FARMERS on Monday filed multiple complaints—including murder—against two Cabinet members, high-ranking government officials and more than 90 police and military personnel for the bloody dispersal of a protest in Kidapawan City on April 1.
“Charges of murder, frustrated and attempted murder, torture and physical injuries, illegal arrest and detention and other civil and political rights violations were filed by the farmer-complainants, including families of those who were shot during the dispersal, as well as the farmers who were illegally arrested and detained by the Philippine National Police,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan.
The respondents include Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Philippine National Police chief Ricardo Marquez, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza and 94 local, police and military officials.
The complainants urged the Ombudsman to place all the accused under a preventive suspension.
Sarmiento said the government’s actions were defensible and that officials involved will be able to respond to all allegations hurled against them.
“We stand ready to answer all allegations pertaining to the incident if and when required to do so,” Sarmiento said.
He added that the Interior Department had already created two fact-finding panels to look into the circumstances behind the bloody April 1 dispersal.
On April 1, police broke up a protest by a group of about 6,000 farmers who had blocked the Cotabato-Davao highway to demand food
aid amid a five-month drought. Two farmers were killed and dozens more were wounded in the bloody dispersal.
In a similar protest in Koronadal City Monday, hundreds of farmers barricaded portions of the Koronadal-General Santos highway, preventing motorists from passing through it.
Koronadal Mayor Peter Miguel denied claims by protesting farmers that they had a rice shortage, even though the South Cotabato provincial government declared a state of calamity last week.
Domingo Azures, a spokesman for the protesting farmers said they will continue asking for a rice subsidy from the government because Alcala has declared that Mindanao has enough rice for the victims of the continuing dry spell.
Vehicles were stranded on opposite sides of the national highway in front of the Soccsksargen Regional Center in Barangay Carpenter Hills.
Members of the 27th Infantry Battalion said they were securing vital installations in the city, including the National Food Authority warehouse, government buildings, public markets, malls, and even media outlets following reports of possible sabotage by communist guerrillas.
The situation was unresolved as The Standard went to press.
In the Kidapawan case, Palabay said the complainants wanted officials investigated for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for their failure to effect measures to mitigate the effects of the El Niño and for the misappropriation of calamity funds.
She said the victims were assisted by human rights lawyers from the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and Public Interest Law Center, and paralegals from Karapatan and Children’s Rehabilitation Center.
“Our struggle for food, land and justice is legitimate, and we will pursue justice in every possible way. We are not cowed by various sinister government attempts to harass and intimidate us and to cover up for these officials’ accountability. We filed this case as part of our continuing search for justice and battle against impunity,” said Gerry Alborme, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-North Cotabato spokesman and one of the complainants in the case filed Monday before the Office of the Ombudsman in Davao City.
Ebao Sulang, father of slain farmer Darwin Sulang, lamented that President Benigno Aquino III had already absolved the police of crimes committed against the farmers.
“Mr. Aquino and his Liberal Party are employing all means to stop us from seeking accountability,” he said.
Elderly and pregnant women farmers were also among the 22 complainants who filed the case.
The Office of the Ombudsman received two sets of complaints. The first accused respondents of murder, frustrated murder and three counts of attempted murder, and violations of the Anti-Torture Law, Rights of Accused, and the Public Assembly Act and obstruction of justice.
The second set of complaints accused the respondents of violating the rights of free assembly and persons arrested, torture, arbitrary detention, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
“The farmers were only asking for rice,” one of the complaints read. “They were driven to do this because of the extreme hunger that they and their families have already suffered due to the severity of the effects of El Niño. The provincial government could have immediately addressed this concern by giving them what they have asked for, along with a clear plan on how to help the farmers survive the effects of El Niño.
“Had Governor Taliño-Mendoza and her crisis committee done this, instead of ordering the dispersal of the protest, the violence could have been averted… Even the provincial government of North Cotabato had already announced its readiness to face the impact of El Nino in the province, and even allocated the calamity funds for it. How come these farmers still reached the point of starvation, driving them to the streets to ask for the very thing that was supposed to have [been] long given them?”
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