At least one dead and many wounded as police fire on thousands of protesting rice farmers in the Philippines

A file photo of a farmer planting rice in a paddy field.
A file photo of a farmer planting rice in a paddy field.

Philippine police opened fire on rice farmers who were protesting after they lost their crops on Friday, leaving one dead and many wounded, a leader of the farming group said.

About 6,000 farmers blocked a portion of the main highway in North Cotabato province on the southern island of Mindanao, demanding government assistance after a drought linked by some to El Nino hit hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland.

Norma Capuyan, leader of a farmers group, said that "Loud bursts of gunfire erupted."

"There was heavy volume of fire, We ran to a church compuond and the police surround us."

A farmer died on the spot and about a dozen others were wounded in the legs and shoulders, Capuyan said, adding the police first tried to disperse them with water cannon but started shooting when they held their ground.

The protest began on Wednesday when farmers barricaded the highway in Kidapawan, demanding a dialogue with the governor and the release of 15,000 sacks of rice she had promised to them as relief.

According to North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza, about 20 police were wounded when the farmers attacked them with sticks and stones and the first shot was fired by the protestors.

"Any violation of national police rules and regulations shall be meted [out] with the appropriate penalty," national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Wilben Mayor said in a statement the police issued.

The agriculture ministry said more than 300,000 hectares of farmland had been affected by drought, causing loses of about 5.3 billion pesos ($115.09 million) in rice and corn. It said the effects of El Nino were minimal.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies