North Cotabato exec: Farmers could have opted for dialogue
John Unson (philstar.com) - April 1, 2016 - 10:06pm

KIDAPAWAN CITY — There was no need for peasant groups to have blocked major highways to air their grievances as they could have gone to the provincial capitol to seek relief interventions, the local government of North Cotabato said Saturday.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, chairperson of the provincial peace and order council, said she and the mayors of the towns from where the farmers had come from take full responsibility for the incident where policemen opened fire while dispersing the picketing farmers, killing two of the protesters and leaving many injured.

The farmers were demanding government subsidies including the 15,000 sacks of rice that Mendoza allegedly promised to them as relief.

The groups of farmers, however, should not have resorted to a demonstration that blocked vital stretches of national highways, she said.

"The local government units have already started initiating relief operations for drought-stricken communities before this happened. There was no need for them to gather in Kidapawan City for a rally. Well, maybe because many of them are not from the province," Mendoza said.

READ FULL STORY: Cops open fire: 2 die in farmers' protest

Mendoza said she was also surprised on why the farmers "showed force" in public instead of seeing her at the provincial capitol compound in Barangay Amas southwest of Kidapawan City.

"That is the seat of the provincial government and previous dialogues with different sectors from across the province were held there peacefully," Mendoza said.

Mendoza claimed that the groups rejected offers to address their demands peacefully on instigation of various blocs hostile to the government.

Mendoza said trucks were ready to transport the farmers back to their hometowns, where their respective local government units could attend to their needs, but none of them agreed to leave peacefully.

She said said there are procedures and protocols in dispersing relief supplies to farmers in drought-devastated areas, which include validation by their respective local government units of their identities and residency.

The dispersal on Friday of the farmers, whose permit to converge in Kidapawan City was valid only for Monday, resulted in the violent dispersal with policemen tasked to dismantle the roadblocks on highways crisscrossing the province.

Three farmers, Rotello Daelto, Victor Lumandang and Enrico Pabrica, were killed in the incident, which also left more than 116 others injured, among them 26 policemen.

Thousands of commuters and motorists were affected when the farmers set road blocks and barricaded portions of two national highways straddling North Cotabato.

Mendoza said groups from outside of North Cotabato, among them AnakPawis, Bayan Muna, League of Filipino Students, Gabriela and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas came to join what was thought as only a gathering of drought-stricken farmers.

Local officials from drought-affected North Cotabato towns told The STAR that some constituents have told them that many of the farmers from the Arakan, Magpet, Makilala, Antipas and Tulunan municipalities were coerced by the New People's Army to join the pickets to attract the attention of the media.

Some farmers also barricaded at the entrance to the provincial office of the National Food Authority southwest of Kidapawan City, the capital of North Cotabato.

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

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