(UPDATED) -- Two persons were killed and at least 33 others were injured, including 20 police officers, in a bloody dispersal operation of 5,000 farmers who barricaded the Cotabato-Davao Highway in Kidapawan City on Friday.
A report from alternative Kilab Multimedia said the farmers were reportedly massed up in the area since Wednesday morning to dialogue with North Cotabato officials regarding the release of relief support after the province declared a state of calamity last January due to the drought brought by El Niño.
The human barricade turned bloody when members from the Philippine National Police (PNP) allegedly fired their M16 rifles to disperse the crowd.
Rotelio Daelto of Barangay Binuongan in Arakan died after he was hit on his neck, while Victor Inuma Lumuwandang, who also suffered a gunshot wound, died before reaching a hospital.
Bagong Alyansa ng Makabayan in Southern Mindanao Region (Bayan-SMR) spokesperson Sheena Duazo was among those who sustained injuries during the incident as she was struck with a rock on her head. All of them are now being treated at a hospital in Kidapawan City.
The Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), in a text message to Sun.Star Davao, said that Cotabato Governor Emmylou "Lala" Taliño-Mendoza, the police, and the government must be held accountable for the carnage in Kidapawan.
"The murderous response to the hungry farmers' barricade has no legal or moral justification. People driven to protest due to hunger do not merit a death sentence," the KMU statement read.
Gabriela Women's Party Representative Emmi De Jesus also expressed that they "strongly condemn the government's brutal response to the farmer's demand for relief and aid".
Negotiations reportedly failed for the past two days as provincial officials failed to give in to the demands of the farmers including a rice provision.
Mendoza refused to meet the protesters in the rally site, specifically in front of the Methodist Church. Instead, she waited for the protesting farmers’ leaders to come to the office of Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista for a dialogue.
A meeting happened Wednesday night but the farmers insisted the government give them 15,000 bags of rice or they will continue the barricade.
Mendoza said that she could not give the protesting farmers their demand, as part of the calamity funds had been allocated to drought-affected farmers while the rest is left for any unexpected calamity this year.
Mendoza also said that the protesting farmers had no rally permit for their barricade.
PNP Spokesperson Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor, in a statement, said that two of their officers were also injured during the standoff and are in critical condition due to the alleged attacks initiated by the assembled crowd.
"The first shot came from the protesters," Mendoza told reporters.
He said that PNP officers are trained to engage such assemblies with maximum tolerance as dialogue is always their primary recourse.
"We also note that officers who conduct Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) operations are instructed not to carry firearms," Mayor said.
The police official concluded his statement by reiterating that an investigation on the incident is ongoing and that they will update the public on any finding.
"The public may rest assured that that any violation of PNP rules and regulations shall be meted the appropriate penalty. Likewise, we are committed to holding anyone responsible for this tragic incident responsible," Mayor stated.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas-Southern Mindanao Region (KMP-SMR) Chairperson Pedro Arnado, in a phone interview with Sun.Star Davao on Friday, said the protesters are currently seeking refuge inside the compound of the Methodist Center in the area and were assembling marshalls to determine if how many among the protesters went missing after they fled during the commotion.
Arnado narrated that they had engaged in a second dialogue with Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista, the city police chief, and a barangay chieftain on Thursday after the first attempt failed and that was where they had been told that the authorities will be forced to disperse the human barricade due to numerous formal complaints that the Kidapawan police office received.
Five minutes after the dialogue, Arnado said that a fire truck stationed in the picket area sprayed water among those who had blocked the road which allegedly triggered the protesters to fight back by throwing stones at the fire truck.
Shortly after that, Arnado said the policemen and the farmers were striking each other with batons and rocks and the cops began to fire their guns.
In a seperate interview, Norma Capuyan, the chairperson of Apo Sandawa Lumadnong Panaghiusa in Cotabato, said that they are still tracing up other farmers, adding that their initial list revealed that 60 farmers who participated in the barricade were missing after they fled from the scene due to fear.
The initial list of those wounded from gunshots includes:
1. Roger Imuy, 45 years old, hit in right arm, from Antipas, North Cotabato
2. Leo Deyong, 28, hit in the knee, from Magpet, North Cotabato
3. Darwin Madjao, 18, hit in the right leg, from Magpet, North Cotabato
4. Roland Jampas, 26, wounded in the mouth, from Arakan, North Cotabato
5. Alce Awi, 35, wounded in the leg
Others were identified as Mario Ansabo, 47, Ejay Salaber, 54, Ricky Maat, 23, and Rodolfo Tanyo, 61.
The farmers are from the municipalities of Arakan, Antipas, M’lang, Tulunan, Makilala and Kidapawan City. (With PNA/Sunnex)