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Trigger warning: This article contains references to suicide.
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine National Police (PNP) has apologized after Senator Imee Marcos revealed that policemen had repeatedly visited an onion farmer who testified in a Senate hearing on Monday, January 16.
“Hands off lang po sa mga testigo ng Senado! Natatakot na ang mga magsasaka ng sibuyas sa biglaang pagkakatok ng pulis kagabi hanggang ngayong umaga upang papirmahin ng sinumpaang salaysay na nagbabaliktad sa kanilang ibinunyag sa Senado nung Martes,” Marcos said in a statement on Thursday, January 19. (Hands off Senate witnesses! Onion farmers are now scared after police suddenly came knocking last night until this morning, asking to sign a sworn statement recanting their Senate testimony on Tuesday.)
Marcos said the harassment of onion farmer and Senate witness Merly Gallardo was prompted by an order from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC).
“Utos raw ng DILG at ng NTF-ELCAC: CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army) ba ang turing natin sa maliliit na magsasaka sa liblib?” the senator said. (It was supposedly ordered by the DILG and NTF-ELCAC: do we treat farmers in remote areas as CPP-NPA?
During Monday’s hearing, Merlita “Merly” Gallardo told the Senate that her husband took his own life in 2021 after an armyworm infestation and a series of bad weather incidents repeatedly destroyed their crops. Four other farmers in Bayambang, Pangasinan also allegedly committed suicide amid the miserable state of agriculture.
In the days following the hearing, Gallardo said that uniformed PNP personnel went to her home eight times in a span of two days, with the latest visit stretching past 11 pm.
“Natakot ako kasi pabalik-balik. Aburido na ako,” Gallardo said in a DZBB interview on Friday, January 20. (I was scared because they kept coming back. I was worried.)
During the visits, they conducted an interview with Gallardo and also asked her to sign a statement recanting her Senate testimony. Gallardo refused to sign the documents, adding that she did not understand them.
“‘Yung sinumpaang salaysay po sir, ‘yung number 9, nakalagay doon parang nirerecant ni nanay ‘yung mga paunang statement niya sa Senado,” Elvin Laceda, national president of Young Farmers Challenge Club of the Philippines, said in the DZBB interview. (In the statement, in number 9, it’s stated there that it’s as if she is recanting her earlier statement in the Senate.)
The cops also prepared an affidavit on the death of her husband, which Laceda also questioned.
“Bakit nila gustong baguhin yung cause of death? Tapos na, settled na ‘yun e. Okay na sila nanay. Wala silang nirereklamo. Wala silang sinampang kaso. So, ang tanong namin: bakit kailangang isang affidavit?” he said. (Why do they want to change the cause of death? It’s settled already. She’s already okay. They did not file any complaint. They’re not filing cases. So, we ask: why do they need an affidavit?)
Laceda said that Gallardo’s husband was a barangay official, so it’s unlikely that the barangay had no record of his death. However, it’s possible that Gallardo failed to report her husband’s death to the PNP since he died when community quarantine restrictions were at its peak.
PNP says sorry
PNP Public Information Office (PIO) chief Police Colonel Redrico Maranan apologized for the incident, stating that it was not the intention of the police to incite fear.
“Ang PNP po ay unang-una humihingi ng paumanhin po sa’yo at sa iyong mga pamilya kung ‘yung amin pong ginawa ay nagdulot sa inyo ng pangamba at takot,” Maranan said in the DZBB interview. (The PNP, first of all, asks for you and your family’s forgiveness if what we did caused worry and fear.)
“Sana po ay kayo’y magkaroon ng pagtitiwala po sa ating kapulisan sapagka’t po ay ginagawa lamang ang aming trabaho. Pumunta po diyan yung pulis, wala pong masamang intensyon,” he added. (We hope that you may once again trust our police, given that they were just doing our job. The police went there with no ill intentions.)
Maranan said that officers conducted multiple visits because the initial statements were taken by hand, which then had to be encoded in a computer. The statements underwent multiple revisions, requiring them to repeatedly return to Gallardo’s home.
He further clarified that police officers, who had coordinated with barangay officials, conducted the visits on orders from the DILG. The agency had asked the police to investigate the alleged spate of suicides in Bayambang, Pangasinan, which were raised during Gallardo’s testimony at the Senate.
“Ito po ay nagsimula noong ang ating chief of police ay makatanggap po ng isang liham galing po ng DILG, at ang sinasaad po ng liham ay dahil doon sa isang news report ng isang radio network na nagkaroon ng limang suicide incidents sa Bayambang sa kadahilanan na sa sibuyas, doon sa pagkalugi sa sibuyas,” he said. (This started when our chief of police received a letter from the DILG, and the letter was regarding a news report from a radio network about the five suicide incidents in Bayambang related to how onion farmers faced big losses.)
The DILG had instructed the PNP to conduct “validation” on the claim of five suicides in the barangay, Maranan said. He added that in 2021, contrary to what was reported, only one farmer took his own life.
Maranan also said that Gallardo’s husband died to “respiratory failure secondary to organic phosphate poisoning.” It is believed that he poisoned himself after his debts climbed to P1.7 million. Organic phosphate is an extremely toxic insecticide.
“Dahil doon, hindi siya makabayad, at parang nahihiya siya. ‘Yun po ang nangyari,” he said. (Because of this, he could not pay, and he felt ashamed. That’s what happened.)
With the imminent arrival of cheap onion imports threatening to drive onion prices even lower, senators and farmers’ groups worry that onion farmers may further struggle to make ends meet. – Rappler.com
The Department of Health, through the National Center for Mental Health, has a national crisis hotline to assist people with mental health concerns. The hotline can be reached at 1553, which is a Luzon-wide, toll-free landline number, 0917-899-8727 and 0966-351-4518 for Globe and TM subscribers, and 0908-639-2672 for Smart and Sun subscribers.