Farmers, militant groups in standoff with police in Koronadal

KORONADAL CITY (Updated) -- A standoff occurred Friday, April 22, between members of the Philippine National Police and militant groups who have been staging a protest in front of the agriculture office in the city.

Authorities earlier placed Koronadal under heightened alert due to the protest actions planned by farmers and members of militant groups coming from parts of Soccsksargen (Region 12).

Soccsksargen is composed of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces, as well as the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

South Cotabato Governor Daisy Avance-Fuentes said Friday that she has directed local police units to properly secure various strategic areas in the city and ensure that the protest actions would be peaceful and orderly.

Around 700 protesters, led by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), converged in front of a local hotel here on Thursday night, April 21, for the protest actions.

The group, which is initially seeking a dialogue with the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Soccsksargen, transferred Friday morning to the national highway in front of the DA regional office in Barangay Carpenter Hill.

DA’s main office building, which was only completed late last year, is situated at the site but their personnel have yet to fully transfer to the facility.

“We will not stop these protests but we will make sure that there will be no repeat of the Kidapawan City incident,” said Fuentes.

The governor was referring to the earlier bloody dispersal of protesters in Kidapawan City that resulted in the death of three people and wounding of more than a hundred others.

The protesters, who were led by members of Bayan and its allied groups, sought for the immediate release of rice stocks for farmers and other sectors who were affected by the onslaught of the continuing dry spell spawned by the El Niño phenomenon.

Ignacio Adrias, KMP regional spokesperson, told reporters that the protest actions mainly focus on calls for the government to fast-track the distribution of rice to farmers affected by the El Niño.

“We will not stop until our demands are met,” he said.

Adrias, who said they will mobilize at least 2,000 protesters, said they are initially planning to stay in the area for five days.

Fuentes clarified that the protesters are mostly from other areas in Soccsksargen and not from the province.

She said organizers had convinced some farmers from parts of the province to join the mobilization but decided to return home early Friday following a dialogue with them.

“About 95 percent of these protesters are from outside the province,” she said.

The governor appealed to local farmers and other residents who are reeling from the impact of the El Niño to remain calm and assured that the relief assistance of the local government will reach them soon. (PNA/Sunnex)

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