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NAPC says Kidapawan violence avoidable as rights advocates blast 'martial law' in Cotabato capital

Heavily armed police personnel guard a hospital in Kidapawan City. (photo from Karapatan)
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA, Philippines -- The National Anti-Poverty Commission said on Tuesday that the violence that broke out in Kidapawan City last Friday “could have been prevented if the humanitarian response to families and communities affected by El Niño was delivered in a timely manner.”

Meanwhile, human rights and civil society groups conducting a fact-finding mission into the bloody dispersal of protesting farmers and lumad in Kidapawan slammed what they called the “undeclared martial law” in the Cotabato provincial capital, part of an alleged attempt to cover up the role of the security forces and government for the violence that left at least three people dead and close to 200 injured, including police personnel.

In a statement, the NAPC’s Victims of Disasters and Calamities Sectoral Council condemned the dispersal, saying “justice should be served,” and “those responsible for the atrocities should be brought before the law.”

It also urged the Commission on Human Rights and “all concerned government agencies to conduct an impartial investigation on the incident” and the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local government units “to immediately provide food needed by the families who were affected by the drought.”

The Department of Agriculture was also asked to “immediately help the farmers in the recovery and rehabilitation of their farms.”

The NACP noted that the state weather bureau had earlier “announced that many communities in different regions will experience long periods of drought in February 2016” because of the El Niño, which “is a slow-onset disaster” easier to address than typhoons and earthquakes.

In Kidapawan, the fact-finding mission, which includes doctors, lawyers and paralegals, and joined by Representatives Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela, entered its second day Tuesday visiting injured protesters in Kidapawan hospitals and the 74 persons detained at the Kidapawan gym and convention center, as well as the hundreds of others who sought sanctuary at the United Methodist Church in the city.

The human rights group Karapatan, in a statement, said members of the mission noted “maneuvers” by the police and local government “to destroy evidence by clearing the crime scene through burning of personal effects confiscated from the protesters during and after the dispersal, and preventing paralegals and quick reaction teams from leaving the Spotswood compound to gather important details and documentation on the incident and provide emergency support to the victims and their families.”

Ephraim Cortez, assistant secretary general for legal services of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, also said mission members were “barred by some hospital officials from accessing victims confined in their facilities, reportedly in compliance to the directive of the local government.”

Mission members also said social workers were allowed to talk to the detainees without their counsel, which Cortez said violates Republic Act 7438 and was apparently “meant to coerce and influence the victims to absolve the police from accountability.”

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas secretary general Antonio Flores decried the presence of armored personnel carriers, the “military and police encampment within the United Methodist Church compound, and police in full battle gear roving the hospitals where farmer-victims are confined and places where farmers who were illegally arrested (are) currently detained,” all signs of “a state of undeclared martial law in Kidapawan.”

“It is preposterous that a church compound -- a sanctuary for many victims and those seeking the kind intervention of the church -- has been made into a military/police camp since April 1,” Rev. Marie Sol Villalon, Co-Chair of the Promotion of Church People’s Response, said.