He said that while the police personnel involved deserve to be punished if they are found to have used excessive force, the investigation should also look into what triggered the violence.

A multi-sectoral group denounced President Aquino and heads of concerned government agencies for their failure to address the issues raised by peasants and lumads that led to the violent police dispersal of the demonstrators.

“The President and national government officials are washing their hands and pinning the blame on the local government. It is the responsibility of government at all levels – but the national government especially - to address the impacts of El Niño and the state of climate-induced calamity,” said Lidy Nacpil, Sanlakas chairperson.

In a statement, Sanlakas claimed that the much-delayed statements of condemnation from Malacañang’s spokespersons and the administration-led Liberal Party bets and pledges of sanctions for those accountable on the ground is “rubbing salt into the wounds inflicted on the hapless bodies of the starving farmers.”

The group deplored the inadequate preparations made by the government regarding the dry spell despite the warning from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration regarding the impact of the drought as early as March 2015. – With Edith Regalado, Delon Porcalla, Non Alquitran 

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