THE police killing of three farmers in Kidapawan City who joined a protest last week to demand food aid in the face of a five-month drought is proof positive that President Benigno Aquino III and his chosen successor have lost the right to govern.
After all, if a government cannot meet its fundamental obligation to protect its own people, what possible reason do we have for keeping it in power?
Faced with the terrible realization that they would be held accountable for the deaths, government officials and the police turned to the time-tested tactic of finger pointing. They blamed leftist groups for encouraging the farmers to gather as they did to blockade the Davao-Cotabato highway over a four-day period to prod the government into helping them. They suggested that a presidential candidate from the same region was politicizing the farmers. Like the boy who cried wolf, they shouted communist infiltration. The President, on the other hand, chose to remain silent—allowing his lieutenants to deal with the fallout.
But above this noise and static, several facts ring true and cannot be denied—not even by the authorities.
First, the farmers and their families in North Cotabato had been suffering from a drought brought about by the El Niño phenomenon since November 2015.
Second, in the five months since the drought started, neither the national nor local governments did enough to help them, despite numerous statements that they were prepared for the El Niño and were undertaking drought-mitigation measures. The proof of this failure is simple: no farmer would leave his own farm to petition the government for sacks of rice if they and their families were not hungry.
Third, the provincial and city government could have easily defused the situation by giving food aid to the suffering farmers, who simply wanted some 15,000 sacks of rice to tide them over the long dry spell. Instead, they let the protest last four days, then ordered its dispersal by force.
Fourth, the use of lethal weapons and live ammunition—such as the M-16 rifles that the police in Kidapawan were seen carrying—for a crowd dispersal operation violates the principle of “maximum tolerance” that the authorities claimed to be following.
None of what the government or the police are saying now affects these truths, or diminishes their significance.
Even granting that leftist groups had egged the farmers on, they would not have budged if they weren’t hungry—and there is no law against private groups or individuals helping the less fortunate.
If the local government or the national government had done their jobs over the last few months in the first place, the protest would never have been organized, and the three farmers might still be alive today. In fact, if they delivered the sacks of rice as the farmers had sought on the first day of the blockade, the protesters would most likely have dispersed peacefully to their homes.
Sadly, none of what happened was the fault of the farmers whom the police now want to arrest, or of the leftist groups that helped them.
To add insult to injury, one day after the bloody incident, the Interior secretary handed out medals to the police who were involved in the violent dispersal—even before the impartial investigation he promised had started.
The President’s silence, which can be interpreted as a tacit approval of the way things went down, is a clear sign of failed leadership. That his chosen successor has failed to decisively condemn the killings and runs on a platform of continuing Mr. Aquino’s dubious program of government is reason enough not to vote him into office when we go to the polls next month. Neither of them have the right to govern.