SOME 200 civil society organizations from more than 60 countries have signed a statement urging Hilal Elver, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Right to Food, to investigate the killings of Kidapawan farmers and the government’s failure to address the plight of starving communities due to the El Niño phenomenon.
Spearheaded by the Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS), several organizations from Europe, USA, Africa, Middle East and Asia have issued statements condemning the violent dispersal by police of the protesting farmers oin Kidapawan City on April 1.
These appeals came as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said calamity funds withheld by various government agencies should be released to help millions of farmers who are suffering from drought across the country.
“The government is awash with funds, yet, it neglected and left drought-hit farmers and their families starving and abandoned,” said KMP chairperson Rafael Mariano as he lambasted what he described as the continuing criminal negligence of President Benigno Aquino III.
“A state of calamity has been declared in seven provinces, five cities and 24 municipalities. More than P10 billion worth of crops were destroyed in 373,491 hectares of parched farmlands. The drought will continue for at least three more months, affecting the May-June planting season. Farmers and tillers are hungry. Even sources of potable water are almost dried up. Under these dire conditions, farmers’ unrest is inevitable,” Mariano warned.
The PCFS said the Kidapawan incident falls into the jurisdiction of Elver, given the state’s alleged criminal neglect of the farmers, who were denied the fundamental right to be free from hunger. PCFS and its allied organizations have also participated in the globally coordinated protest action held last April 8 to condemn the violent Kidapawan dispersal internationally.
The Palace on Wednesday said the government was committed to upholding the fundamental rights of the people, and that the Kidapawan incident would not affect the country’s standing in the UN Human Rights Concil.
“The government is committed to protect and uphold the people’s fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression and assembly,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told The Standard in a text message.
“The reported filing of a complaint arising from the Kidapawan incident does not affect the PH’s standing in the UN Human Rights Council as we are a staunch advocate of eight of the nine core human rights international treaties,” Coloma said.
The human rights group Karapatan on Monday filed a complaint against the government before the United Nations, asking it to investigate atrocities against protesting farmers in Kidapawan City, who were shot, beaten and arrested by police on April 1.
PCFS noted that police opened fire on the protesting farmers, killing two of them and injuring more than 100, while more than 80 people were also arrested, including three pregnant women, six elderly people and four minors.
The group also took note of anomalies in the distribution of calamity funds, and the failure by the government to provide food relief to the farmers’ families, which are under investigation at the Senate.
PCFS said initial reports from a fact-finding team of human rights groups showed evidence of a cover-up by the administration, local government officials and the police.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food monitors the situation and identifies general trends related to the right to food and undertakes country visits which provide the special rapporteur with firsthand accounts on the situation in a specific country.
The special rapporteur also communicates with states and other concerned parties with regard to alleged cases of violations of the right to food and other issues related to his or her mandate.
Faith-based organizations, trade unions, farmers and indigenous peoples movements, research institutions and non-government organizations have signed the statement condemning the Kidapawan incident.
Data from the government indicates that at least P52 billion in Quick Reaction Fund, the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Fund and People’s Survival Fund are at the disposal of the government, Mariano said.
These, he said, should be released immediately to address the needs of the hungry farmers.
In Northern Mindanao, Mariano said, farmer-led protest actions spearheaded are expected to peak in the coming days as 7,000 farmers from the different municipalities and cities are united in demanding that the provincial government release much-needed subsidies.
Farmers from Misamis Oriental towns of Salay, El Salvador and Opol have also launched similar actions to press for their demands, he said.
The KMP also called on farmers and the people to continue seeking justice for the victims of the Kidapawan dispersal and to hold President Benigno Aquino III accountable.
At the Senate, members of the militant Anakpawis led a demonstration hours before a hearing on the Kidapawan dispersal was held.
The group urged the Senate to hold North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza accountable for the death of two farmers as well as her abandonment of her constituents.
Mendoza is a close ally of President Aquino and Liberal Party presidential bet Manuel Roxas II.
“We urge the honorable senators to consider the root of the problem, if only the governor has addressed the concerns of the people, she was supposed to serve, delivered relief, no one would be compelled to protest, and deaths could have been prevented,” said Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said during the protest.
Hicap went to Kidapawan City on April 5 as part of the negotiating team for the immediate withdrawal of government forces around the United Methodist Church Spottswood compound, as well as to gather data on the violent dispersal.
Most of the 6,000 farmers that protested are members of Anakpawis.
At the hearing, Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile pressed Philippine National Police chief Ricardo Marquez to attend the next hearing.
“We have to get that information in order to find out whether we have a government or not,” Enrile said.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, who heads the hearings, ordered PNP officials present to relay the Senate’s request to Marquez.
He said that based on the regional police director’s testimony, it was established that Marquez was appraised of the Kidapawan events.
“So Senator Enrile wants to know what they specifically did with the information and if it was relayed to Malacanang,” said Pimentel.
Earlier, Enrile was also angered that none of the invited Cabinet secretaries showed up for the hearing.
The Senate panel had invited Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Signson.
“This involves an event that affected… 6,000 members of our national community. I supposed if they were invited, they should be here because that’s the purpose of their being members of their Cabinet,” Enrile said.
Alcala said he could not appear before the panel because he received “an urgent call,” a representative at the hearing said.
Enrile dressed down Region 12 Director Reynaldo Bungubung, Sarmiento’s representative.
“Could you explain why your boss could not attend a hearing like this? What is the impelling problem of your department that keeps him out of discussing a problem… as important as this one?” Enrile asked him.
“I supposed he’s attending urgent matters today, so I was advised to proceed here today,” said Bungubung.
“What are those urgent matters of the nation (so) earthshaking that prevent him from coming here to honor the invitation of a committee of the co-equal branch of the government? This is question of attitude and efficiency in government. Tell us. Does your secretary think that this matter is within the level of the regional director and not a responsibility of his excellency, the Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government?” he added.
When Soliman’s representative, Assistant Secretary Vilma Cabrera, informed the Senate panel that Soliman was in Mati, Davao Oriental, Enrile blurted: “Campaigning?”
Cabrera said she was consulting with regional officials about El Niño concerns.
“Oh come on, she’s distributing CCT,” said Enrile, referring to the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer program that gives the poor a straight dole.
Singson, also a member of the El Niño Task Force, said he had a prior commitment.
Enrile said he was disgusted at the way the government treated the problem, which was reflected by their absence before the panel.
At the same hearing, Public Attorney Office chief Persida Acosta urged policemen to release the Kidapawan farmers who remained under their custody.
She also noted that some of the protesting farmers have not yet returned to their homes due to fears of being arrested following reports that police were hunting them down.
Not only were the farmers starving, they were also being harassed, Acosta said.
Dismissed Cotabato police chief Senior Supt. Alexander Tagum said Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza instructed him to disperse the protesting farmers on April 1 after they had occupied a portion of the Davao-Cotabato highway for four days. He added that the order was to clear the highway so that motorists traveling between Cotabato and Davao could use the road.
But Tagum insisted he did not order his men to fire shots. He also said the victims could have been killed by the militants and that the police were still investigating the incident.
But Enrile expressed skepticism of a government-led investigation.
Mendoza said she was ready to face the consequences of her actions.
Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista told the Senate panel that as early as March 30, they tried to exhaust all means to convince protesters to leave peacefully.