Since no once can deny the fact that Mindanao farmers have been hardest hit by the El Niño drought and that the government’s delayed and inadequate response to the crisis have resulted in hunger and destitution among affected farmers, Palace spin doctors and the Yellow Troll Army have focused on the “illegal”, “violent” and “politicized” actions by the drought victims who were forcibly dispersed and shot at by state security forces in Kidapawan City last April 1.
To discredit the farmers and justify the incompetence, insensitivity and use of deadly force by both national and local authorities, the following ridiculous issues are being peddled:
1. That the violence was instigated by the protesters
The fact remains that prior to the dispersal operations ordered by local authorities, the farmers and their supporters were PEACEFULLY conducting their protest along the national road in Kidapawan City. Sure it was a big hassle for motorists and residents in the area. Sure it affected business establishments. But it was peaceful until the police decided to use force to disperse the protesters.
Why occupy the national highway? Because that was the quickest way to get the attention of ALL government agencies concerned. Remember, the drought did not just affect residents of North Cotabato but nearby provinces as well. Indeed, the occupation seemed to grab everyone’s attention to the farmers’ plight until the police attacked to prevent the militant but peaceful mass action from becoming a rallying point for others with the same grievance.
The police should have known that armed with nothing but placards and loud voices, the fleeing farmers would resort to shouting and throwing sticks and stones at the police phalanx. That’s what the police’s helmets and heavy shields are for. So what did they do? Against all procedures and protocols for such situations, they shot at the fleeing protesters.
To add insult to injury, the government has filed criminal charges against the protesters while rewarding the police who instigated the violence.
2. The farmers stubbornly refused to negotiate with the LGU
The farmers demanded that 15,000 sacks of rice in the NFA warehouse be immediately distributed to drought victims in six severely affected towns in North Cotabato. The LGU rejected this and offered a measly 3 kilos of rice every three months. Of course the farmers rejected this.
There was an impasse but the communication lines were open. Farmers were demanding that Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza face them so they could come to an acceptable compromise. But she refused. Her camp says they offered a meeting with select leaders in the provincial capitol and away from the picketline. But learning from experience, the farmers themselves did not want their leaders to leave the protest area. A meeting area close to the barricade could have been arranged, but the governor had lost her patience and orders were given to disperse the protest.
3. The farmers were fooled and manipulated by the Left
In the first place, it was government itself, not the protest organizers, who promised to give rice to the drought victims. This was months ago. Funds were allocated for this, supplies purchased and already in the NFA warehouses but still, no rice. As Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala himself admitted, the rice is available but will be distributed some other time (probably nearer election day for obvious reasons). Thus the farmers went to Kidapawan not to meekly beg but to assertively demand that government fulfill its promise immediately.
As is usually the case, the Leftist activists and their organizations provided the technical, logistical and political support for the farmers in their struggle. There is nothing sinister about this, as it is an activist’s basic task to raise consciousness, organize and mobilize people to fight for their rights and interest. This is what people empowerment means.
Farmers are not stupid. They are not idiots. This was a mass mobilization they themselves helped plan and actively participated in. They knew they were there to pressure the LGU for its unfulfilled promises. The farmers prepared for a prolonged stay in case negotiations bogged down. What they didn’t expect was a cruel and heartless governor who would order their dispersal at all cost.
As to the demand to stop the militarization of their communities (as outlined in the government’s internal security progam called “Oplan Bayanihan”), this is a long-running call by the farmers in Mindanao. That it would be expressed in a farmers’ rally is expected, the grievance being that military operations did not help at all in addressing the problems of hunger and poverty.
4. There were NPAs among the farmers’ ranks
Even if there were NPA’s among the rallyists, so what? The NPA is a largely peasant army so in a mobilization of 6,000 farmers, their presence wouldn’t be surprising.
But the real question is, did they commit acts of rebellion or sedition? Did they cary guns and lead an armed attack on the provincial capitol? Of course not. They were probably too busy demanding for rice.
5. Many farmers were not from Kidapawan or North Cotabato
Again, so what? The drought has affected nearby provinces as well. Is it not proper for farmers from other affected areas to also bring their grievance to Kidapawan, knowing that whatever gains farmers in North Cotabato get would eventually redound to them?
Foisting these ridiculous side issues divert attention from the real issue – the government’s failure to address the farmers’ urgent need for food. To make matters worse, the PNP is preventing the deluge of rice and food donations from reaching the farmers. They have cordoned the church grounds where the farmers have sought refuge and prevented the distribution of said donations to the farmers. This is the most ridiculous thing of all.#