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“For I was hungry and you gunned me down.”

April 3 emergency rally at the Art Gallery

Tinig Migrante by E. Maestro

When the film footages from Kidapawan, North Cotabato broke out and went viral, overseas Filipinos reacted in indignation and many ordinary citizens around the globe joined to collectively condemn the violence committed by the Philippine military and police against starving farmers. The biblical passage that came to mind was: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” but with the images from the drought-stricken farming communities of Kidapawan, the remembered passage became “For I was hungry and you gunned me down.”

Six thousand farmers and lumad peoples, with their elders and children, marched and gathered en masse to do what starving farmers, who have long been promised rice and relief by their government, do — they asked for help. They collectively asked for rice from their government. They did not raid warehouses or stole from stores. They asked. Seven months of drought brought about by EL Nino depleted whatever resources and patience our farmers had. The sounds of their grumbling stomachs were conveniently ignored by government and its agencies from all levels. Their desperate hungry faces were taken as threats by the police already armed to the teeth with guns, shields, helmets, truncheons, and water cannons.  The government’s disaster response, so it seemed, is summed up in the words:  state violence and militarization.

As of this writing, two farmers are dead, 116 are injured, 74 have been arrested and detained and 88 are reported missing. Two grandmothers, aged 78 and 65, are detained and charged with direct assault by the police! The day after the massacre, the police involved in the bloody incident were given medals for obviously a job well done. The church that provided sanctuary to fleeing farmers was put under siege for three days and blocked from receiving medical and food supplies. A search of the church by the police yielded a big fat zero of firearms.

The video images of the bloody dispersal are disturbing; the ra-ta-tat-tat sounds of gunfire are horrific. What the Kidapawan massacre tells me is that the government is waging war against its people, against its hungry farmers. Of course, others who are lucky to eat three meals a day will disagree with me and either say, “Ganiyan talaga sa atin” or “Napasukan iyan” or “Sagabal sa trapik ang mga iyan.”

The spin still peddled by the police and state press is that the protestors started it, they hurt the police, the left instigated the violence, and that the protest is a front of underground organizations. This is an easy way to muddle the issue and cover up the crimes of gunning down hungry farmers and of ignoring the demand for rice and relief. Now, the police blame the farmers themselves for the bloody carnage that happened! Again, the military has conveniently tagged the leaders of legitimate people’s organizations and the rallyists as fronts of underground groups. This is a familiar tactic of the military but worrisome as it makes legitimate people’s organizations open targets for extra-judicial executions.

The Provincial Governor was reported in the media to have declared that any rice assistance from the outsiders would be blocked because “it is a big insult to North Cotabato provincial government than an outsider would donate rice to these farmers.” Ok, this is really insane, unkind and criminal. If her local government can not (or will not) release the rice as promised, no one will think that getting help from the outside is an insult.

At the Philippine Senate hearing on the massacre, local government officials seemed more interested in the lifting of the protest blockade to clear the highway, stop the re-routing of transport, and mollify the business owners who said they were losing profits, rather than in providing people food. The local governor claimed there was a rice distribution program; but why were thousands of farmers and lumads unaware or not given this?

As early as 2014, Filipino weather scientists predicted that El Nino weather phenomenon would be devastating. Filipino politicians then promised “safety nets” for the disaster that was bound to happen. More than El Nino, the man-made disasters of government incompetence and neglect in spite of advanced warnings made the farmers’ already dire situation worse and critical. On top of all this, the farmers are already the victims of systemic economic and political injustices that leave them poor, landless, and backward.

Migrante BC, together with the Canada Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle in Canada responded to the call out for Justice for the Kidapawan Farmers in an emergency vigil on April 3, two days after the incident. This was followed by a rally on April 8 as part of the Global Day of Action for Food, Land and Justice, also at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Concerned Filipinos, local Pinoy organizations, community groups, and a trade union came out to stand in solidarity with the Kidapawan farmers. An open letter to President BS Aquino was also hand-delivered on April 8 by a combined delegation of Filipinos and local community groups to the Philippine Consulate General. The campaign for food, land and justice will continue.

People want food, not bullets. Bigas, hindi bala! .