MANILA, April 2 – Senators on Friday condemned the violent dispersal of farmers, mostly lumads, who gathered along the Cotabato-Davao highway in Kidapawan City to protest and demand for immediate relief from the devastating effects of El Niño.
Initial reports disclosed that two persons were dead, identified as Rogeli Daelto and Victor Lumugdang, both of Arakan municipality. The nine injured farmers were identified as Ricky Maat, Ejay Salaber, Alce Awi, Mario Ansabo, Roland Jampas, Darwin Madiao, Leo Deyong, Roger Imuy and Rodulfo Tan. There were also reports that victims include children.
“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 it,” Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero said in a press statement.
Senator Grace Poe said the violent dispersal “calls for authorities and concerned agencies to immediately investigate and resolve this case, and bring to justice those responsible.”
”This should have been attended to by the concerned agencies at the outset that would have prevented the farmers from taking to the streets,” Poe said.
Escudero and Poe are running for president and vice president under the Partido Galing at Puso.
Senator Fedinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., who is also running for vice president, said the use of bullets was “completely unnecessary.”
“I deplore the use of bullets to answer 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,” he said adding that the police should have instead negotiated with the protesters.
The farmers were dispersed on the third day of their protest after they rejected an offer of three kilos of rice quarterly. Their immediate demand was for 15,000 sacks of rice to stave off hunger until they can resume planting.
They also asked for free seeds and other agricultural inputs so they can replace the crops they have lost since the drought struck in November, as well as reasonable increase in the market prices of their produce.
Escudero said authorities should have exercised maximum tolerance and facilitated peaceful dispersal, considering that those farmers have “all the right to gather and speak freely on matters that affect their livelihood and well-being.”
“The government must be reminded that violence can never be a solution to any perceived differences since there are other peaceful and constructive means of resolving differences,” Escudero pointed out.
Escudero has been pushing the government to download funds in order to assist farmers affected by the long-drawn dry spell since the state weather bureau started issuing warnings as early as last year.
Meanwhile, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza said at 10:30 in the morning, about 500 police officers tried to disperse the crowd blocking the major highway because of lack of permit to rally.
Mendoza said the police were serving a dispersal order because the rally and the assembly were considered illegal as the farmers have no permit to occupy portions of the highway. She said her directive to the police was to exercise maximum tolerance.
The farmers were given permission to hold rally by the city government of Kidawapan only for Monday but the protesters, demanding government food aid after they became unproductive due to dry spell, remained in the highway, obstructing the passage of vehicles.