The Alternative Law Groups (ALG) joins the public outrage against the violent dispersal of the protest by farmers including women and indigenous peoples in Kidapawan City, Cotabato on April 1, 2016. The incident shows the clear link between the communities' assertion of their economic, social and cultural rights, and the violation of their civil and political rights. The protesters were merely asserting their right to food. Instead they were violently dispersed resulting in deaths and arrests.
It is undisputed that, due to El Niño, almost a quarter of our country has been experiencing drought since the start of the year, largely affecting Mindanao. North Cotabato’s Crop Damage Report Summary as of February 17 listed 36,915 farmers affected. In fact, the province was placed under a state of calamity on January 19. This situation led to the assembly in Kidapawan, which started on March 30. It was a peaceful demonstration with a legitimate call, in the exercise of the people's constitutional right to peaceably assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
As a coalition of legal resource non-governmental organizations that adhere to the principles and values of alternative or developmental law, we express solidarity with our fellow human rights defenders in expressing indignation against the violations of the North Cotabato farmers and indigenous peoples’ right to food, security, and freedom of assembly.
Without further initiatives to resolve issues that contribute to threats to food and human security, similar cases of human rights violations will recur not only in Kidapawan but other areas of the country.
The farmers, women, and indigenous peoples need food, assistance mitigating their drought-stricken areas, not truncheons, batons, and bullets. Proper disaster-preparedness, monitoring of the impact of drought by the national and local government, and good governance would not have led to such human rights violations.
We demand accountability from the Philippine government for not being able to conduct peaceful and proper crowd control.. Maximum tolerance, which warrants the use of only non-lethal weapons in such an operation, even in the event of violence, should have been upheld in compliance with international law and standards, and pursuant to the Philippine National Police (PNP) internal policies. The alleged escalation of aggression does not justify any ill treatment of the protesters as well as the failed exercise of restraint, as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The same principles are also reinforced by the Philippine Public Assembly Act of 1985 (BP 880), and the police’s own Police Operational Procedures (POP).
These developments also point to gaps in efficiency in enforcing the rules of engagement of the police, especially in the so-called Civil Disturbance Management (CDM) operations, such as the incapacity of the assigned 400-member police personnel to handle an estimated 5,000 participants in the mobilization. Casualties from both sides could have been prevented with better judgment and preparation.
What happened in Kidapawan and other similar incidents that may arise unless the root causes of the problem are resolved, represent a step back in the continuing efforts to promote human rights among the ranks of the security forces, including the efforts to conduct community-based dialogues on human rights promotion and protection aimed at enhancing their relationship with local communities and civil society organizations.
We hope that the prompt response and investigation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Congress hasten further government action to sanction rights violators, while ensuring access to justice among those who were charged with various offenses as a result of taking part in the protest, especially the senior citizens, indigenous peoples and pregnant women and the dropping of charges filed against innocent protesters. We urge the concerned government agencies and human rights defenders to undertake a sustained review and reform of the security sector’s policies and practices to elevate awareness and understanding of their obligation to respect, protect and fulfill human rights.
By the Alternative Law Groups, (ALG), Inc.
Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC)
Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw (BALAOD Mindanaw)
Children’s Legal Bureau (CLB)
Environmental Legal Assistance Center, Inc. (ELAC)
Humanitarian Legal Assistance Foundation (HLAF)
Human Rights Unlimited (HRU)
KAISAHAN Tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan (KAISAHAN)
Kanlungan Center Foundation
Legal Rights And Natural Resources Center-Kasama sa Kalikasan/Friends of the Earth-Philippines (LRC-KsK/FoE-Phils.)
Paglilingkod Batas Pangkapatiran Foundation (PBPF)
Participatory Research Organization of Communities and Education Towards Struggle for Self-Reliance (PROCESS) Foundation-PANAY
Tanggapang Panligal ng Katutubong Pilipino (PANLIPI )
Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Project
Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (SALIGAN)
Tanggol Kalikasan (TK)
Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Center for Policy Research and Education
Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB)