Sugarcane workers gather at the scene of a massacre at Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental yesterday. Nine sugarcane workers who took shelter in the makeshift tent were killed by armed men on Saturday night. Image courtesy of MBC Aksyon Radyo Bacolod.
9 sugarcane workers murdered in Negros
Gilbert Bayoran (The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2018 - 12:00am

Women, teens among victims

BACOLOD CITY, Philippines — Nine sugarcane workers, including minors, were shot dead by some 40 armed men in what authorities described as a “massacre” in a plantation in Sagay City, Negros Occidental on Saturday night.

The victims – all members of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW) – were identified as Eglicerio Villegas, 36; Angelife Arsenal; a certain alias Pater; Dodong Laurencio; Morena Mendoza; Necnec Dumaguit; Bing Bing Bantigue; and Joemarie Ughayon and Marchtel Sumicad, both 17 years old, according to Western Visayas Police director Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao.

Initial investigation showed that NFSW members entered and occupied the farm owned by a certain Carmen Tolentino, at Hacienda Nene in Purok Firetree, Barangay Bulanon on Saturday morning, a day after the owner harvested sugarcane for the season. The victims were resting in makeshift tents when the armed men opened fire at about 9:30 p.m., according to surviving NFSW members.

Sagay City Police head Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto yesterday said there were 11 persons in the makeshift shelter set up by the victims.

Nine of them were killed on the spot, while two others managed to escape, he added.

Some of the victims were shot in the head, as police investigators aired suspicions that they were shot from a distance.

Danilo Canete, one of the two survivors, confirmed to MBC Aksyon Radyo that they were resting in their makeshift shelters when the armed suspects approached and opened fire at them. He was able to survive by seeking refuge in a sack of rice, after which he fled the scene of the incident.

“The suspects were approximately 12 meters away based on the distance between the victims and the bullet casings recovered at the scene,” Mansueto said, adding that at least 10 gunmen were involved in the shooting, based on statements of witnesses.

The bodies of three of the victims – Bantigue, Dumaguit and Mendoza – were allegedly burned by the suspects, according to Bulalacao.

Police recovered 19 empty shells of M16 Armalite and .45 caliber pistol, assorted food items of the victims and burned cellular phones at the scene.

Negros Occidental Police provincial director Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Castil disclosed that inspection conducted by Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) indicated that about five to seven suspects may have been involved in the commission of the crime, contrary to earlier reports.

He added that Provincial Crime Laboratory personnel also recovered a .38 caliber revolver with a spent shell from one of the victims, and ammunition for a 12 gauge shotgun from the pocket of another victim, indicating that the two fought back.

“We have reason to believe to believe that the suspects initially tried to intimidate (the victims) but some of them retaliated,” Mansueto said.

The gunmen took the victims’ firearms before escaping toward an unknown direction on foot.

Bulalacao said the shooting took place about 10 kilometers away from the city proper and 400 meters from the main highway.

The house of Maricel Oritz, about 30 meters away from the scene of incident, was hit by stray bullets.

Sagay City Police received information through a cellular phone call from a concerned citizen at around 9:30 p.m. that a shooting incident led taken place, according to the police regional director.

Condemnation, reward

“We condemn the shooting incident that resulted in the (deaths) of nine farm workers, perpetrated by more or less 40 armed suspects,” Bulalacao said. “We extend our sympathy to the victims and their families.”

Sagay City Police and Special Action Force are in pursuit of the suspects while a thorough investigation gets underway to ensure their arrest.

The pieces of evidence and other personal belongings of the victims recovered from the crime scene are still being examined by the SOCO team. The remains of the victims are at the FDN Memorial Chapel pending post-mortem examination while surviving witnesses are temporarily under the custody of Sagay City Police.

Negros Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr., who also condemned the incident and ordered the police to conduct an in-depth probe, yesterday offered P250,000 reward to those who may provide information leading to the identification and arrest of the suspects.

An additional P250,000 reward was also offered by the city government of Sagay headed by Mayor Alfredo Marañon III, who also assured burial expenses and other assistance to the families of the victims.

Land dispute

Land dispute is among the possible motives being looked into by the police that triggered the killings after receiving reports that two groups have been fighting over a piece of property in the area.

None of the victims were involved in illegal drugs and other crimes, according to the police.

Mansueto said that he got reports that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) already issued a Notice of Coverage to subject the area under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the government.

Mansueto, however, said that the DAR has yet to issue a Certificate of Land Ownership Award for the beneficiaries.

The police have also yet to check with the DAR if the victims are agrarian reform beneficiaries.

Castil said they have some persons of interest now being pursued by police probers, but he refused to give details on their identities, pending ongoing investigations.

Capt. Raul Llanes, 303rd Infantry Brigade spokesman, yesterday said they did not monitor any presence of armed men in the area and neighboring areas prior to the incident.

If indeed, there were 40 armed men in the area, Llanes said it could have been monitored by the 79th Infantry Battalion whose headquarters are in Barangay Bato in Sagay City.

‘Merciless’

The NFSW Negros has condemed “with all our strength” the “merciless killing of nine farmers.”

“The brutal killings happened on the first night of the land cultivation area initiated by the NFSW in Hacienda Nene,” the group said in a statement yesterday.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary-general Renato Reyes called for a swift investigation into the Sagay killings.

“We condemn this atrocity and demand justice,” Reyes said.

Meanwhile, senatorial aspirant Erin Tañada is seeking the immediate arrest of the suspects in the Sagay killings.

“Bullets can never be the answer to the farmers’ request for social justice, to own the land they till and to end poverty and hunger among their families,” he said.

“The government has to stand up for the families of the victims of this gruesome mass murder and to bring justice to their death,” he added. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Emmanuel Tupas

HACIENDA NENE MURDER NATIONAL FEDERATION OF SUGARCANE WORKERS
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