The mere mention of Rodrigo Duterte’s name is apparently enough to sow panic and force government officials to make bad decisions. One account of what really went down in Kidapawan last week seems to lead inevitably to this conclusion.
Davao City Mayor Duterte may have really caused the forced dispersal of starving farmers in Kidapawan City last week, which left three dead after police fired their guns at the assembled peasants—even if he never even showed up at the scene. And that is not merely Malacañang’s version of events, but one narrated by a known friend and longtime associate of Duterte himself.
According to former North Cotabato governor Manny Piñol, provincial officials were apparently so scared that Duterte would make an appearance in front of 6,000 protesting farmers demanding rice from the government that they ordered the violent dispersal last Friday. In addition, Piñol said that when the ill-trained group of about 50 local policemen ordered to disperse the farmers met resistance from the protesters, they started firing their guns, resulting in the carnage.
But let’s backtrack a little. According to Piñol, he was on his way to meet Duterte in Davao City on Thursday when he passed the blockaded Cotabato-Davao highway, where the protesting farmers had camped out since Tuesday.
Piñol said that he had to take alternate routes to get out of the capitol, just like all other people who wanted to use the important connecting road. That was when he decided to bring up the matter with Duterte in their meeting.
“When we met later on Thursday, I told him, ‘Rody, why don’t you take a chopper tomorrow [Friday] and see for yourself what’s happening in Kidapawan,’” the former governor related. “Duterte got so worked up that he called up his chief legal officer in the city late at night, asking for advice on how to give food aid to the protesting farmers.”
Upon his return to Kidapawan the following day, Friday, Piñol said he went directly to the blockaded highway again. There, he mentioned to his province-mates that Duterte just might make an appearance at the protest site, to donate rice and to show solidarity with them.
Word of Duterte’s planned visit apparently reached North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Talino-Mendoza. It was then, Piñol said, that Mendoza decided to order the police to disperse the crowd assembled on the highway, so fearful was she of the presidential candidate from Davao turning the protest against the government and into an impromptu pro-Duterte campaign stop.
The trouble was, Piñol explained, the policemen securing the area were not trained in crowd control. “They were SWAT members who got angry when the crowd resisted, which led directly to the shooting,” the former governor explained.
When the crowd, which Pinol acknowledged had been infiltrated by leftist groups and even New People’s Army rebels from out of town, started jeering at the police and pushing and shoving them, the cops lost control of the situation. That’s when they started firing their guns.
“I can’t really blame the police because they were not trained for a situation like this,” Piñol said. “Even the water cannons from fire trucks behind them were spraying them with water; they weren’t properly equipped, since they were wearing ball caps, not helmets, and using plywood boards instead of proper shields.”
Think about it: 50 armed policemen were trying to disperse thousands of farmers, who had been camping out on the highway for four days, angry, hungry and fighting back. It was a recipe for a disaster of Aquino-administration proportions.
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Of course, as Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares insists, Mendoza and other officials involved in the disastrous Kidapawan incident had a choice: They could have given out the rice demanded by the protesting farmers or they could have dispersed them as violently as they did.
“It’s truly unfortunate that they chose dispersal,” Colmenares said. “It’s not like a typhoon where the government is confronted with a situation where it has no other course of action.”
Among the many sad facts attending the Kidapawan incident is that the government chose to revert to its old strategy of not acting when it should have and then expending all its energy in blaming others for its inaction when things go wrong, according to Colmenares. “This is how this administration always treats the people—ignoring them and then finding someone to blame after an avoidable crisis erupts,” he said.
If Piñol’s account of what took place is accurate, then maybe Duterte is really to blame. And if I were Duterte, it’s the sort of blame I would readily accept.