Cotabato farmers sue 94 police, gov’t officials over Kidapawan dispersal

Ebao Sulang, father of slain farmer Darwin, leads filing of charges against local and national government officials. (Photo courtesy of Cristina Palabay)
Ebao Sulang, father of slain farmer Darwin, leads filing of charges against local and national government officials. (Photo courtesy of Cristina Palabay)

The farmers filed charges of murder, frustrated and attempted murder, torture and physical injuries, illegal arrest and detention and other violations of civil and political rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and redress of grievances.

By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – North Cotabato farmers filed criminal charges against at least 94 national and local government officials, and police and military officers today, April 25, before the Office of the Ombudsman in Davao City over the bloody dispersal early this month.

The farmers filed charges of murder, frustrated and attempted murder, torture and physical injuries, illegal arrest and detention and other violations of civil and political rights, including the right to peaceful assembly and redress of grievances.

“Our struggle for food, land and justice is legitimate, and we will pursue justice in every possible way. We are not cowed by various sinister government attempts to harass and intimidate us and to cover-up for these officials’ accountability. We filed this case as part of our continuing search for justice and battle against impunity,” said Gerry Alborme, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-North Cotabato spokesperson, and one the complainants.

The farmers were assisted by human rights lawyers from the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM), National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and Public Interest Law Center (PILC), and paralegals from Karapatan and Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC).

The first set of complaint was filed by five farmers for murder, frustrated murder, three counts of attempted murder, torture, violation of the rights of detainees, obstruction of justice, gross misconduct, grave abuse of authority, gross oppression and for conduct unbecoming of a public officer.

The cases were against 17 respondents, who included Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, Kidapawan City Mayor Joseph Evangelista, ranking members of regional and national police and Philippine Army, and a military agent named Charlie Pasco, who testified before the senate hearing last week and claimed that slain farmer Darwin Sulang was a New People’s Army (NPA) member and was armed when he was shot dead.

The second set of complaint was filed by 17 farmers against 77 members of police, military and government officials for their illegal arrest and detention, torture, and perjury under oath. The complaint would also include “all other crimes that the respondents have violated” as found by the Ombudsman.

Respondents for the second set of complaint also included ranking local and national government officials, such as Gov. Mendoza and Sec. Sarmiento, and other ranking state security forces.

Aside from the criminal liabilities of said government officials, lawyers assisting the farmers said in a joint statement that government officials must also be held liable to various administrative complaints.

At least two were killed in the violent dispersal of farmers who came from various communities in North Cotabato. Dozens others were also injured, where eight sustained gunshot wounds. There were also 81 protesting farmers who were arrested, detained, and charged with direct assault.

Aquino leading the cover up

One of the complainants, Ebao Sulang, father of slain farmer Darwin Sulang, said, “Mr. Aquino and his Liberal Party are employing all means to stop us from seeking accountability.”

Last April 23, President Aquino pinned the blame of the violent dispersal on progressive organizations who supposedly duped the farmers into joining the protest.

“It seems that somebody organized this to a create violence. That is what we need to investigate. They did this to exploit the people,” Aquino was quoted in a news report.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that as expected, Aquino “took the escape route by absolving the police of any responsibility.”

“The farmers affected by drought, who have long been victims of feudal and semi-feudal exploitation, have no other choice but to organize and to demand for government subsidy and aid,” Palabay said, adding that if the government cannot heed their calls, the Aquino administration “cannot fault the farmers who may opt to side with groups that give provide them an alternative to this poverty-stricken and violent society.”

No disaster response

The farmers called on the Office of the Ombudsman to conduct investigation against officials who may have violated Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act for the negligence and failure to implement measures that could have mitigated the effects of the long months of dry spell and for possible misappropriation of calamity fund.

Concerned government agencies have warned that this year’s El Niño would be the worst in recent history. The Cotabato provincial government has announced a state of calamity as early as January this year.

In their complaint, farmers cited Resolution 014 which the Cotabato provincial board passed on Jan. 20, 2016, estimating 27,558 hectares of agricultural lands affected. It estimated also that the crops destroyed due to the dry spell amounted to P238 million ($13.5 million).

But the protesting farmers, mostly small peasants without alternative livelihood, said they did not receive any help from the government. Their crops have all dried up due to drought. Just before the violent dispersal, the provincial government offered a mere three kilos of rice per quarter to the farmers.

On the other hand, during the senate hearing last week, a representative from the regional office of the National Food Authority said there is more than enough supply of rice even if El Niño would continue until July this year. The agency, however, said they could not provide rice to the farmers because they do not have a calamity fund. ()

Share This Post