By Prof. Jose Maria Sison
As early as April 2014, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services warned against the development of the El Niño phenomenon in the Philippines, arising from unusually warm ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean and possibly causing drastic reduction and rainfall and severe drought. On January 20, 2016, the province of North Cotabato and other provinces were placed under a state of calamity due to the El Niño phenomenon already drying up large areas of agricultural land.
Philippine government agencies promised billions of pesos to aid farming communities affected by El Niño. The money was supposed to be used for food relief, cloud seeding operations, managing water resources, distribution of early maturing rice varieties and other measures. Some 11,000 peasant families of North Cotabato were promised 15,000 sacks of rice as food relief. But when they were already suffering from hunger for months, the provincial government authorities from the ruling Liberal Party of the Aquino regime refused to distribute the rice.
Thus, on March 30, 2016, some 6,000 peasants and Indigenous people from different towns of North Cotabato staged a demonstration along the Davao-Cotabato highway in Kidapawan City, in front of the Spottswood Methodist Center in order to demand what had been promised to them: the release of 15,000 sacks of rice as calamity assistance; subsidy of rice, seedlings, fertilizers, and pesticides until the drought ends; and the withdrawal of police brigades and military troops from their communities.
The thousands of demonstrators were confronted by the the Special Weapons and Tactics team and the Special Action Forces of the Philippine National Police. On March 31, while still asleep in the wee hours of the morning, they were awakened by loud announcements from the police repeatedly telling them to go home and subsequently threatening them with mass arrest. Throughout the day until the following day, the police subjected them to physical harassments and provocations, including random abductions.
The all-out violent dispersal of the peasant demonstrators were carried out on April 1. The first wave of police attacks consisted of truncheon beatings and water cannons from fire trucks. The people defended themselves only with bare hands and stones. The second wave of police attacks consisted of indiscriminate bursts of gunfire. Even those already beaten down by truncheons or fleeing were gunned down.
Two unarmed peasants were murdered, several scores were injured or arrested. Twenty-seven of those arrested were women, including three pregnant and two elderly. A large number of the demonstrators were able to seek refuge at a religious compound but were immediately encircled by hundreds of armed personnel of the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines who cut off the electricity and prevented food and medical supplies from entering.
The starving peasant masses and Indigenous people did not get the food relief and seedlings that they had been promised. Instead, they received gunfire, death, injuries and arrests. Worst of all, they are being misrepresented by the entire propaganda machinery of the US-supported Aquino regime as the criminal aggressors instead of being the unarmed victims of state terrorism. They are also being falsely depicted as either communist agitators or as dupes of communists.
The injustice inflicted to the victims of human rights violations has been so gross and brazen that instantly the broad masses of the Filipino people have become outraged and have vigorously demanded justice. Philippine human rights organizations and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle have taken the initiative to call for a Global Day of Action for Justice on April 8 for the victims of the brutal attack on the peasants and Indigenous people in Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
The people are demanding respect for fundamental rights to free speech and assembly, the immediate independent investigation of the brutal police attack, compensation for the victims and the free medical treatment of those injured, the withdrawal of the police and military units surrounding the religious compound where the demonstrators have found refuge, the immediate release of food relief and other calamity assistance to the peasants and the accountability of the provincial governor Emmylou Mendoza.
In the meantime, some national officials of the US-Aquino regime have shed crocodile tears only to allow the police to investigate themselves and whitewash their own criminal actions. They have not called the governor of North Cotabato to account for ordering the attack on the demonstrators. Mendoza is also accountable for the absence of food relief and other resources that ought to be readily available for calamity assistance. The people know that several layers of corrupt bureaucrats have privately pocketed the public funds earmarked for that purpose.
Among the imperialist powers, the US is most culpable for the global warming that has made the El Niño phenomenon more devastating than ever before. The extreme and unnecessary violence of the police forces is also the result of their militarization under the US-promoted policy of state terrorism and within the framework of Oplan Bayanihan, the US-designed strategic plan for countering the revolutionary movement and for suppressing the people.
The US-instigated neoliberal policy has aggravated the land and food problem in the Philippines because of land grabbing by foreign and domestic corporations and the penchant for expanding plantations for export crops instead of food crops for the Filipino people. The US, in so many ways, including local landlordism is responsible for the worsening economic and social plight of the peasants and Indigenous peoples.
This content was originally published by teleSUR at the following address: