Nobody takes to the streets on a whim.
The scorching heat of the sun hit hard on their faces. They had been protesting for three days in Kidapawan City, Cotabato. They were hungry and desperate. Their families back home are waiting for their return, hoping that along with them is even a meager amount of rice to last for a couple of meals.
About 6,000 strong, they marched and barricaded the Davao-Cotabato Highway. All they had were four demands: (1) the distribution of the promised 15,000 sacks of rice; (2) free vegetable seedlings; (3) financial subsidy; and (4) an end to militarization in their communities.
They are among the hardest hit by the El Niño phenomenon. Though from seven different towns and one city, they all had a common enemy: hunger. And according to Gerry Alborme of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, this drove them to the streets to demand the rice subsidy from calamity funds.
It was April 1 — April Fools’ Day.
According to Gov. Emmylou “Lala” Talino-Mendoza, the permit of the protesters has lapsed and they needed to be dispersed. They were supposedly given five minutes to vacate the area but they stood their ground.
At 10:30 in the morning, the sound of guns going off filled the air. Protesters were sprayed with water cannons, when farmlands are all dried up because of lack of irrigation. Blood spilled. And it was in the administration of another Aquino. Coincidentally, Liberal Party presidential bet Mar Roxas was campaigning just two hours away from the site of dispersal.
Investigation and Release
The Philippine National Police Board of Inspectors (PNP-BOI) sent their own fact-finding team to ground zero to conduct an independent investigation, promising impartiality despite the involvement of their kabaro.
Earlier, the Commission on Human Rights has also started its own investigation, interviewing farmers, bystanders, and other people involved in the violent dispersal. People organizations also have their own fact-finding mission to conduct yet another independent investigation.
But while investigators are still all over the place almost a month after the fact, significant questions still remain unanswered:
- Why use live ammo instead of rubber bullets if there was truly no intent to harm?
- Why was maximum tolerance not implemented despite being part of the PNP’s Standard Operating Procedure in dispersals?
- All the protesters had were sticks and stones. Why use long arms on them especially when it is against the law?
- And how on earth are the police sure that the people they illegally detained are the ones to even warrant questioning? Protesters were randomly picked up, filed with charges without due investigation as to whether these have sufficient evidence.
Stories of Hardship
The lines on the face of Lola Valentina are a testament to years of hard work. She spoke in the vernacular. Interviewed by reporters, all she could do was hand them a note. She barely spoke Filipino.
Her story pierced the heart of many. She, along with 27 other women, was among those charged with direct assault; 7 of them were elderly, 3 were pregnant. Also charged with direct assault with frustrated homicide are senior citizens Crisanto Carlum, 72, and Gerardo Piquero, 66. They were supposedly seen with an NPA rebel.
They were detained in the Cotabato City Jail. Since most of them didn’t know how to read or write, the booking process took longer than usual. Eliza Candiban was five months along the way. Jennifer Salon couldn’t stop crying, and her husband who was outside at the time felt as helpless.
Their bail was initially set at P12,000, but was later reduced to P6,000. They don’t even have enough to buy rice, where would they find the money to raise thousands of pesos?
Through the help of private groups and individuals, singer-actor Aiza Seguerra was able to head the collection of P526,000 for the bail bond of all the 77 detained farmers. Indeed, it was a day of celebration. Tears were replaced with smiles and laughter, though temporary. Days after, 74 farmers are yet to come back to the comforts(?) of their home. Yes, they are free; but they still fear for their life and safety.
Stories of Struggle
Darwin Sulang is one of the casualties in the Kidapawan carnage. He was only 22 years old. At a young age, he’s already the family’s breadwinner. He was a farmer and a member of a farmers’ group in Arakan. But he also doubled as a security guard in Davao City. During his days off work, he decided to join the protest.
But what came back to their home was not rice subsidy, but his remains. And up to now that he has been laid to rest, the rice subsidy demand that he fought for hasn’t been met.
For his friends and family, Darwin’s life was taken away at the prime of his life. But for his father, no matter how tragic the ending, it was not all in vain. He said: “Darwin died fighting for us farmers.”
The same story happened to Victor Lumundang, Jr. — 18 years old. He should have been in school, but instead, he toils farmlands to make ends meet for his family. He knows how it is to provide food for others but not having even some for himself. Perhaps he is familiar to many. To an extent, he has become one of the faces of the Kidapawan carnage. His photo has been shared one too many times on social media.
He is one of the survivors but most critically injured in the Kidapawan bloodbath. He sustained gunshot wounds in the neck and shoulders.
But despite what he went and continues to go through, he remains hopeful and steadfast in the path of struggle. In his words:
“Pa, huwag kang mag-alala kung mamatay man ako ngayon… Ito ay parte ng pakikibaka.” (Father, don’t worry if ever I die today… This is part of the struggle.)
All Too Familiar
For farmers, this scenario is all too familiar.
The administrations of the Aquinos, from the mother to the son, has been marred by the blood of protesting farmers and peasants. Under the younger Aquino, 160 farmers have been victims of extrajudicial killings according to data from Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
Mendiola Massacre. In January 22, 1987, a year after former President Corazon Aquino rose to power following the EDSA People Power, 13 farmers were martyred in a protest action. Some 10,000 farmers took to the streets to ask Aquino to fulfill her promise of implementing a genuine agrarian reform program. But instead, they were met with bullets and a violent dispersal. The victims filed a class suit that was later on junked by the courts.
Hacienda Luisita Massacre. On November 16, 2004, seven farmers were reported killed at Hacienda Luisita. Later on, some of their supporters were also martyred, bringing the total casualties to 14.
Farmworkers from the Hacienda gathered in a picket outside the main gate of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac. Their demand was to turn over the land to them, as previously ordered by the Court. But instead, they were again met with armored personnel carriers, fire trucks, water cannons and tear gas grenades. Police fired point-blank to the front lines and even chased after strikers.
The direct link between El Niño and climate change is yet to be established, but there are reports saying that climate change is causing an increase in the frequency and intensity of El Niño. Though climate change, global warming, and El Niño are primarily environmental issues, they have socio-economic consequences as well.
First world countries such as the United States contribute a huge chunk in the total carbon emissions. Smaller countries like ours contribute very little, but bear the brunt of the consequences; case in point, the farmers of Kidapawan City.
As farmlands and fisheries dry up, so do their coffers (if any) as their main livelihood fails them. Farmers from other provinces in the region have also cried out for help because their children had to stop school. Sometimes, they don’t even have anything on their plate for a barely decent meal.
And this affects a big majority of our countrymen. As an agricultural country, 75% of our population are farm workers and peasants. That’s 75 million of our current 100 million population. There are petitions to hold the big countries accountable and make them pay monetary damages to developing countries suffering because of their carbon emissions. But these are yet to see light.
Indeed, there is something very wrong with this picture.
The issue goes beyond the fact that they are farmers. They are in many ways a representation of our nation and the dismal situation majority of us are in. They represent majority of our population, an estimated 75 million of our 100 million population. They represent the poorest of the poor, the marginalized for whom the government is supposed to work for.
They represent the uneducated who failed to claim their basic right to education because they barely even have the money to have food on their plates. They are desperate; they are starving. So much so that they decided to leave their lands (which they do not own) just to beg for rice.
But they were met with guns and water cannons, and even ended up facing charges and harassment. Indeed, there is something very wrong with this picture… when it is the farmer themselves who go hungry.
About the Author:
Edma Remillano is the Manager for Advocacies for SubSelfie.com. She is also a News Writer for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. More importantly, she is the owner of Edma’s Homemade Cupcakes. Life is what we make of it, or so she says. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.