“The brazen human rights violation and martial law in North Cotabato is madness in the highest order.”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – Progressives criticized what seems to be an undeclared martial law in Kidapawan City as human rights violations continue to escalate after the infamous massacre of three protesting farmers there.
“Illegal detention, unabated harassments, violation of farmers’ rights to food, and psywar has become a norm. It’s already martial law in Kidapawan,” Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chairperson Rafael Mariano said.
As of this writing, farmers who are seeking refuge at the United Methodist Church in Kidapawan are being cordoned by the police. Meanwhile, farmers from Makilala town who came to get their share of the sacks of rice that were donated by private individuals were kept by the police from entering the church compound.
Last April 1, three protesting farmers were killed and dozens were injured when the police violently dispersed the nearly 6,000-strong barricade of farmers, who were asking the provincial government to provide due rice subsidy. They are currently seeking sanctuary at the Spottswood United Methodist Church (UMC).
“The brazen human rights violation and martial law in North Cotabato is madness in the highest order,” Mariano said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said it is “now a virtual martial law in Kidapawan.” He said that the police should leave farmers in peace.
Today, April 4, members of progressive organizations are conducting a national fact-finding and solidarity mission to look into what transpired and document necessary statements and evidence from the bloody massacre. Human rights lawyers from the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and its affiliate the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) are also set to file corresponding charges against ranking officials.
Members of youth group Anakbayan, in a statement, said they have witnessed the continuing human rights violations being committed against protesting farmers.
“Fully-armed police forces continue to surround the UMC compound and battle positions are taken on the front gate, while soldiers of the 39th Infantry Brigade blocked the back gate. We also spotted at least two tanks roving around the compound,” Anakbayan said.
The group added that their members arrived when the police was serving its hastily obtained warrant to purportedly search for guns in the morning of April 2. Anakbayan said there were police officers using megaphones calling on the people to go home and even threatened to assault and bomb the church compound, which is the UMC bishop’s residence.
Tension once again flared when some 300 farmers from Makilala town were prevented by the police from entering the compound in the morning of April 3. Anakbayan said farmers wanted to join their companions and get their share of donated rice.
But the group said, “Policemen were seen loading and raising their rifles as if to shoot the farmers.”
There are also 78 farmers detained at the Kidapawan gym and the city’s convention center. Anakbayan noted that there were pregnant women and minors among the arrested farmers.
The youth group said the local government still refuses to say where the bodies of the victims of the massacre are, adding that even hospitals were prohibited by the local government to provide or verify information on the victim’s identity and cause of death.
“We went to morgues and hospitals. Some wounded patients are handcuffed while heavily armed guards watch over them inside the hospital rooms,” the group said.
North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza had said that the provincial government takes “full responsibility” for the bloody turnout of the farmers’ protest. But in her interview with ANC, Mendoza pinned the blame on the so-called infiltrates among the farmers, referring to members of progressive partylists and groups such as Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.
“What were you doing there?” Mendoza asked of the groups.
Mendoza also questioned why there were farmers who came from various parts of the province. She asked, “How come they have so much budget to mobilize?”
She claimed that there was never a dispersal, just a “clearing operations” to reclaim the road, which was being blocked by the protesters for three days, affecting businesses in the city. She added that the farmers could, in fact, continue their protest at the side of the road.
Mendoza claimed that the issue “is not about rice.”
NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said that Mendoza “exhibits unparalleled remorselessness, arrogance, and self-righteousness.” He added that by saying that the issue is not about rice, “she betrays herself as an aristocratic mata pobre.”
“She could have just curtly said to the hungry farmers and their families: ‘Let them eat bullets!’ with the panaché of Marie Antoinette,” Olalia added.
A Kilab Multimedia report said Mendoza is organizing a “peace rally” today, April 4. Radyo ni Juan, for its part, is receiving reports from people on the ground that there are people going from one house to another, offering money to attend the said “peace rally.”
Finding no guns in the Church compound as stipulated in their hastily-obtained search warrant, the police is now “deliberately twisting facts” and is pinning the blame on the protesting farmers, Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon said.
On April 3, the police said it recovered two empty shells of caliber .45 and a slug of a .38 where remains of one of farmers killed were found. One of the dead was also found to be positive in a paraffin test.
A paraffin test supposedly tests the presence of nitrates and nitrites from gunpowder. But as early as 1935, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation had already expressed reservations on its reliability.
Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun, in her Twitter account, said that at the Interpol Conference in Paris in 1968, “it was officially concluded that the paraffin test should no longer be used.” She added that it is also no longer being used in First World countries today. Apparently, she added, a paraffin test is all that the police have on its closet.
North Cotabato police had also announced that among those they arrested is an “NPA commander.” As of this writing, they have yet to provide the name of the so-called commander.
“The crime lab results are a farce and should not be given any ounce of credibility, as we cannot expect the PNP to deliver an honest and independent finding on the conduct of their men and the incident itself,” Ridon said.
He added that the police took custody of the remains of dead farmers and cordoned the scene of the massacre giving them “all the opportunity to plant all evidence on the dead.”
Human rights group Karapatan, on its urgent alert, reiterated their call for police officials involved in the incident to be relieved for an impartial investigation to take place. The human rights group is among those participating in the national fact finding mission, which would begin today, April 4 to Wednesday, April 6.
“The government is already showing signs of a cover-up. This would be another injustice to the farmers,” Karapatan said.
Meanwhile, President Aquino has yet to say anything about the bloody Kidapawan massacre.
“In this time of crisis, where is the President? Nasaan ang pangulo? Is he too busy campaigning to even give a hoot about the plight of the farmers? He has not spoken since the shooting took place,” Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said.
Reyes said Aquino had remained mum on the issue despite demands both for immediate rice support and release of calamity funds, and an impartial investigation on how the police handled the dispersal.
“Is the president even on top of the situation? What agencies is he mobilizing?” he said.
Filipino netizens are now using the hashtag #NasaanAngPangulo to assail Aquino’s deafening silence.
Still no rice distributed
After not lifting a finger to distribute the much-needed 15,000 sacks of rice, the government is currently imposing a food blockade at the United Methodist Church, denying farmers from receiving sacks of rice donated by groups and concerned private individuals.