“This is just farmers demanding rice. What would happen if they would assert emancipation from poverty that has long beset their lives?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – “This is just farmers demanding rice. What would happen if they would assert emancipation from poverty that has long beset their lives?”
This was the reaction of detained peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines Wilma Austria when asked on the violent dispersal of Cotabato farmers in Kidapawan last April 1 that left at least two dead.
Bulatlat briefly interviewed Austria at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 32, where she and husband Benito Tiamzon attended trial for the multiple murder charges against them in relation to the Inopacan mass grave. The two were arrested in 2014, and the military claimed they are ranking officials of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
“They always forget the ‘human factor’ when implementing government programs. They conduct cloud seeding that does not completely assure of rainfall. Government employees go to communities asking how livestock are faring. But in all of these programs, did they ever ask the farmers if they are going hungry?” Austria said.
Starving drought-hit farmers were demanding the release of 15,000 sacks of rice during their protest, which began on March 30. Relieved Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum said during the senate hearing yesterday, April 20, that he received orders from no less Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza to disperse the protesting farmers.
In the senate hearing, even Sen. Allan Peter Cayetano expressed nearly the same sentiment. He said that if the farmers were not hungry, “only the leaders” would attend the protest and not the 3,000-strong protesters who joined the human barricade.
Austria said if farmers would assert their emancipation from the dire conditions they have long endured, “baka ubusin na sila. Imasaker na sila (They might get wiped out, massacred).”
Inopacan mass grave
At yesterday’s hearing, prosecution witness Edwin Zata of the Philippine National Police Region 8 finished giving his testimony. He failed to bring with him the camera he used to document the exhumation of a mass grave in Inopacan, Leyte in 2006.
He had initially testified that he used his personal GE digital camera. But upon checking the soft copies of his photos before leaving for Manila, he said he learned that he took the photos using his Pentax camera, which he lost to Typhoon Yolanda in 2013.
The prosecution also presented another witness, Police chief Supt. Herardo Hermosilla, who served as team leader during the purported exhumation of the mass grave in 2006. He said a white polo shirt that was among those exhumed was identified by a civilian as the shirt that his brother was wearing when he disappeared.
Hermosilla said he is not sure whether the white shirt belonging to a certain Gregorio Eras is among the pieces of clothes presented as evidence during Zata’s testimony.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assistant secretary general Ephraim Cortez assailed this and manifested before the court that the case has been going on for years but the marking of their evidence is still not finished.