Santiago, Duterte call Kidapawan violence 'inhuman,' 'barbaric'

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Downright inhuman.

This was how Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago described a violent dispersal of protesters in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato on Friday morning (April 1) that left three farmers dead and around 200 others wounded.

Santiago said the government should be held accountable for the tragic incident.

"It is vile enough that this administration has failed to support the farmers and lumads of Kidapawan during the prolonged drought in Mindanao," the senator said. "But it is downright inhuman for them to shoot at the same people begging for help."

Santiago also scored the Aquino administration for lacking compassion for the people, saying government leaders cannot claim to be pro-poor "when it answers pleas for help with bursts of gunshot."

Blood on president's hands

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte echoed similar sentiments, saying the government had been "impervious to the suffering of the people."

Duterte said the blood of the victims was on President Benigno Aquino III's hands and that he cannot escape blame and responsibility for the "barbaric" incident — alluding to other infamous events like the Mamasapano encounter, Hacienda Luisita clash and the so-called Mendiola massacre.

"It all the more becomes more tragic and despicable that the same bloodline that benefited from the ESDA 1986 revolt have soiled their hands with the blood and tears of the Filipino people that allowed them into power," Duterte said as he called the Aquino-Cojuangco clan a symbol of the landlord class or ruling elite.

Duterte, however, called for sobriety saying both sides must remain calm so as not to fuel more animosity between the government and the farmers.

But he added that those involved in the shooting must be immediately disarmed, investigated and "dealt with the full might and extent of the law."

He also called on the Commission on Human Rights to come to the aid of the victims.

'Rightful demand'

For her part, Sen. Grace Poe said the farmers had reason to take to the streets with a "rightful demand" amid the drought and hunger in the province.

Poe said the tragedy should not have happened if the concerned government agency only attended to the matter at the outset, thus, preventing the rally from happening in the first place.

"The situation calls for authorities and concerned agencies to immediately investigate and resolve this case, and bring to justice those responsible."

'Bullets for rice'

Meanwhile, the camp of Vice President Jejomar Binay said that the farmers were asking for rice, but were given bullets instead.

"Hunger is a reality that must be addressed not by violence but by compassion and concrete programs to improve the lives of the poor," the United Nationalist Alliance said.


Administration bet Mar Roxas also condemned what happened, saying it was worrisome that such violence erupted between authorities and protesters.

He added that the priority now was restore order to area and make sure that no clash would happen again.

"I call on the PNP and other concerned agencies to investigate as to the true cause of the clash and, if warranted, punish those who may be accountable."

Naming names

For the human rights group Karapatan, it was clear who should be held accountable for the violence — naming President Aquino, Agriculture Sec.  Proceso Alcala, Liberal Party member and North Cotabato Governor Emmylou "Lala" Taliño-Mendoza, and Sr. Supt. Alex Tagum.

The group added that the protesters were asking for the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as subsidy for those affected by the El Niño phenomenon — saying the food aid had already been approved by the governor.

The farmers were also demanding free distribution of seedlings, increase in the farmgate prices of agricultural crops and immediate pullout of military troops in the North Cotabato towns.

Probe ongoing

Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor, spokesperson of the Philippine National Police (PNP) said investigators were consolidating all information on the Cotabato-Davao Highway clash.

Mayor also noted that two policemen were in critical condition due to head trauma, reportedly sustained from protesters.

"The public may rest assured that any violation of PNP rules and regulations shall be meted the appropriate penalty. Likewise, we are committed to holding anyone responsible for this tragic incident accountable," he said.

Davao City-based correspondent contributed to this report.