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Apr 6, 2016
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The hashtag #BigasHindiBala has been trending recently after the dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City last Friday, April 1, turned violent.

While social media generated sympathy for and solidarity with the farmers among netizens—and effectively highlighted the farming sector's oft-ignored and hardly viral concerns on human rights violation, food security, and climate change—it’s also spawned much misinformation via memes.

We make sense of the mess that has further divided us Pinoys, especially in an election year, in hope of maybe rising above finger-pointing to figure out how we can help to fix it.


How it went down

Situated in the southeastern portion of Cotabato province, Kidapawan City is located almost midway between the cities of Davao and Cotabato. Fifty-percent of its total land area is devoted to agri-production with major crops including rubber, grains, and sugarcane. 

But because of El Niño, almost a quarter of the country has been experiencing drought since January 31, largely affecting Mindanao and around 27,300 farmers in the region.

North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of Febuary 17 listed 36,915 farmers affected by the drought, mostly corn, rice, rubber and coconut farmers. The province was placed under a state of calamity on January 19. 

Due to the delay in calamity assistance, hundreds of farmers including members of militant groups built a barricade along the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidipawan on March 30. They demanded the immediate release of 15,000 sacks of rice as aid, including subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides, as well as an end to military operations in the area, according to Norma Capuyan, chair of the Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa sa Cotabato.

According the organizers, the 5,000-strong participants who came from Makilala, Mlang, Tulunan, Magpet, Roxas, Antipas, Arakan, and Kidapawan refused to leave the barricade until North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza met them and agreed to their demands.

They were situated near the warehouse of the National Food Authority, from where they would have continued their march had they not been blocked by the police, according to Pedro Arnado, chair of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao Region.

In a note to the media, Bayan Southern Mindanao referred to the barricade as "Kampanyang Kontra-Hulaw" (Campaign Against Drought), a form of "pressure politics" meant to create a major impact through mass mobilization by forcing government to give in to their legitimate demands. 


Requests denied

In an interview with Mindanews, Arnado said that they rejected the offer communicated by the Governor through Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who had met with them twice that day. They were requested to give their names for reference by the local government units, but Arnado said coursing aid through them would not be enough. As Mayor Evangelista explained, the process in the release of calamity assistance entailed validation prior to the release of 12 kilos through the food-for-work program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

For her part, Governor Talino-Mendoza said barangays and towns have their respective calamity fund, and the provincial government can only step in to augment it if proven insufficient, according to RA10121 or the Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010.

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In the same Mindanews report, provincial police chief Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum announced that they would not use force to disperse the crowd as they were ordered to observe "maximum tolerance." He also cited instructions from the city crisis management committee, headed by the mayor himself, that should protesters use violence, the police have the go-signal to use the parked firetrucks to spray water on them.  


Violent clash, varying accounts

A six-minute video from a drone camera of the city government depicts protesters resisting the 400-member police personnel after being told to vacate the area. Frontliners were forced to retreat after the police continuously directed their water cannons on them. Part of the footage also shows the police shielding themselves from rocks being thrown their way while they were retreating behind the firetrucks.

Mayor Evangelista supported Sr. Supt. Tagum’s assertion that they were compelled to fire warning shots after protesters reached the outnumbered police behind the firetrucks. He and Gov. Talino-Mendoza said that victims were killed by rocks rather than bullets. Anakpawis party-list’s first nominee, Ariel Casilao, has countered this claim, insisting that the police fired live ammunition that killed three protesters.

To date, 99 members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Bureau of Fire Protection (BFO)-North Cotabato and 41 protesters were confirmed injured, a total of 140, according to Mayor Evangelista. Casilao reports three casualties, with 116 wounded, 89 missing including six minors, and “two tortured, namely Ondo Paonel and Leonaora Paonel, both still missing.” 

Kilab Multimedia also published a video of the alleged shooting on its Facebook account.

However, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has questioned the use of guns for crowd dispersal. According to CHR chairman Chito Gascon, firearms are allowed during operations against criminals, adding that "maximum tolerance" warrants only non-lethal weapons like shields, truncheons, water cannons, and tear gas. 

A five-member regional team that has visited Kidapawan initially reported that law enforcers violated human rights and United Nations guidelines on the use of force. The farmers were already on their knees when shot, according to CHR Region 12 director Erlan Deluvio. A fact-finding group including a forensic team from CHR central office is set to talk to the police and local government as part of the probe.

 

Photo via Mindanews.com

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