Bullets, rice, and human rights: What we know so far on the violent Kidapawan protest dispersal

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Arrested protesters attend the first Senate hearing on the Kidapawan dispersal on April 7

Davao City (CNN Philippines) — On Thursday (April 7), the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights began its probe into the violent April 1 dispersal of protesters at Kidapawan City. The protesters, mostly farmers, demanded relief and subsidy for communities that were gravely affected by the dry spell in North Cotabato.

They specifically had five demands:

The distribution of 15,000 sacks of rice from the province's calamity fund

The grant of subsidies for seedlings, fertilizer, and pesticides — or money, if conditions are not fit for planting

An investigation into the drop in the price of rubber — a key source of livelihood for farmers in the province

The suspension of military operations in their area

The investigation of para-military groups allegedly operating in their locale

Some of the protesters claimed unidentified policemen fired shots at them. According to Police Spokesperson Wilben Mayor, two protesters died and more than 10 others were injured. On the other hand, 99 police officers were injured, with two of them in critical condition.

Direct assault charges were filed against 80 individuals — 72 are in custody, while eight are confined in a hospital.

Read: Timeline of Kidapawan violence

'Disturbing' findings

During the Davao City-held hearing, Gwendolyn Pimentel-Gana, the Commission on Human Rights'  (CHR) focal commissioner for the incident, said that there were "disturbing" findings in the CHR's investigation.

"I have talked to three pregnant women in the detention center. A lot of senior citizens have been picked up— both women and men."

However, the commissioner said that the CHR cannot share its findings as of the moment because it is still vetting the information it has gathered.

Police could not confirm if they have three pregnant women in their custody. However, they said that all detainees assaulted them.

Who started it?

Testifying under oath, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) member Gerry Alborme said that protesters started throwing rocks at the police only after the authorities started using their batons to disperse them. Alborme was at the scene as the incident unfolded.

On the other hand, drone video obtained by CNN Philippines from the Department of the Interior and Local Government shows protesters going on the offensive against the authorities. The footage shows only a part of the incident.

NPA involvement?

Under oath, Tagum said that the police received "related information" beforehand that "militant groups with support of local Armed NPA [New People's Army], MNLF [Moro National Liberation Front] and IPs" would conduct a protest rally on March 28.

However, protester Arlyn Oti Amar said that her colleagues clarified to authorities during the April 1 rally that they were not communists.

Senators probe Kidapawan violence (Arlyn Oti Amar)

Lumad farmer Arlyn Oti Amar clarified she is not a communist; the protesters were only hungry and wanted uncooked rice. "Bigas lang." http://cnn.ph/1LXc9jG

Posted by CNN Philippines on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Protesters testify

Ebao Sulang, a father of one of the protesters, shared how he found his dead child in a morgue, two days after the dispersal. He said under oath that his child was naked with only his private parts covered and his head "sawed."

Although the autopsy showed the protester died due to a blunt trauma to the head, Atty. Ephraim Cortez of the National Union of People's Lawyers said that he has evidence showing the protester's death by a bullet wound.

Senators probe Kidapawan violence (Ebao Sulang)

Ebao Sulang (father of one of the protesters) shared how he found his dead child — in a morgue. He said his child was naked with only his private parts covered and his head "sawed." Atty. Cortez said the autopsy showed the protester died due to a blunt trauma to the head but he said the evidence show a bullet wound. cnn.ph/1LXc9jG

Posted by CNN Philippines on Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Were firearms justified?

Cayetano questioned the PNP why several policemen were carrying firearms during the dispersal — who gave the order, how many policemen used firearms and the circumstance why they opened fire.

North Cotabato police director Sr. Supt. Alexander Tagum explained that there was no command to open fire. He also said that firing warning shots are not allowed — a reason why he used a megaphone to warn the protesters.

He added that, according to the law, "carrying of firearms is allowed as part of the security component of the Civil Disturbance Management (CDM)."

But Cayetano said the law applies to all law enforcement, and doesn't distinguish between CDM units and security forces.

Read: Cayetano grills PNP on carrying of firearms during Kidapawan incident

What led to the protest?

El Niño has severely affected agriculture in North Cotabato.

On January 20, the province's Sangguniang Panlalawigan (Provincial Board) declared a state of calamity in the province because of the damage wrought by the weather phenomena.

In its resolution at that time, the officials said that a drought affected 27,558.55 hectares of agricultural lands based on the Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis report of the Office of the Provincial Agriculturist.

The value of crop damages was placed at P238,017,916.35 broken down into the following crops:

Rice — P15,039,972.70

Corn — P50,043,942.70

Oil palm — P5,982,912

Coconut — P115,693,368

Rubber — P48,250,935

Cacao — P2,293,290

Coffee — P713,496

Related: North Cotabato placed under state of calamity

CNN Philippines' Kristine De Guzman, Paolo Taruc, and JC Ansis contributed to this report.