CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 18 November 2017

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Why do the police kill the poor but spare the rich?

QUEZON CITY (SE): “It is very troubling that the police and the military are always being sent to harass, wound and kill the poor—whether they be farmers, lumads, urban poor or workers who protest and rally because they suffer and their rights are not being addressed,” Bishop Broderick Pabillo said in a formal condemnation of the violent dispersal of farmers who had rallied on a main road in Kidapawan City on April 1 to call attention to their plight in the drought affected region.

Police opened fire on a gathering of around 6,000 farmers who were occupying the main road between Mindanao and Cotabato. Karapatan reported that three farmers died from their wounds, at least 116 were injured and 89 are still missing.

The farmers were calling for the drought relief money, which has been released by the national government, to be distributed. A fund of 238 million pesos ($39.74 million) is designated, but farmers say that local authorities have refused to use it to help them.

The Hong Kong Campaign for the Advancement of Human Rights and Peace in The Philippines said in a statement, “Isn’t it the government responsibility to look after its ailing nationals, its starving peoples? Isn’t it their role to ensure that everyone is accounted for, that their rights are protected at all times and not be riddled by bullets?”

Bishop Pabillo said that the poor are targeted in the name of national security and are accused of being led by Communists, but if the people are rich or are politicians, or if a mining company calls on the police or military to throw poor people off their land or out of their homes, they are only too happy to oblige.

Bishop Pabillo called the administration of the president, Noynoy Aquino, callous in its attitude towards the poor, the farmers and indigenous peoples, saying it should be held accountable for the Kidapawan City carnage.

He stressed in a statement posted on the website of Radyo Veritas that state forces should not have reacted violently to the protesting peasants’ grievances.

“This is not the way to react to the grievances of the farmers that the government was not able to address in the first place. The El Niño is not like a typhoon that can leave the government unprepared. It had already been forecast two years ago,” the president of the bishops’ public affairs committee said.

He pointed out that the drought began to set in during September last year, but the government has not done anything to address the situation.

Bishop Pabillo said that the Church had been calling the attention of the government to the matter for months, but to no avail.

“Even though local governments have issued state of calamity declarations in areas in Mindanao, still the government, both local and national, has done nothing that could make the farmers feel that they are cared for,” the bishop explained.

Bishop Pabillo added that it is a shameful thing that in a supposedly Catholic country such cruelty could be committed against poor people during the Jubilee of Mercy.

CBCP News reported Archbishop Socrates Villegas, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of The Philippines, as saying, “A death is always tragic, even more when violent death visits God’s poor.”

He added, “We pray for our farmers in Kidapawan. May those who died find peace and happiness in heaven.”

The Philippine National Police said 40 of its men were hurt, with two of them in a critical condition. The police claim that the farmers attacked them with poles and rocks.

Archbishop Villegas said that he is praying that the issue will be resolved immediately and he appealed to the farmers and the victims’ families to avoid vengeance.

“May their families not give in to the cycle of vengeance, but instead seek ways to restore peace,” he said. “May the police and military return to their mandate to preserve peace, protect the weak and serve justice.”

The drought-affected farmers are asking for food assistance until they can resume planting. They are also appealing for free seeds and agricultural support services so they can replace the crops they have lost.

An Italian missionary, Father Peter Geremiah, from Arakan town in Cotabato, visited some of the detained farmers at the police lockup on April 2. He said some of them are his parishioners and are beneficiaries of parish projects.

The United Methodist Church issued a statement deploring the violence, asking for a solution “that upholds the dignity and protects the human rights of all persons.”

Many of the farmers who were part of the rally have taken refuge in the Spottswood Methodist Centre.

Adding insult to injury, the governor of Cotabato, Emmylou Talino-Mendoza, said that she may take legal action against Bishop Ciriaco Francisco, claiming that he is protecting illegal demonstrators.

The Rural Missionaries of The Philippines said that the Aquino government should be held accountable for the incident. “We hold the Aquino administration responsible for this merciless act,” Mercy Sister Francis Añover said in a statement.

She added that the farmers, who have been cripplingly affected by the drought and pushed to desperation, were simply demanding aid, which makes the state-instigated violence all the worse.

The Hong Kong Campaign for Human Rights noted that nothing has improved for the farmers of the Pearl of the Orient Seas. It notes that in 2004, police and military opened fire on striking peasants at Hacienda Luisita, killing seven people and leaving dozens injured.

 

The group adds that the most recent massacre in Kidapawan is just history repeating itself.

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