PKP-1930 Condemns the Violent Dispersal of Farmers in Kidapawan

The Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP-1930, the Philippine Communist Party) condemns yesterday's violent dispersal by police of farmers and their supporters who were demonstrating in Kidapawan City, the capital of North Cotabato Province in Mindanao. The violence left 2 demonstrators dead and more than a hundred injured, including 23 policemen.

            About 5,000 farmers and their supporters from North Cotabato and nearby provinces have been blocking the city's main highway for the fourth straight day, to call attention to their demand for financial and rice assistance from the government, considering that North Cotabato and nearby provinces are drought-stricken.

            According to initial reports, Provincial Governor Emmylou Mendoza earlier called for a dialogue with the farmer leaders at her office to explain that the programmed assistance was ready to be distributed by barangay (village) officials who made the listing of affected farms and farmers in each community. Unfortunately, extremist protest leaders pressed their demands for government officials to appear at the protest site and to open to them the nearby government rice warehouse, and refused to negotiate or to heed the call for farmers to go back to their barangays to await the assistance.

            With no dialogue in sight, Governor Mendoza reportedly issued the order for the police to move in to clear the highway. After giving a short ultimatum for the demonstrators to remove their highway barricades, policemen with sticks and shields started to push back the demonstrators, leading to scuffles. Firemen used water cannons, the demonstrators fought back with rocks, and gunfire broke out. One of the 2 fatalities among the demonstrators was shot in the neck, around 13 other demonstrators were injured by bullets, while two of the 23 injured policemen (most of whom were hit with rocks thrown by the demonstrators) are in critical condition due to head trauma.

            The violence could have been avoided had the government, particularly the provincial government of North Cotabato led by Mendoza, moved earlier to facilitate the quick release of rice and cash assistance to drought-affected farmers. Department of Agriculture (DA) officials have earlier estimated that this province alone lost One Billion Pesos (around USD$21-Million) worth of all types of crops due to the drought. Many other provinces in the country are affected by the drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon which started to affect some parts of the country as early as November of last year. The snail-paced release of assistance to affected farmers is leading to protests in other areas.

            The PKP-1930 calls for an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation of this tragedy ; for Governor Mendoza and the provincial police officials to be held mainly accountable for the violence ; and for the immediate release by government to all drought-affected farmers, fishfarm and other small agricultural producers (nationwide, and not only in North Cotabato) of food, cash and other appropriate alternative-crop production assistance.

            The PKP-1930 believes that the forceful removal of the protestors' barricades was unnecessary, and more tolerance should have been shown instead by the concerned government officials. Just last August, the government avoided a violent confrontation by waiting for the fizzling-out of the attention-seeking demonstration of Iglesia ni Cristo members who barricaded the vital EDSA-Shaw Boulevard intersection in Metropolitan Manila. Allowing the protest in Kidapawan for a few more days, while making urgent assistance deliveries barangays (to draw the protesting farmers back to their barangays), could have led to a peaceful end to the protest.

            Unfortunately, Governor Mendoza's order for the police to abandon the “maximum tolerance” stance and to forcibly clear the highway on the fourth day of the standoff, played into the hands of some rabble-rousers who were apparently calculating that provoking bloodshed at this protest would redound to their political gain. With just a month before the holding of nationwide elections, this tragedy is bound to hound the incompetent “Noynoy” Aquino regime and its favored national candidates, on whose doors the blame for this tragedy is now conveniently being laid. On the other hand, this tragedy will give more political mileage to the equally-reactionary national candidates favored by the extremists.

            As expected, all bourgeois political candidates --- even those whose human rights records are more bloodstained than the present North Cotabato regime, and those who never lifted a finger to assist farmers in any part of the country --- are now shedding crocodile tears for the farmer-victims and the protestors in general. It is time that the demand for immediate food and financial assistance for drought-stricken farmers and other small agricultural producers –- along with the demands for production subsidies, reasonable floor prices for basic crops, free irrigation and the return to the public sector of dams and irrigation facilities –- be made part of the government's social guarantees. The candidates to the forthcoming May 9 nationwide elections who will not support these demands should be exposed as charlatans and enemies of the peasantry and of small agricultural producers.

                                                                  Secretariat of the Central Committee, PKP-1930