01 April 2016

The Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) strongly condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the murder of a farmer protester and the wounding of several more at the barricade line on the Cotabato-Davao Highway at the hands of members of the Philippine National Police.

This use of state violence against unarmed civilians by police officers using high-caliber weapons is a gross transgression of human rights and deserves the highest form of outrage from all sectors of society.

The barricade was a peaceful and desperate protest action, set up by around 6,000 farmers and lumad peoples from several towns in Cotabato to demand immediate relief from the drought that had ravaged the province since November last year.

The killing is even more abhorrent given that the protesters, mostly poor farmers and indigenous people, had put up the blockade merely to demand government support to stave off the near-famine conditions brought about by the El Nino-induced drought. They had braved the scorching summer sun, hoping the government that had failed to prepare for a calamity that had been predicted two years before would finally sense the urgency of the crisis. Instead, they were told to leave or face the government’s wrath. Soon after, a brutal dispersal took place with the police wielding batons and firing their guns.

This incident is a grave indictment of the prevailing system, when the poor and hungry who exercise their legitimate, constitutionally-guaranteed right to demand government aid to alleviate hunger are instead met with bullets from the very people entrusted with keeping them safe.
FDC demands immediate and swift action. The ground commander and all PNP personnel who participated in the dispersal must be relieved of their duties pending independent investigations. Local government officials, particularly Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, who was present during the carnage and who may have given the order to disperse the protestors, must face sanctions. All involved must be brought to justice.

But beyond the police and local authorities, the Aquino administration must also be held accountable for exacerbating the disastrous impact of El Niño with its inept handling of preparedness and response efforts. The state’s own meteorological agency, PAGASA had warned of the coming of a much more severe El Niño as early as March 2014. Ultimately, it was the negligence and lack of urgency evident in the slow roll-out of El Niño mitigation measures that set the stage for the Cotabato-Davao highway tragedy.

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