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Gov’t hit for not acting on demands

Candidates in the May 9 national elections yesterday condemned the violent police dispersal of protesting farmers in North Cotabato province that led to the deaths of two farmers and the wounding of 13 others.

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Leading presidential candidate Grace Poe called for justice for the farmers who were shot dead by police and for the wounded.

The farmers, numbering about 6,000, had been barricading the main highway in Kidapawan City since Wednesday demanding government assistance after drought linked to El Niño destroyed their farms.

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Poe said the farmers had a legitimate grievance, but the government had been slow listening to them.

“The farmers staged their activity to demand government aid amid the drought in the province, which is killing their crops and depriving them of harvests and food to eat,” Poe said.

She said the government agencies concerned should have attended to the farmers’ problems from the start, and quick action could have prevented the mass action.

 

Immediate investigation

Poe called for an immediate investigation of the police action and for justice for the victims.

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

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Poe’s running mate, Sen. Francis Escudero, expressed dismay at the violent dispersal of the farmers.

“I believe that every citizen has a right to freedom of assembly and the concerns of these poor farmers are valid. The least the government could do is listen to their concerns and do something about [them],” Escudero said.

He said the authorities should have exercised maximum tolerance and convinced the farmers to disperse peacefully.

Escudero said he had been calling on the government to allocate funds to help farmers affected by drought since the weather bureau issued drought warnings last year.

Administration blamed

The camp of presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte blamed the violence against the farmers on the Aquino administration.

Maribojoc, Bohol, Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr., Duterte’s campaign manager, called the incident a “carnage.”

“President Aquino cannot escape blame and responsibility for the bloody assault on hungry farmers demanding food after a prolonged dry spell,” Evasco said.

“Hungry people demanding food do not deserve to be shot,” he said.

He called on the government to order all the policemen involved in the shooting “to be disarmed, investigated and dealt with the full might and extent of the law.”

Evasco also called on the Human Rights Commission to condemn the attack on the farmers.

Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas and his running mate, Camarines Sur Leni Robredo, added their voices to the condemnation of the violence against the farmers.

“I strongly condemn the violence that happened in Kidapawan. The report on the violence that erupted between the authorities and the [farmers] was alarming,” Roxas said in a statement.

“I call on the (Philippine National Police) and other concerned agencies to investigate . . . the true cause of the clash and, if warranted, punish those who may be accountable,” he added.

In a separate statement, Robredo said she was saddened by what happened in Kidapawan.

“It’s just right to look into the real cause of this violent incident and make those responsible for it accountable,” she said.

‘Inhuman’

Presidential candidate Miriam Defensor-Santiago called the violence against the farmers “inhuman.”

Santiago said the government should be held accountable for the violence, as the dispersal of the farmers violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

Those responsible should be swiftly brought to justice, she said in a statement.

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

Santiago’s running mate, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also condemned the violent dispersal of the farmers, saying the use of guns was “completely unnecessary.”

“I deplore the use of bullets to answer the legitimate demands of our farmers and their families in North Cotabato. They are hungry and they are just asking for food so they can feed their families. The violent dispersal was completely unnecessary,” Marcos said in a statement.

Marcos said an interagency committee should be formed to deal with the situation and start a dialogue.

He said the Department of Agriculture should account for the P2.1 billion specially earmarked to assist farmers affected by drought.

Lawmakers outraged

The police action against the farmers triggered outrage and a flurry of condemnation from lawmakers, some of whom drew parallels between the incident and the 1987 Mendiola massacre and the 2004 Hacienda Luisita killings.

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, a senatorial candidate, said there was no justification for the shooting of the protesting farmers.

“This is like the Mendiola and Luisita massacres all over again,” he said, referring to two other bloody dispersals by state forces of protesting farmers in the past three decades.

The Mendiola incident took place in January 1987 when riot police opened fire on farmers marching to Malacañang, killing 13 of them.

The Hacienda Luisita incident happened in November 2004 when police and soldiers killed seven farmworkers during a protest where the farmers were seeking genuine land reform at the Cojuangco-Aquino owned sugar plantation.

Colmenares said the Kidapawan dispersal exposed the Aquino government’s lack of understanding the plight of farmers.

“They say they are profarmers and that they will help farmers, but instead of giving them rice and food, they shot them. What kind of government is this? They answer calamity with blood[y] calamity,” he said.

ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said he was outraged by the Philippine National Police’s “utter disregard for the lives of ordinary citizens.” With reports from Marlon Ramos, Dona Z. Pazzibugan and Nancy C. Carvajal

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TAGS: Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares, Camarines Sur Representative Leni Robredo, Elections 2016, Grace Poe, Hacienda Luisita killings, Liberal Party, May 9 Elections, North Cotabato, police dispersal, Sen. Francis Escudero
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