MANILA, Philippines – The heads of the country’s interior department and police force on Monday, April 4, continued to defend the local government of North Cotabato and local police forces amid public outcry over the violent dispersal of farmers staging a protest along a national highway last week.
They said dialogues were held before the dispersal and that the policemen merely responded to the refusal of the protesters to leave the barricade.
“[The police exercised] maximum tolerance, sila ang tumatanggap (they were on the receiving end),” Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento told reporters before the turnover of new firetrucks and police patrol jeeps in Quezon City.
Asked about sentiments that the dispersal went overboard, Sarmiento added: “Unang-una, we should know the facts. Sino ba nag-organize? Sino nag-finance? High finance ito ha, transporting people from other provinces. Dinala doon. Sino ang key leaders na nagsabi… these are things that should be subjected to the investigation. Who told the people na may mamimigay ng bigas? That is the very reason why marami ang sumamang iba. What is really the motive… ano ba talaga ang motive. Is it rice? Or IPSB Bayanihan? What really is the motive? We should determine that.”
(Who organized the protest? Who financed it? People from other provinces were brought there. Who told the people that rice would be distributed? What was the motive of the protest? Rice or to protest IPSB Bayanihan [the government’s counter-insurgency campaign]?)
DILG Undersecretary Peter Irving Corvera showed reporters aerial footage of the April 1 dispersal. Corvera pointed out that Crowd Dispersal Management (CDM) personnel were being beaten by protesters even if the police unit was already retreating.
One of the policemen in the video, said Corvera, sustained serious injuries and is still unconscious. (Kilab Multimedia, however, also has a video of how the violence erupted at the site. Watch it here.)
The local government followed the right protocol for crisis management, Sarmiento said.
“Sa video, makikita natin na maximum tolerance dahil sila ang tumatanggap ng kung anu-ano eh. Then the use of firearms… ano ba protocol noon? Warning shot ba? Ang warning shot para ma pull out yung mga police na na pin down doon? Kailangan natin malaman ang cause of death,” he said.
(What’s the protocol? Is it a warning shot? What’s the point of a warning shot, to pull out policemen who are already pinned down? What caused the death?)
“Rice dito sa harap pero bayanihan ang nasa likod eh,” said Sarmiento, showing reporters a picture of the protest front lines. In the photo, protesters are seen holding banners demanding rice and aid. A few feet away was another protester holding a banner calling for the end of IPSB Bayanihan, the government’s overall program to combat insurgency.
(The protest is ostensibly to demand rice, but behind it is to campaign against the government’s counter-insurgency program.)
On April 1, farmers protesting in Kidapawan City were dispersed after several days of protest. At least two farmers died as a result of the clash against local police. (READ: Online support for Kidapawan drought protest grows)
The farmers were complaining about lack of government support amid the worsening El Niño drought in the area. Mindanao is among the worst affected by the weather phenomenon.
Sarmiento, who visited Kidapawan over the weekend with Marquez, said the local government “followed protocol” and heeded national government’s warnings ahead of the drought.
“Ang probinsiya may pera that will last up to December. Ang ginagawa nila, nagbibigay sila ng bigas doon. Weekly ang rationing. At nag-plano sila na magbibigay sila hanggang pagtanim, hanggang pagharvest. Hanggang December aabot ang pondo nila. Sa P100 million, nasa P12 million pa lang nagagastos nila,” said Sarmiento. (The province has sufficient funds until December. They give rice weekly. They have so far only spent P12 million of the P100 million allotted.)
Cloud seeding was also conducted by the province, said the interior secretary.
On Sunday, it was reported that more farmers arrived in Kidapawan City, even as truckloads left to return to their homes.
Marquez stressed the highway must be open. “Kasi kaya nagkaroon ng law enforcement operation, it had inconvenienced so many people already that we had to put order,” he said.
Asked if dialogue would be part of local police force’s actions, Marquez said: “We have conducted dialogues… so many dialogues before the law enforcement operation ever took place. They would not settle for anything else. Gusto nilang i-block yun. They would like to hostage this government.”
But even as Sarmiento and Marquez defended the local government and police force, they said an investigation would still be undertaken.
Sarmiento said these include probes by the National Police Commission (Napolcom), an internal probe by the PNP, and one by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
Marquez said the probe will determine if police fired the first shot, if any protocols were violated by the police, and if any charges could be filed against those who harmed policemen. – Rappler.com