“It is preposterous that a church compound – a sanctuary for many victims and those seeking the kind intervention of the Church – has been made into a military/police camp since April 1.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Farmers are set to file criminal, administrative and civil charges against those involved in the April 1 violent dispersal in Kidapawan City.
Ephraim Cortez, assistant secretary general for legal services of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and a member of the fact-finding mission, told Bulatlat in a phone interview that local officials and police personnel violated the rights of the farmers who barricaded the highway for three days.
Murder, frustrated murder and attempted murder charges will be filed against elements of the Special Action Forces (SAF), and Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) who fired upon the protesters. The fact-finding mission led by Karapatan confirmed the death of farmer Darwin Sulang and Enrico Fabligar, a welder who happened to be at the site during the violent dispersal.
Despite restrictions by the police, Cortez said members of the fact-finding team were able to interview six victims who sustained gunshot wounds, and scores of detained farmers.
In its report, the fact-finding mission said at least 10 of the wounded remain confined in hospitals in Kidapawan; 79 were arrested and detained, including three pregnant; six were tortured by policemen.
Violations left and right
Cortez said the authorities violated the right to free expression of farmers who only wanted rice to help them survive the drought. He noted that majority of the dispersal team were SWAT and SAF who should not be deployed for crowd control. “Carrying firearms is definitely a violation,” Cortez said. “They could only use truncheons and shields but not firearms.”
Raw footage by Kilab Multimedia shows policemen shooting at the protesters with long firearms.
Cortez said of the wounded, three were in critical condition.
Cortez said the search operations conducted by the police on April 2 at the Spottswood Methodist Center were illegal. He noted that besides the procedural lapses, the warrant itself does not indicate specific items or individuals to be searched.
Cortez said there were also clear violations of the rights of detained persons as stated in Republic Act 7438. He said those arrested were interviewed by social workers without lawyers, violating the right to self-incrimination.
The male detainees were brought to the Kidapawan Gym and women detainees were brought to the Kidapawan City Convention Center.
Cortez said charges of direct assault and frustrated murder filed against the farmers were “clearly trumped-up.”
The fact-finding team fears possible whitewash of the incident.
Cortez said death certificates and medico-legal reports of Sulang and Fabrigar do not indicate gunshot wounds as cause of death. Sulang’s medico-legal states he died from blunt trauma to the forehead while Fabrigar died of heat stroke. Eyewitnesses told the fact-finding team that the two were shot. Cortez said they would request for an autopsy of the two victims.
The fact-finding team said the police and the local government cleared the crime scene and burned personal effects confiscated from the protesters during and after the dispersal.
There were also attempts to prevent paralegals and quick reaction teams from leaving the Spottswood compound to gather important details and to provide emergency support to the victims and their families.
The fact-finding team reported that soldiers in full battle gear and 200 heavily armed policemen are deployed in the premises of the Spottswood Methodist Church.
Policemen also blocked over 200 farmers from Makilala village from joining fellow farmers at the Methodist Center.
Rev. Marie Sol Villalon, co-chairperson of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, said, “It is preposterous that a church compound – a sanctuary for many victims and those seeking the kind intervention of the Church – has been made into a military/police camp since April 1.”
North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza threatened Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Francisco of possible lawsuits for “harboring illegal protesters.”
The Kidapawan City local government also threatened to cancel the business permit of the Spottswood United Methodist Center. In his letter dated April 1, Mayor Joseph Evangelista said the Methodist center “is being used and is continuously being used…as head quarter billeting and harboring the leaders and members of illegal demonstrators or rallyists.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said, “The truth of the matter is clear: the government, after a year of first recognizing the drought threat, failed to provide aid, and killed those who dare decry it.”
The fact-finding team said it is not only Gov. Emmylou Taliño Mendoza, or P/Supt. Alexander Tagum, who are solely responsible for human rights violations committed. The team said Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, PNP Chief Director General Ricardo Marquez, and Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad and heads of agencies also bear responsibility for the conditions leading to the inhuman actions of the police last April 1.
Cortez said the legal team will also consider filing administrative and civil charges against public officials.