A TOP ranking police official in Cotabato Province on Thursday came to the defense of armed policemen present during the bloody dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City, saying it was a "necessary move" to back the unarmed members of the Civil Disturbance Management Unit (CDMU), who were at the frontline during the dispersal.
They insisted the protesters could have been infiltrated by armed men, making members of CDMU vulnerable to threats.
Cotabato police provincial director Senior Superintendent Alexander Tagum said they have received reports from a "police witness" about the presence of armed men among the protesters.
This was his response to the question raised by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, during the committees' public hearing and consultation conducted at the University of Southeastern Philippines-Obrero campus on Thursday.
Members of the committee questioned the deployment of armed police officers in a rally, citing the Batas Pambansa 880 (BP 880), also known as the Public Assembly Act, which prohibits "the carrying of firearms by members of the law enforcement unit" and the "unnecessary firing of firearms by a member of any law enforcement agency or any person disperse the public assembly."
Regional legal officer in Soccsksargen Chief Inspector Adriel Gran also explained that CDMU members were not equipped with any firearms but only shields and batons along with other equipment allowed by law.
He admitted that 30 armed members of the security forces or the tactical team were deployed but had stayed 100 meters away from the protesters which is allowed by the law.
Senator Alan Peter Cayetano emphasized to the police officials during the public hearing that BP 880 stated that law enforcers are prohibited from bringing firearms during a rally and that the security forces were not exempted from it. However, the police officials maintained their explanation on the question.
Cayetano urged the police officials to conduct further investigation to determine who among the police officers deployed during the dispersal violated any laws citing that though they claimed that they were right, they can still be pointed at fault since they were the ones who fired their guns.
"Kahit tama kayo pero kayo ang namaril, kayo pa rin ang [ituturong] mali," Cayetano said.
Gran said that they had already conducted a paraffin test to determine who among the 30 members of the armed security forces fired their guns but they are still waiting for the result of the test.
As to the question of who really ordered the dispersal, North Cotabato Governor Emmylou “Lala” Mendoza said that she did not order the dispersal of the farmers, explaining that the dispersal was merely a police action.
Chief Superintendent Noel Armilla, Special Investigation Task Group, admitted to have ordered the dispersal last Friday.
Three protesting farmers were killed while 116 others wounded in the bloody dispersal.