Drought-affected Filipino farmers stage huge standoff after police shoot demonstrators

Cristina Palabay is secretary general of Karapatan, a Philippine human rights group. Palabay is one of the leaders of a 27-member fact-finding team investigating the ongoing situation in Kidapawan. (Photo Credit Kyleisawesome via Youtube)

Thousands of Filipino farmers are in the fifth day of a standoff with police over drought assistance. They barricaded themselves inside of a church after police used live ammunition against them as they blocked a national highway last Friday. Supporters in other parts of the country have sent donations of rice to the farmers. Police have denied accusations of authoritarianism and have begun investigating the protestors. Madonna Virola reports.

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Thousands of farmers are still barricaded in the Methodist Church in Kidapawan City – where they sought refuge after police opened fire on a protest Friday. At least three people died and several are reportedly missing, including children.

The farmers are still demanding food assistance from the government’s calamity fund after months of El Niño drought.

The violence broke out after four days of demonstrations, and human rights advocates like the Children’s Rehabilitation Center are condemming police for using live ammunition against the protesters.

Marie Hilario of the rights group Karapatan said police violently dispersed the farmer-demonstrators.

But North Cotabato Governor Lala Mendoza says police used maximum tolerance and accused protestors of inciting the violence, noting also that their permit to rally had already expired.

Thousands of her supporters, including church leaders, gathered for a prayer rally for reconciliation. But protestors say many are being forced to participate.

A national fact finding team for a humanitarian mission has arrived to investigate and provide medical assistance.  The Commission on Human Rights said they hope to shed light on the issue by the end of the week.

Human rights activists are calling for the government to ensure the farmers’ safety, but they fear impunity – as with similar incidents in the past.

In 1987, 13 farmers in conflict with the police died during a rally in Manila dubbed the Mendiola massacre. In 2004, 7 farmers died in another rally at Hacienda Luisita.

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