April 25, 2016
MANILA, Philippines – At least 87 government officials, including police and military officers, were charged on Monday before the Office of the Ombudsman in Mindanao for the bloody dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City, North Cotabato last April 1.
Among those facing the complaints were Interior Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, Kidapawan Mayor Joseph Evangelista, and several police and military officials like Director General Ricardo Marquez and 39th Infantry Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Arnold Argamosa.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), who assisted the 22 individuals in filing the complaints, said aside from murder, frustrated and attempted murder, the officials are also facing raps for torture and physical injuries, illegal arrest and detention as well as other civil and political rights violations.
Complainants also asked the Ombudsman to investigate the said government officials, including Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, for possible misappropriation of calamity funds and failure to place the proper measures that could have mitigated the effects of El Niño phenomenon.
Aside from the criminal liabilities, the complainants said they must be also administratively liable for violations under the provisions of Republic Act 6713 or An Act Establishing a Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
Families of those who were shot dead, farmers and individuals who sustained gunshot wounds, and the elderly and pregnant women arrested and detained by the police were among those who filed the two sets of complaints.
The street demonstration of more than 4,000 farmers in North Cotabato seeking government aid to survive the El Niño drought started on March 30.
They demanded for government assistance after drought hit their farms.
But instead of delivering aid, police stormed the protesters’ barricade in Kidapawan City last April 1 and opened fire, killing two people and wounding more than 40 others.
Police also locked up at least 79 farmers and ordinary residents after the dispersal.
One of the complainants, Gerry Alborme, spokesperson of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-North Cotabato, said they filed the case as part of their “continuing search for justice and battle against impunity.”
“Our struggle for food, land and justice is legitimate, and we will pursue justice in every possible way,” said Alborme.
“We are not cowed by various sinister government attempts to harass and intimidate us and to cover-up for these officials’ accountability,” he added.
Another complainant, Ebao Sulang, father of slain farmer Darwin Sulang, slammed “President Aquino and his Liberal Party for employing all means” to stop them from seeking accountability.
He also lamented that the President seemed to have absolved the police for the crimes committed against the farmers as he earlier defended the police force in the clash. – RBA