Two years after violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan, justice remains elusive

On April 1, 2016, farmer Darwin Sulang and Kidapawan resident Enrico Fabligar were killed when rounds of bullets were fired by the police and military at the 6,000 farmers asserting the release of rice and food aid for their families in Kidapawan, North Cotabato. Scores were wounded; more than 80 were illegally arrested and detained, including pregnant women and the elderly. Police and military surrounded the hospitals and a church compound, harassing the farmers. (For full account of incident: http://www.karapatan.org/files/Final%20%20-%20NFHM%20report.pdf

Kidapawan FK

(Photo of Victor Lumundang Jr.)

Adding insult to injury, then Secretary of the Department of Interior and Local Government Mel Senen Sarmiento, an alter ego of President Benigno Aquino III, awarded medals to the police officers who conducted the violent dispersal on April 2, a day after the carnage. Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza also reportedly paid off village officials to mobilize people to a support rally on April 4 for the police and local government officials responsible for the violent dispersal. These public officials have resorted to various ploys to swing public opinion in their favor while conveniently tiptoeing around the fact that negligence, unpreparedness, and corruption have caused the drought to starve off thousands of farmers and their families. They have done everything except address the fundamental problem, which brought the farmers to the barricades.

Senate hearings were conducted, and the Commission on Human Rights had an investigation. The survivors testified on the accountability of the local government, the police, and the military. The detained farmers still face the absurd and fabricated charges against them in court. And while strong and compelling evidence were provided in the administrative and criminal charges filed on April 25, 2016 against the perpetrators, not one government official has been made to account for what is known as the Kidapawan carnage. 

Executive officials have not retracted the awards they gave to the police officers. North Cotabato police director Supt. Alexander Tagum was eventually placed as Davao City Police Chief. Taliño-Mendoza remains as the provincial governor. The counterinsurgency program that has emboldened State forces to kill, maim and illegally arrest civilians continues. Under Duterte, there have been at least 110 peasants killed. 

From a callous landlord President to another murderous and brutal President, nothing has changed. Rights violations are committed with even greater impunity. The quality of lives of the Filipino peasantry has not improved. 

Yet, we remember. For in remembering, we  are reminded of the courage of the Filipino peasants to confront the State for what is truly theirs - their right to own the land that they till, the right to food and decent living, their right to protest and march, their right to fight for the welfare of their families. In remembering, we are driven to pursue justice, even if the system continues to favor the rich and those in power. In remembering, we reaffirm support for the aspirations and struggle of peasants and the Filipino people for a just and lasting peace, amid authoritarian regimes like Duterte’s.

Reference: Cristina Palabay, Secretary General, 0917-3162831

Karapatan Public Information Desk, 0918-9790580