Activists gathered at the foot of Chino Roces bridge three days after the bloody dispersal of a farmer’s protests in Cotabato to demand justice for the victims and hold the government accountable for its failed El Niño response.
“It is understandable that the people were starving and pushed to the edge. Government’s failure to act pro-actively and decisively address the drought and hunger brought by El Niño forced them to take to the streets to demand urgently needed aid, braving the blazing summer sun and later, the high caliber guns of the police,” Prof. Ed Tadem, FDC President said.
“The barricade set up by farmers and lumad from several towns in Cotabato was the people’s direct exercise of their rights, against government’s neglect and intransigence. They demanded the immediate distribution of 15,000 sacks of rice as an immediate relief from starvation and drought that had ravaged the province since November last year. Shooting unarmed protesters and killing 3 and wounding scores others, including those fleeing for their lives, was the height of state brutality and gross transgression of human rights and deserves the highest form of outrage from all sectors of society,” former FDC President and Senatorial Candidate Walden Bello charged.
“We reiterate our demand for immediate and swift action. The ground commander and all PNP personnel who participated in the dispersal must be relieved of their duties pending independent investigations. Local government officials who may have given the order to disperse the protesters must face sanctions. Heads must roll,” Tadem and Bello asserted.
At the same time, Members of the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) and the Philippine Movement for Climate Justice (PMCJ), the two groups who led the protest, lambasted the Aquino government’s callous disregard for the gravity of the crisis facing Mindanao and other parts of the country due to El Niño.
“Beyond the police officers and local authorities, P-Noy and his administration must also be held accountable for exacerbating the calamity brought about by El Niño with their disastrous handling of preparedness and response efforts. The government’s own weather agency, PAGASA had warned of the coming El Niño as early as March 2014. P19.2 billion was allocated for 2015 and P1.9 billion for 2016. Where did the money go? Why was so little done?” Sammy Gamboa, FDC Secretary General asked.
FDC and PMCJ said they had been receiving reports from their members of the non-existent El Niño mitigation and increasingly desperate situation in some parts of Mindanao for months, likening the slow pace of government action to the notoriously slow Yolanda response.
“This is actually worse because in the case of Yolanda, we only had days to prepare and the impact was sudden. In the case of El Niño, we had an entire year to plan and the impact unfolded over the course of several months. This makes the P-Noy government’s failure to adequately deal with this crisis all the more unforgiveable,” Ian Rivera, of PMCJ asserted.
“We demand justice for the victims of the violent assault on the protesting Cotabato farmers and lumads. We demand justice for all victims of government neglect in times of calamity,” Rivera and Gamboa challenged the Aquino government and all the electoral candidates.