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Cops search protesting farmers' shelter in Kidapawan

KIDAPAWAN City — Police operatives on Saturday searched seven buildings inside the Spottswood Methodist Center in connection with the violent dispersal of protesting farmers on the Makilala-Kidapawan highway on Friday, which left three people dead and dozens injured.

The operations conducted by the Regional Public Safety Battalion (RPSB) in Region 12 and Cotabato Provincial Police Office (CPPO), however, turned out negative.

The Spottswood Methodist Center is currently being used as a temporary shelter of the more than 5,000 farmer-protesters.

Police said they were searching for possible evidence that they can use against the 43 protesters held for questioning after the violent dispersal.

The protesters placed under custody, including five of the protest's organizers, were temporarily held inside the city gym.

The city government is preparing charges of economic sabotage, obstruction of traffic flow, exploitation of women and children, and harassment against the protesters.

City Mayor Joseph Evangelista said while farmers are demanding for justice after what happened during the dispersal, the wounded policemen and other security personnel also deserve fair treatment and justice.

“I pity our policemen. They are there to secure the highway. We observed maximum tolerance,” Evangelista said.

He explained that policemen directly involved in the dispersal were strictly ordered to only bring batons and shields.

The mayor said that the policemen who brought rifles were assigned only to secure the protest area's perimeter.

He said that shots were fired during the violent dispersal when Senior Police Officer 2 Ric Untalan of the M'lang Municipal Police Station was shot and cornered by the protesting farmers.

Three people died and dozens were wounded during the clash of the protesters and the policemen.

Reports from the Sisters Association in Mindanao (SAMIN) claimed that 92 farmers were hurt during the violent dispersal and 30 of them were critically injured.

There are also claims that a big number of protesters have gone missing.

The two farmers killed were identified as Rogelio Daelto and Virgilio Lumundang, both residents of Barangay Binoongan, Arakan.

A third fatality, a civilian identified as Enrico Fabrica, reportedly died after suffering from a heart attack while watching the violent protest. There were also reports that the civilian died from heat stroke.

Among the protesters hurt were identified as Alan Jampas of Barangay Meocan, Arakan; Ernie Carmelo of Barangay Doruluman, Arakan; Rodolfo Tanio of Barangay Binoongan, Arakan; a certain Ilyong of Barangay Tongao, Magpet; and Sheena Duazo of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN Muna) Southern Mindanao region.

Duazo, including representatives from militant Gabriela, Anakbayan, Anakpawis, and Kabataan, joined the protesters to support farmers’ mass action.

Evangelista, meanwhile, said that at least 102 policemen, three of them in critical situation, were wounded during the protest action.

The farmers were demanding for at least 15,000 sacks of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA), which they could carry back home. They demanded the rice subsidy from Cotabato Governor Emylous Taliño-Mendoza.

Mendoza had said that the provincial government could not provide the 15,000 sacks of rice as it would violate existing laws and the government's rules and regulations.

She said that they could only release 500 bags or rice in a month.

“They needed 15,000 bags? No, that can’t be done. What about other constituents who, just like them, were also hit by El Niño?” she said.

Mendoza said the provincial government and mayors of five towns in the province are taking full responsibility of what happened on Friday.

“This was a very unfortunate incident. Nobody wanted this to happen. We all just want order and security,” the governor said. —ALG, GMA News