The Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) first and foremost stands for and supports universal respect for human rights and human dignity. It is thus with a heavy heart that we now view the remains and still simmering aftermath of the violent dispersal of farmer-protesters last April 1 in Kidapawan City, claiming three lives and injuring scores of others. Six thousand suffering and hungry men, women and children, battered by three months of drought and left with little option but to demand the release of emergency food aid, should have been met with utmost compassion and speedy humanitarian action, not by insufferable violence and bullets, buttressed by bureaucratic apologies.

We must now ask, regardless of the intentions of different parties involved in, and regardless of the handling of the protest, was there no merit at all in the farmer-protesters’ issues and demands? Were there no peaceful options left for government that such an absolute and crushing response was warranted? Regardless of which party started the violence, did the local government and the police observe the principle and practice of maximum tolerance?

It is sobering for us to think that in this democracy, the State can still look upon its own people as foes. That the remaining spaces left, where the disenfranchised had complete authority over – namely the streets and in this case, a highway – and where the marginalized should have been able to peacefully and safely air out legitimate grievances, was denied. And that in the end, government officials sworn to serve the people, instead of addressing the roots of the problem head on – the massive hunger and the lack of attention to agriculture sector – instead chose to either undermine or completely deny our farmers’ suffering, even heaping the blame and responsibility for the carnage on the organisers and even the protesters themselves.

Facing such a challenge, we call for a full, credible and impartial investigation of the events of April 1. We stand with the victims and long-suffering farmers of Kidapawan and elsewhere caught in the clutches of deprivation and displacement brought on by calamities like El Nino. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the lack of compassion, trust and humanity in government’s continuing dealings with our struggling farmers and fellow citizens. We demand accountability and culpability for the lives lost and injured in the violence. We call for the immediate release of those detained without charges, as well as the lifting of police cordons surrounding the few safe havens left for the displaced and still suffering protesters. Ultimately, we call on the national government and its agencies to exhaust all means to address the needs of the farmers and other communities who remain vulnerable to climate-related displacement and other disasters.

Let us all stand resolutely for truth, human rights and justice. For only after can genuine peace be achieved.