PH gov’t under fire over violent Kidapawan dispersal

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Critics are blaming the Aquino administration, the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the local government of Cotabato for the violent dispersal of protesters that left one farmer dead in Kidapawan City.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — Various groups condemned the violent dispersal of protesters blocking the Davao-Cotabato Highway in Kidapawan City, Cotabato on Friday (April 1), which left two farmers dead and dozens of others wounded.

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza confirmed the two fatalities but had not yet revealed the names of the victims.

Thousands of farmers had blocked several roads in Cotabato since Wednesday (March 30), authorities said.

They were demanding the immediate release of calamity aid from the local government, saying they had been experiencing severe hunger because of the drought affecting their crops.

According to the Kabataan Partylist, members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) opened fire at the protesters.

Local journalist Kat Cortez of One Radio in Kidapawan City posted a video on her Facebook page showing injured protesters.

She said a farmer was shot in front of her, but she could not do anything to help him because of the gunfire.

The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Philippine government to immediately respond to the violence.

“The government needs to urgently investigate the incident, particularly the conduct of law enforcement personnel that may have led to the bloodshed, and hold accountable anyone found responsible regardless of rank or affiliation,” Carlos Conde, HRW’s Philippine-based researcher, said in a statement.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) is holding the Aquino administration and Gov, Mendoza accountable for the bloody incident.

“This violence continues the bloody legacy of the Aquinos who massacred 13 farmers in Mendiola in 1987 and scores in Hacienda Luisita, and is still carried on with the Liberal Party which the governor belongs to,” KMP Southern Mindanao Spokesperson Pedro Arnado said in a statement.

He added the provincial government failed to deliver on its promise to provide food relief to the farmers after putting Cotabato under a state of calamity.

“We waited three long months, bearing the unbearable heat and deep hunger. We endured days in this barricade under the sun, but only to be met by bullets after negotiations failed to reach a settlement,” Arnado said.

PNP: 2 police officers under in critical condition too

The PNP maintained that its officers were trained to exert maximum tolerance in dealing with protests.

It said dialogue was always the main recourse and police officers were instructed to not bring firearms during civil disturbance operations.

“In extreme cases, however, especially when the lives of our officers are under immediate threat, all of our policemen are trained to be vigilant and to act out their mandate to maintain peace and order in a calibrated manner,” the PNP said in a statement.

PNP also said two of its officers were in critical condition with head trauma following a clash with the protesters.

It said an investigation was ongoing to determine and punish those responsible for the violence.

Kidapawan City-based correspondent Abner Francisco contributed to this report.