By Carmencita A. Carillo, Correspondent

Accusations fly in aftermath of Kidapawan protest dispersal

Posted on April 04, 2016

DAVAO CITY -- As the Commission on Human Rights conducts an investigation on the violent dispersal of a rally by farmers in Kidapawan City last week, people from Davao City, located about 115 kilometers away, have mobilized a campaign to raise rice donations for the protesters who have taken refuge at the United Methodist Church.

Handout photo shows a wounded rallier following clashes with police on a highway in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato. -- AFP
The rally of the farmers from North Cotabato province was intended to put pressure on government to extend food and farming assistance in the face of the prevailing drought brought about by El Niño.

Officials of the national and provincial government have defended the police in their use of force. Over state radio, Presidential Communication Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III on Saturday called for an extensive investigation into the incident, as he noted, also citing a statement by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou T. Mendoza, the “participation” of Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, Anakbayan, and other groups.

Three protesters died, 116 injured, 89 still missing, and two captured by authorities were reportedly tortured, according to a statement by the Ecumenical Bishops Forum (EBF).

The EBF also said those currently inside the United Methodist Church are “being harassed” by government forces.

Armed police officers are stationed outside the church compound.

But Ms. Mendoza, among other government officials, also cited 99 policemen injured in Friday’s dispersal, adding that only 21 ralliers were wounded.

Meanwhile, a team of civilian volunteers from Davao City delivered yesterday the first batch of 150 50-kilo rice sacks to the farmers despite threats by Ms. Mendoza that they will bar such donations.

Ms. Mendoza said she would stop politicians and humanitarian groups from donating rice to North Cotabato and asked them to spare the province from their political agenda.

Nang-iinsulto ba kayo o namumulitika [Are you insulting us or politicking]?” she said.

Her remarks came on the heels of statements by some candidates, including PDP-Laban standard-bearer Rodrigo R. Duterte, who didn’t mince words in criticizing the dispersal and its aftermath.

Mr. Quezon in his Saturday briefing said: “Let me focus on just for a few more minutes on the tragedy in Kidapawan. You had statements that were being issued by the militant groups and they were immediately being echoed by one presidential candidate. The statements of this presidential candidate has been completely incendiary, talagang (really) below the belt, very personal, very targeted to the sentiments of -- not even of the farmers but those militant groups that involved themselves in the farmers’ plight.

“And of course, we’re referring to Mayor Duterte and we have to ask ourselves, was he acting in an irresponsible manner? Or is it a manner that is calculated simply to engage the support of those who are also answerable for the behavior of their cadres in the protest. And remember there has been, previous mention, and again this is not from us, this is from the media, that there were going to be Cabinet positions in this candidate’s future government reserved for individuals who are now currently in exile or belonging to the party and movement that those people belong to.”

Explaining the initiative by Mr. Duterte’s supporters to provide support to the protesters, his spokesperson, Peter T. Laviña, said: “The response of the people to help was truly overwhelming. Donations ranged from three kilos to 11 sacks of rice from little children to families to whole office staff of one jewelry store. The threats of the governor to block humanitarian aid to the suffering farmers just went up in smoke on top of Mt. Apo.”

Mr. Laviña said none of the donations came from the city government or from Mr. Duterte, although he acknowledged Davao’s city hall has served as a collection area for rice and other food donations.

“We turned down so much more offer of help because they were donating in cash. We shall continue with the volunteer rice and food donation drive as more Filipinos want to extend help to their fellow Filipinos,” he said.

A Palace official has defended the actions of the government in connection with the violence that broke out last week during a massive protest of farmers in Kidapawan City at the Southern Philippine province of Cotabato last week which left two people dead and scores of people injured.

For his part, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio B. Coloma, Jr. said over state-run Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday: “Kailangang maunawaan ng ating mga kababayan na ito ay isang kaganapang hindi naman natin nais maganap at hindi rin dapat ito maging okasyon upang tayo ay linlangin o lokohin ng mga nais maghasik ng kasinungalingan. (Our countrymen need to understand that this incident was something we did not wish for and it should not be an occasion for us to be deceived by those who wish to spread lies.)”