Bloody repression of peasant protests in Mindanao
Three were killed when security forces opened fire on farmers and lumad (indigenous people) who were blockading a highway in Kidapawan City, on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, April 1. At least 116 were injured, with 18 hospitalized, and 88 missing, including minors, according to local rights workers, according to Ariel Casilao of the Anakpawis political party. "Most of the injured suffered minor wounds and are here at the church compound," she said, refering to a local Methodist church that was supporting the protesters. The day after the repression, the church sheltering the wounded survivors was searched by police, ostensibly looking for weapons.
The direct action was called to demand a government response to a severe drought in the region. Activist and senatorial candidate Walden Bello condemned the attack "in the strongest possible terms," and warned of a "looming famine" in Mindanao due to this year's severe El Niño phenomenon. "This tragedy is a reflection not just of the failure of government to respond to the urgent needs of its people but a manifestation of the sad and declining state of agriculture in this country, particularly in Mindanao, brought about by years of government neglect." (InterAksyon, April 2; InterAksyon.com, April 1)
North Cotabato province Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza came under criticism for defending the repression. The protesters were demanding government subsidies, and 15,000 sacks of rice Mendoza had pledged as relief. Said Mendoza: "The local government units have already started initiating relief operations for drought-stricken communities before this happened. There was no need for them to gather in Kidapawan City for a rally. Well, maybe because many of them are not from the province." (Philippine Star, April 1)
The day after the violence, Mendoza added: "There was no dispersal, only clearing operations... We were not telling them to stop the rally. We just want to reclaim the national highway. There was a warning shot because if you can see the video, we have three PNP personnel hit by the rallyists and that was a warning shot for them. While it's true that there were two casualties from the rallyists, the medico legal [medical examiner] for sure will tell you that it came from the stoning that was initiated by the rallyists." (ANC, April 2)
Edre Olalia, secretary-general National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), responded: "In stubbornly justifying the pre-meditated attack on unarmed starving protesting farmers as a 'clearing operation' purportedly due to a lack of a permit to peaceably assemble which she is empowered to issue in the first place, North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza exhibits unparalleled remorselessness, arrogance, and self-righteousness. By saying that the issue 'is not about rice,' she betrays herself as an aristocratic mata pobre [killer of the poor]." (Inquirer, April 2)
The Peasant Movement of the Philippines (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, KMP) named President Benigno Simeon Aquino as complicit in the repression. "This violence against farmers and Lumad people will be the mark of BS Aquino administration. Farmers are demanding for food and land but the haciendero government responded with bullets," said KMP chair Rafael Mariano. (KMP, April 1)