2 farmers killed in clash in Kidapawan protest

Lore Mae Andong, ABS-CBN News Central Mindanao

Posted at Apr 01 2016 03:20 PM | Updated as of Apr 01 2016 09:20 PM

2 farmers killed in clash in Kidapawan protest 1
Scene from a violent dispersal in Kidapawan City. Several wounded as protesters and authorities clashed. Photo courtesy of Kilab Multimedia

KIDAPAWAN CITY (UPDATED) - Two farmers protesting the alleged lack of assistance from the local government died during a violent dispersal at the national highway in Kidapawan City, Cotabato province on Friday morning.

One of the fatalities died after bring struck on the head with a rock while the second fatality died of heat stroke, according to provincial health officer Dr. Eva Rabaya.

Thousands of farmers, who had barricaded the national highway for three days, were demanding the release of 15,000 sacks of rice subsidy after their crops failed amid the worsening El Niño in the province.

The protesters urged North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza to show up and face them, and the official then sought to negotiate.

At 10:30 a.m., the police gave an ultimatum to the protesters to clear the area in five minutes.

After negotiations with protest leaders failed, police started dispersing the farmers who stood their ground.

The Bureau of Fire Protection also used water cannons on the protesters.

Some of the farmers fought back by throwing stones at the police.

"Loud bursts of gunfire erupted," Norma Capuyan, leader of a farmers' group, told reporters. "There was heavy volume of fire. We ran to a church compound and the police surrounded us."

About a dozen were wounded in the legs and shoulders, Capuyan said, adding the police first tried to disperse them with water cannon but started shooting when they held their ground.

Some 40 people from the government side were also injured in the clash. Mendoza claimed that first shot was fired by the protesters.

Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor, Philippine National Police spokesman, said two police officers are under critical condition "due to head trauma, reportedly due to attacks initiated from the assembled crowd."

Mayor said several protesters were arrested, including an alleged commander of the New People's Army from Barangay Basak, Magpet, North Cotabato.

Some of the protesters sought shelter at the United Methodist Church after the dispersal.

2 farmers killed in clash in Kidapawan protest 2
A wounded protester is helped by his comrades after a violent dispersal of a rally in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato on Friday. Several people were wounded when the protesters, demanding help from the government because of the effects of drought on their farms, were dispersed by authorities. Kilab Multimedia photo

A leader of the group Bayan sustained a head wound before he was rescued by a former government official from North Cotabato.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) earlier claimed the police used guns to drive away the protesters, with some being wounded on the legs, stomach and arms.

Mayor said police officers who conduct civil disturbance management (CDM) operations are instructed "not to carry firearms."

"Other officers in the area not directly involved in CDM and who carry firearms are also trained to exert maximum tolerance. In extreme cases, however, especially when the lives of our officers are under immediate threat, all of our policemen are trained to be vigilant and to act out their mandate to maintain peace and order in a calibrated manner," he added.

"According to DILG Secretary Sarmiento, the provincial government had assumed responsibility for the law enforcement operations pertaining to the mass action on the Davao-Cotabato highway... Accountability is being established and appropriate sanctions will be meted out if justified by the findings of the investigation," said Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma. - With a report from Reuters