“Is that vandalism? There is a message. Maybe you should read it.” – Antonio Flores, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
TIMES ST., Quezon City – A scuffle erupted between the police and participants of the Mindanao people’s caravan to Manila at the protest action in front of President Aquino’s house in Times Street.
Participants of the Manilakbayan marched from Quezon Avenue to the Aquino family’s home in Times Street in the morning of Nov. 29. They were able to hold a program for one hour despite attempts by the police to disperse and contain them.
On the path in front of the gate, a Lakbayani wrote in black paint: “Noynoy patalsikin sa pwesto” (Oust Noynoy).
“Is that vandalism? There is a message. Maybe you should read it,” Antonio Flores, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, told Quezon City Police District (QCPD) station commander Pedro Sanchez during the dialogue.
Flores was already inside the protesters’ jeepney when he was arrested, as the scuffle ensued at the end of the program. Sanchez said Flores was the leader.
An indignation rally was subsequently held outside the QCPD headquarters in Camp Karingal to demand Flores’ release.
Seven protesters were injured during the scuffle. One was brought to the hospital.
Police Senior Supt. Joel Pagdilao said they would charge Flores with direct assault against persons in authority, illegal assembly and serious physical injuries. Four more leaders, he told the media, would be charged as identified in the videos the police gathered.
Police held up four vehicles, one of which had 10 protesters on board, including two four-year-old children. In another vehicle were at least 16 farmers from Hacienda Luisita, including survivors and relatives of those killed in the 2004 massacre.
Sanchez earlier told the protesters that they can “explain” at Camp Karingal. During the dialogue with Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate , the police officer said they would only detain Flores as “he is the leader and should be held responsible for the actions of others.”
Protesters who were initially barred from leaving were allowed to go after the negotiations, which lasted for more than an hour.
In a statement, Jomorito Guaynon of indigenous peoples group Kalumaran and spokesman of Manilakbayan, said they were putting to task the Aquino government to act on their message to stop the militarization in Mindanao.
There are 55 battalions or at least 60 percent of the troops of the Armed Forces of the Philippines deployed in Mindanao.
On Nov. 24, the Lakbayanis tied kodaw – a knotted rattan strip used by indigenous peoples to communicate – on the barbed wires in Mendiola. The kodaw had five knots and a red strip of cloth, indicating a demand for a response in five days.
Guaynon said the absence of response from the Aquino government means that it does not see the urgency in their calls. Worse, he added, that “he does not serve the interests of his ‘bosses.��”
The protesters cited the recent evacuation of families from Claveria town in Misamis Oriental, who were forced to leave their homes and walk in the forest for two straight days as they flee from the military operations, aerial bombings, artillery bombardments and strafing of homes.
In Caraga and Southern Mindanao Region, the human rights group Karapatan documented 11 cases of forcible evacuation this year alone. These forced evacuations, according to Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan – Southern Mindanao, affected 4,735 individuals, mostly women and children.
During the press briefing, Pagdilao criticized the Lakbayanis for vandalizing outside the president’s home.
“But that is only paint. How about the hundreds who were killed? How about those who are charged with trumped-up cases?” Suazo told the media.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, told the media that the violent dispersal is the response of the Aquino government to the concrete and legitimate demands of the people of Mindanao.
Palabay vowed to bring the human rights violations before the international community.
Florida Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and one of the protesters, said: “There is no peace in Mindanao. There is no peace in Hacienda Luisita. Terror and militarization still reign in our communities.”
Guaynon, for his part, said the massive deployment of military and paramilitary troops are intended so that large-scale mining and plantation could set foothold on the community.
He added that if Pres. Aquino “remains deaf to our call. We will continue with our cause for peace and food security even if it would cost us our lives. We will let the oppressed people decide what kind of leader he is.”