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The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) found that both protesters and government officials have erred during the violent dispersal of farmers in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato last April 1 which left two farmers dead, two police officers seriously wounded and scores of farmers and police officers injured.
In a 46-page report released on Wednesday, the CHR noted that the protest was sparked by the "farmers' right to ask for and claim their right to receive rice from the government" as their crops withered due to the harsh El Niño weather phenomenon, compounded by the failure of the provincial government led by North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Talino-Mendoza to release food supplies despite the availability of resources.
READ: Cops, farmers clash in Kidapawan; 2 dead
"Access to rice by the farmers-protesters was not timely addressed. Neither was a gradual nor prompt, much less sustainable, response from the government felt by the farmers-protesters. The State, as duty-bearer, failed to address the hunger problem of the farmers-protesters and their families, who are holders of the right to adequate," the CHR said in its report.
Meanwhile, the CHR also cited evidence proving that some protesters were induced to join the rally "through deceit by the organizers and 'unknown persons' who went to various areas to persuade people to join the protest." It lamented that such "instrumentalization" of the poor should be stopped.
"People cannot be viewed as mere tools for the promotion of an agenda, propaganda or for a campaign. Their free consent, based upon full information of all the purposes as well as manner of the proposed action, must at all times be obtained," it said.
The rights body also noted that while the organizers did not apply for a rally permit in accordance with BP 880 and blocked the national highway, the protesting farmers were "acting to avoid an evil or injury to themselves" as they are suffering from hunger.
"Though it can be argued that the farmers-protesters' assembly blocked the highway and, in effect, curtailed the use of the same by the public, the protesting farmers were hungry---their families were in danger of suffering illnesses and even death from starvation."
READ: 6,000 North Cotabato farmers block highway, demand food, farm aid; cops blame activists
"At their current state, it can be said that the farmers-protesters, as rights-holders, were acting to avoid an evil or injury to themselves and their families and the protest action was their desperate move to call on government to immediately fulfill its obligation to provide assistance in the time of calamity," the report read.
'PNP fired first shot'
CHR's investigation found that violence sparked after the members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) dispersed the farmers-protesters, prompting the latter to retaliate with rocks.
"It is clear that the violence erupted after the PNP called for the dispersal of the farmers-protesters. It was the dispersal with the use of water cannons initiated by the police that agitated the young men from the group of farmers-protesters to start throwing stones and wood planks at the police," the group said.
With this finding, the CHR slammed the authorities for not implementing "peaceful dispersal, negotiations and maximum tolerance prescribed under the PNP Operations Manual."
They also maintained that nothing can justify PNP's bringing and using weapons during the dispersal.
"Whatever violence may have come from the side of the farmers-protesters, there is no justifying the use by the PNP of firearms, and from all narratives, even those from the witnesses of the PNP itself, it is clear that the PNP fired the first shot, in a situation where they were not even supposed to bring guns," the report read.
It also noted that the PNP erred in using unjustified and excessive force in the arrest and detention of the farmers-protesters.
The CHR concluded that the PNP officers led by the P/SSupt. Alexander C. Tagum and Kidapawan City Chief of Police P/Supt. John Miridel R. Calinga committed civil and political rights violations against the farmers-protesters and innocent civilians.
On the other hand, the CHR called out Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas Regional Chair Pedro Arnado, Regional Chair, Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipinas Cotabato Chairperson Jerry Alborme; and Apo Sanadawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa Chairperson Norma Capuyan for the "instrumentalization" of some farmers-protesters and failing to secure their safety.
The CHR said it will provide financial assistance for the families of the two victims killed and 10 persons injured.
The report will then be forwarded to the Office of the Ombudsman and the Justice Department, the CHR said. RAM
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