MANILA — Both sides were to blame for a confrontation in which 12 people were killed when Philippine security forces opened fire on a land reform march last month, a special panel reported Thursday.
Its report to President Corazon Aquino recommended sedition charges against the leader of the march and administrative action against seven senior army and police officers for failures of command in the Jan. 22 shooting at the Mendiola Bridge.
Poor farmers and other protesters were marching to Aquino's office at the Malacanang Palace. She appointed the three-member commission after the shooting, the bloodiest clash between protesters and troops since the "people power" uprising that swept her into office a year ago.
"Although the evidence does not positively indicate who started the firing in view of conflicting eyewitness accounts, the inescapable fact is that there was shooting from both sides, albeit mainly from the government forces," the report said.
More Investigation Needed
It added that more investigation was needed to determine specifically who fired at the marchers.
"Both sides are blamed," said Vincente Abad Santos, a retired Supreme Court justice who was the panel's chairman. "We are not able to answer the question of who killed whom, so there will be a continuing investigation by the National Bureau of Investigation."
Aquino referred the report to Justice Secretary Neptali Gonzales to decide whether criminal charges will be filed and to identify soldiers and policemen shown in photographs pointing weapons at marchers.
The report recommended lesser criminal charges for all commissioned officers and demonstrators who were armed, and against troops and police who pointed weapons at marchers.
In recommending that a sedition charge be filed against Jaime Tadeo, the 34-page report cited his fiery speech before the march urging demonstrators to break through barricades to the palace "even if blood flows." Tadeo is chairman of the Movement of Philippine Farmers.
"The intention and effect of Tadeo's utterances are clearly seditious and the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly must yield to the punitive measures designed to maintain the supremacy and majesty of the law and of constituted authority," it said.
The marchers demanded immediate distribution of state-controlled land. Aquino's government has promised land reform since taking over when President Ferdinand E. Marcos fled the country Feb. 26, 1986, but has not come up with a comprehensive plan.
Police in suburban Quezon City said they lodged sedition charges against Tadeo earlier Friday apart from the panel's recommendation. Patrolman Dante Laguilles said the charges were filed with the city prosecutor, who would decide whether there was enough evidence for trial.
The commission report accused the estimated 10,000 marchers of provoking police and troops at the barricades, including use of "steel bars, wooden clubs and lead pipes."
It added, however, that there was no "rational necessity" for shooting from the security forces "to prevent or repel their aggression," noting that tear gas and water cannons were available but were not used.
Panel members cited Brig. Gen. Ramon Montano, the Manila area commander at the time, and six other senior officers as deserving administrative punishment. Montano went on leave at his own request pending the investigation.
The report contested claims that up to 18 people were killed, saying investigators could find evidence of only 12 deaths.