ONE week after two farmers were killed in the violent dispersal of a protest in Kidapawan City, President Benigno Aquino III remained silent on the issue—and has not ordered a single sack of rice to be distributed to the drought-hit farmers.
In Manila, some 2,000 protesters, including veteran actors Nora Aunor and Monique Wilson, gathered in Plaza Miranda to denounce the dispersal of hungry farmers who were demanding government food aid amid a five-month drought brought about by the El Niño phenomenon.
The protest was part of a nationwide Black Friday protest campaign to demand #BigasHindiBala—or rice, not bullets.
Even groups that are usually at odds, such as the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the Sanlakas Coalition were united Friday in demanding full accountability from local and national government officials.
The two umbrella militant groups held separate nationwide protests in their respective strongholds.
Bayan, whose members include Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Kilusang Mayo Uno, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Bayan Muna, Kabataan, Act Teachers, League of Filipino Students, Courage, Migrante, among others, held rallies in five regions in Mindanao and also in Central Luzon such as Angeles City in Pampanga, Olongapo City, Tarlac City, Isabela province, and also in Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Negros and Panay regions.
The Sanlakas Coalition—Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), Partido Lakas ng Masa and Kongreso ng Maralitang Lungsod—participated in Kalampag or Kampanya Laban sa Pagkagutom.
The Sanlakas-led activists did a noise barrange and banged the pots and pans in front of the Agriculture Department’s head office along the Elliptical Road in Quezon City to symbolize their clamor for food security and justice for the Mindanaoan farmers.
Kalampag protests were also simultaneously held in the cities of Calamba, Cebu, Tacloban, Bacolod, Pagadian, Ozamis and Davao.
Bayan described President Aquino’s inaction to the Kidapawan farmers’ plea as “failure in leadership” while Sanlakas called it a “colossal flop,” particularly the President’s P19 billion failed El Niño mitigating measures.
The two groups were particularly incensed that top officials, including North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Lala Taliño-Mendoza, simply dismissed the protest in Kidapawan as a purely police matter and that the hungry farmers were a traffic problem that did not require an immediate political and practical solution.
“Today marks one week since the government opened fire on protesting farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato. Groups are taking to the streets and social media to galvanize solidarity for the farmers in Kidapawan and other areas affected by severe drought,” Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
“One week after the incident, no one from the local and national government is taking full responsibility for what happened last April 1 in Kidapawan. Meanwhile, some 71 people remain detained and are facing various charges. Not one sack of rice has been distributed by the provincial or national government to the farmers in the aftermath of the violent dispersal. The President remains silent on the issue. There are already tellsaid.
The 700 sacks that were distributed by the United Methodist Church to the farmers who sought shelter in the church after the April 1 dispersal came from donations of private individuals and non-government organizations.
“The bloodshed in Kidapawan could have been avoided if not for the gross negligence and incompetence of the task force that claimed two lives and left hundreds injured last week,” said Leody de Guzman, president of the militant BMP, a founding member of Sanlakas.
De Guzman said the task force formed in September last year composed of Cabinet-level agencies under the Office of the President led by the Socio-Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan was a “colossal flop.”
“The much-vaunted El Niño preparations by the Aquino government since last year have been exposed to be a P19-billion fiasco by the very blood of our starving farmers. If only they were not too busy campaigning for the administration’s bets then they should have monitored that the water crisis was worsening and should have acted upon it promptly,” De Guzman said.
Reyes said they protested to demand full accountability from government officials.
Based on the Senate hearing on the incident, Reyes said, no one took full responsibility for the dispersal and the firing of automatic weapons on unarmed protesters.
“The officials from North Cotabato were engaged in finger-pointing and obfuscation. Everyone either washed their hands or raised secondary issues as to why the protesters were dispersed,” he said.
“For the top officials including Governor Lala Taliño-Mendoza, the protest in Kidapawan was a purely law enforcement matter. The hungry farmers were a traffic problem that did not require an immediate political and practical solution. Mendoza said that it was up to the police to determine when the dispersal would be carried out. That right there is failure of leadership on the part of the provincial and city government,” Reyes added.
He held the local government and police ultimately responsible for the violent dispersal of farmer protesters.
“Charges should be filed against these officials, especially the armed elements of the Philippine National Police who shot at protesters. The national government meanwhile is also ultimately liable for Kidapawan carnage because of its criminal neglect of the victims of El Niño,” Reyes said.
“Not only does the El Nino bring severe droughts to the countryside but we are also looking at imminent food crisis specially since Mindanao is the country’s food basket. To downplay the farmers’ pleas will likely have dire consequences on our food security on top of the already devastating effects on their lives and livelihoods,” De Guzman warned.
De Guzman cited government records that show Mindanao provinces produce 25 percent of the country’s rice, more than half of the corn production, 81 percent of bananas, and 75 percent of the total coffee output and has contributed 59 percent to overall coconut yield among others.
“Concretely, we urge the Aquino administration to declare all 68 provinces affected be placed under a state of calamity and expedite the release of the much needed calamity and the standby quick response funds to counter the fast-spreading water and looming food crisis,” the Sanlakas leader said.
So far, the government has declared only four provinces, including North Cotobato and the city of Zamboanga under a state of calamity.
The groups’ leaders also took turns lambasting Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala for his recent statements in a televised interview where he claimed that the farmers’ conditions in North Cotobato were not as bad as it seems.
“If so, then we challenge Alcala to live on poisonous wild yam even for a week, like the desperate farmers there are eating and repeat his statement on live television,” said Oyette Zacate, national officer of Sanlakas.
Reyes also slammed Alcala for his continued denial of the gravity of the problem in North Cotabato and other drought-stricken areas.
“President Aquino has kept quiet on the issue and has not made public any instructions to his officials on resolving the demands of the farmers,” Reyes said.
The KMP said President Aquino’s accountability on the Kidapawan massacre is further underscored by his continuing silence on the farmers’ demand for food aid and justice.
KMP chairperson Rafael Mariano said instead of addressing the impacts of drought and the farmers’ urgent demand for food aid, and punishing the perpetrators, “Aquino deliberately remains silent.”
“It’s been a week since the bloody dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan and the President has not spoken a word. His silence further emboldens murderers Alcala and Gov. Taliño-Mendoza as revealed by their shameless cover-up of the truth and arrogance against farmers,” Mariano said.
“President Aquino also sends a strong signal to the people that he tolerates and absolves the perpetrators of the cold-blooded murder,” he added.
“Aquino’s deafening silence is tantamount to tacit approval of Alcala’s corruption and Mendoza’s madness,” Mariano said noting that “the DA’s drought mitigation program is designed for corruption and not the immediate relief for farmers and the strategic recovery of agriculture.”
“The impunity promoted by Aquino underscores his accountability on the Kidapawan carnage. The President is allowing farmers to starve and die of hunger. He is guilty of incompetence, criminal negligence, and genocide,” the peasant leader said.
Gabriela, for its part, said women from all over the country joined solidarity gatherings and rallies calling for justice amid the brutal dispersal of farmers’ protests in Kidapawan last April 1.
At the Global Day of Action for Food, Land and Justice, Gabriela Women’s Party members and One Billion Rising Global Director Monique Wilson echoed farmers’ call for rice not bullets and carried placards bearing the call #BigasHindiBala.
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus, who came back from the recently concluded national fact finding and humanitarian mission in Kidapawan, said, “There is no justifying the government’s neglect of drought-hit farmers and the brutal response to the farmers’ barricade. There were clear violations and the buck does not stop at Senior Superintendent Alex Tagum who led police operatives last Friday. Furthermore the continuing violation of rights—the illegal detention of protesters and the denial of calamity aid should stop. Government officials who deprived farmer communities of calamity aid for the past six months should be made accountable.”
De Jesus, Mariano, Reyes, De Guzman, Aunor and Wilson called for the immediate release of 70 farmers illegally detained at the Kidapawan Gym and Convention Center, including four minors and 25 women, three among them pregnant.
At Thursday’s Senate hearing in Davao, De Jesus said, it was revealed that a female detainee was rushed to the hospital and needed treatment for tetanus.
“The violations have not stopped. Even now, the violation of farmers’ rights continues,” De Jesus said.
The women’s partylist group also cried foul over attempts to discredit farmers by demonizing their supporters, including Gabriela Womens’ Party officials.
“The women farmers of Mindanao are our constituents and it is their voice, as a marginalized sector, that we vowed to amplify. Women and children were among the hardest hit and most affected by the drought. All they wanted was to bring home some rice so they can survive for another day,” De Jesus said.
The Palace said Friday the government is always open and ready to answer questions during the Senate investigation of the Kidapawan incident.
“The government is always open and ready to explain and make everyone understand because what is affected is the welfare of the poorest people,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr., in a statement issued.
Earlier, an international group of lawyers from more than 20 countries denounced the police attack against thousands of farmers in Kidapawan on April 1, saying it violates international human rights treaties that the Philippines has committed to uphold.
The International Association of Democratic Lawyers, a non-governmental organization with consultative status in the United Nations, also criticized Aquino for his silence over the attack, which signifies that he tacitly supports the illegal police action.
“The actions of the Filipino police violate the rights to life and to be free from arbitrary detention enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the right to food guaranteed by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” IADL said through its president, Jeanne Mirrer.
On April 1, police armed with M-16 rifles broke up a four-day blockade by about 6,000 farmers on the Cotabato-Davao highway, killing two protesters.
The farmers had gathered to press the government into giving them food aid amid a five-month drought that had left them and their families hungry.
Some 116 people from both sides were hurt, and about 78 farmers were arrested and detained.
Some 3,000 others sought refuge in a Methodist Church, which was quickly surrounded by heavily armed police.
Presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe said Friday that no government should ever wait for its people to beg for food.
The senator said the government should be more proactive in providing aid to the poor.
“Many of our countrymen are still hungry, and this is unacceptable. There is a need for a government who will go to them,” she said.
On Friday, Interiro Secretary Mel Senen Sariento said they welcome any complaints or charges stemming from the dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan City last week.
Sarmiento, who distributed medals to the police involved in the dispersal one day after the incident, said his department was committed to getting to the bottom of the protest.
“As part of our democratic processes, we respect the right of anyone to press charges against the DILG and the PNP, but this will not affect the government’s resolve to get into the bottom of the Kidapawan incident,” he said. – With Sandy Araneta and Macon Ramos-Araneta