The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday confirmed there were disturbing findings in its initial investigation on the violent dispersal of protesting famers in Kidapawan City last week.
Two farmers and a civilian were killed while hundreds including policemen were injured in the April 1 incident.
Around 500 farmers began a protest in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) office in Kidapawan City on March 29 because of the effects of El Niño to their livelihood.
The next day, the 500 farmers ballooned to 6,000 and the protesters started to occupy the Kidapawan Highway. Police were then deployed in the area to negotiate with the protesters to clear the road. By Friday, tension gripped the area that resulted in the violent dispersal.
The Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights led by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III is presently conducting a congressional inquiry on the incident.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said the purpose of the hearing is to get to the bottom of the violent confrontation between the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the farmers blocking the Kidapawan Highway on April 1. The farmers staged a rally to ask the government for rice rations and other aid after the El Niño dried up their farms and killed their crops, leaving them penniless and hungry.
During the hearing conducted at the University of Southern Philippines in Davao City, Human Rights Commissioner Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana confirmed there were "disturbing findings" in the initial investigation they conducted.
"We are still vetting information and evidence that were given to us. But there are indeed disturbing findings which we are still pursuing in terms of the investigation," Pimentel-Gana told the committee chaired by her brother.
The CHR found in its initial investigation that pregnant women and the elderly were among those detained by the police.
“I have talked to three pregnant women in the detention center,” Pimentel-Gana said.
“We have observed that a lot of senior citizens have indeed been picked up, both women and men. There are questions whether they are even directly involved or the ones who committed the direct assault,” Pimentel-Gana said.
Pimentel-Gana said the CHR will furnish the Senate committee a copy of their full report within two weeks.
She also appealed to the PNP to review the individual cases of those arrested.
“I am appealing to the PNP to please individually review their cases and see if there are indeed evidence against these people,” Pimentel-Gana said.
During the hearing, PNP Region 12 legal officer Adrian Gan said the PNP has filed direct assault charges against the protesters before the City Prosecutor's Office, which found probable cause to forward the cases for trial.
"We have already filed 81 cases before the City Prosecutor's Office and filed on Sunday," he said.
Asked by Cayetano if the court ordered a warrant of arrest, Gan said no.
Cayetano then asked, "If you have filed a case and no warrant, 'di ba dapat pakawalan?"
Gan countered by saying the charges were filed before the 36-hour period of allowed detention without a warrant of arrest was up.
Cayetano earlier said the PNP might have violated the law for keeping the farmers under its custody for a week already.
But Gan clarified that the warrantless arrest was legal because the protesters were caught in the act of committing the crime. — with Virgil Lopez/KG/RSJ/APG, GMA News