The massacre of nine land reform beneficiaries in Sagay City, Negros Occidental Saturday night brought the number of killed farmer-activists to 172 under the Rodrigo Duterte regime, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said.
In condemning the massacre of the nine farmers, the groups blamed the Duterte government as well as the Armed Forces of the Philippines for their repeated “red-baiting of farmers conducting land occupation activities” for the carnage.
“On April 20, 2018 Brigadier General Eliezer Losañes, commanding officer of the 303rd Infantry Battallion of the Philippine Army, said that the land cultivation areas (LCA’s) being maintained by agricultural sugar workers and farmers in Negros Island are in fact New People’s Army (NPA) rebels communal farms,” UMA and NFSW secretary general John Milton Lozande said.
The NFSW earlier said that the goal of setting up land cultivation areas is to ward off the inevitable hunger brought by the “Tiempo Muerto” (dead season in the sugar industry) on properties covered by agrarian reform.
The lands subjected to farmers’ occupation remain undistributed and idle, NFSW said.
The farmers wanted to plant vegetables, banana, corn and root crops on these lands to feed their families when there is no work to be had during Tiempo Muerto, the group said.
The victims began their LCA in the 75 hectare hacienda that morning.
The nine casualties and the four survivors were resting in a farm hut when they were strafed by about 40 armed men believed to be Revolutionary Proletarian Army members working as hired goons of the landlords.
Initial reports said that the perpetrators subsequently fired at the heads of the victims at close range and even tried to burn their bodies.
Initial data culled from the area reveal that a certain Barbara Tolentino owns the hacienda and maintains a number of goons there.
Earlier, two leaders of NFSW were also killed in Sagay City.
Feudalism and death
Flora A. Jemola, chairperson of NFSW-Sagay City was killed on December 21, 2017 in an LCA area in Hacienda Susan. She died from 13 stab wounds by suspected elements of paramilitary forces reportedly under the command of the 12th IB of the Philippine Army.
This was followed by the killing of Ronald Manlanat, a member of a local chapter of NFSW in Hacienda Joefred on February 21, 2018, again by suspected paramilitaries under the 12th IB of the Philippine Army. The killers emptied a whole magazine of M16 bullets onto his head.
The Sagay Massacre last Saturday hikes to 45 the number of peasants killed in Negros Island under the Duterte regime.
NFSW said that of the 424,130 hectares of sugar lands in Negros Island, 34 percent are owned by only 1,860 big landlords with 50 hectares or more each.
Thirty percent of the land is owned by 6,820 big and small landlords with 10 to 49 hectares each.
Meanwhile, the majority of 53,320 farmers and agricultural workers only own 36 percent of the sugar lands, the group reported.
The NFSW estimates that 70 percent of sugar lands that have been distributed by the government through its various land reform schemes had been leased back to the landlords due mainly to lack of support services and non-land support facilities that forced Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries to lease their land.
“Sugar workers in haciendas (plantations), on the average, receive a measly P500 to P750 weekly wages all year round. Minimum wage is pegged at only P245 per day for the farm workers but in many haciendas, P80-P120 a day is still prevalent,” NFSW said.
Saturday’s massacre received widespread condemnation throughout the country and was even reported by media outfits abroad.
Makabayan senatorial candidate and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares vehemently condemned the massacre of 9 NFSW members.
“That is really absurd because the issue of land is a legitimate issue. This is an attempt of the Duterte govt to quell any form of protest by crminalizng legitimate demands,” Colmenares said in a statement.
“We demand an immediate impartial probe on this massacre and we will not stop until justice has been served,” Colmenares said.
Fellow senatorial candidate Erin Tañada said he is disheartened by the incident.
“This is not the first time that farmers have lost their lives trying to gain possession of the lands awarded to them, and I fear it won’t be the last. This is a persistent problem in the implementation of agrarian reform,” Tañada said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)