On February 3, 2016 in Kidapawan, a city on Mindanao Island in the Philippines, the local government declared a state of calamity after El Niño brought record-breaking temperatures and severe drought. The resulting damaged crops and millions of pesos in losses left thousands of local families starving and without income. Declaring a state of calamity was supposed to allow the local government access to aid programs for families in need.
Aid, however, did not come.
On March 28, desperate, hungry protesters began gathering in front of the National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse in Kidapawan, demanding that the government deliver fifteen thousand bags of rice to the famers and their families. Government officials claim they were unable to distribute the bags because they would not have had enough left over to stretch aid supplies until the end of the year. Over the next few days the protesters’ number grew to over five thousand, amassing on the Davao-Cotabato Highway, a main artery to the city. Negotiations with officials were unsuccessful. Then, on April 1, police and SWAT teams began a clearance operation. Despite the fact that it is expressly illegal for law enforcement to carry firearms or lethal weapons within one hundred meters of a protest site, the police teams were heavily armed, and reportedly used water cannons, stones and batons to disperse the crowd. When protesters resisted and began to fight back, police opened fire.
Two people were killed. As many as two hundred more were wounded, and over eighty people, reportedly including senior citizens and three pregnant women, were arrested and charged. Bail was reportedly set at 12,000 pesos per farmer, but later reduced to 6,000 pesos, or about $127. The average household income for farmers in the area is around $3 to $5 per day.
The government claimed that many of the farmers protesting were from other municipalities, and that they should have been seeking aid in their home counties. They also justified the armed police units by reporting that militant groups planned to attend the protests.
Since the incident in April, now known as the Kidapawan Massacre, farmers have received scattered aid from local celebrities and private donations, but no assistance from the government. The drought conditions have not improved and now there is concern that La Niña, the counterpart weather pattern that generally follows El Niño within a year or two, will soon cause heavy rain and excessive flooding.
These are the faces of the men and women who survived the Kidapawan Massacre, along with the families of those who did not.