PNP checking 'Red' involvement in killing of Negros sugar workers

PNP checking 'Red' involvement in killing of Negros sugar workers
Satellite image shows Sagay City in Negros Occidental
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MANILA, Philippines — Police are looking into the possibility that the New People's Army is involved in the deaths of nine sugar workers who were killed by armed men in Sagay City, Negros Occidental over the weekend, officials said Monday.

In a press conference, Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, regional director for the Western Visayas, said police are looking at three angles, including the possibility that the owner of the hacienda—reportedly a certain Carmen Tolentino—may have sent goons to attack farmers who had started to occupy the land on Saturday, October 20.

The other two theories involve the New People's Army. 

Bulalacao said the attack may have been by other claimants to the land, which is covered by the government's Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. Coverage is just one step in a long process to awarding and installation, which can take more than a decade.

He said that the hacienda has around "40 legitimate tillers, although some of them have been linked to the NPA" as supporters. 

Bulalacao also floated the direct involvement of the NPA, but did not explain. He instead cast doubt on the National Federation of Sugar Workers, saying the sugar workers who were killed had only joined the group two days before the 'bungkalan' or land cultivation on Saturday.

"Allegedly, the core group of the NFSW left, and then the shooting happened," he said. He said that witnesses said there were only between five to seven shooters despite the NFSW's claim that there were around 40.

"There are conflicting statements. We are studying the possibility that they themselves were behind this and they're blaming the government," he said, but did not elaborate on the alleged link between a farmers' group and communist guerrillas.

Albayalde: NPA involved in 'Oplan Bungkalan at Okupasyon'

PNP Director General Oscar Albayalde, at the same briefing, said the Communist Party of the Philippines and NPA are involved in a so-called "Oplan Bungkalan at Okupasyon", which he said is "a grand design to occupy private and government properties using their mass base and to create an untoward incident, then blame it on the government." 

He said that despite this, investigators have been ordered to look at all angles and build an airtight case against the perpetrators.

Earlier Monday, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura and NFSW said that they "fear that the Philippine National Police in Negros Occidental is whitewashing the Sagay 9 massacre."

NFSW Secretary-General John Milton "Butch" Lozande said the independent probe "should involve the National Bureau of Investigation, the Commission of Human Rights , and [representatives] from civil society groups."

The groups added "the military, time and again, has 'red tagged' peasants who engage in land occupation to cultivate crops for their needs."

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, in a statement on Monday, also said the "baseless declaration that bungkalan or collective land cultivation areas, the ones the Sagay 9 worked on, as 'NPA farms' should be retracted."

The group also called for an independent investigation, saying "[t]he farmers need no more planting of evidence and red tagging from the police and state forces aiming to whitewash the massacre."

DAR verifying reports goons behind attack

Agrarian Reform Undersecretary David Erro in a separate press briefing on Monday said sources have told the Department of Agrarian Reform that a group called the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, a breakaway group from the New People's Army, were involved in the attack.

According to the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, the group, which split from the CPP-NPA in 1996, signed a peace agreement with the government in 2000. Under that peace process, the profiling and biometrics of 727 members of the Negros-based Tabara-Paduano Group faction was completed in 2012.

Erro said that members of the RPA have since been employed as goons by some landowners.

"Apparently, before the incident, itong mga so-called RPAs ay nagpupunta na sa lugar at may harassment na na ginagawa sa mga farmers na nag-ookupa," he said.

(Apparently, before the incident, these so-called RPAs went to the area and harassed the farmers who were occupying the land)

He added that, according to the sources, the RPAs went back to the area Saturday night and fired into the air to scare off the farmers. When they did not, the armed men shot at the sugar workers.

He said a DAR team still has to verify the information but made clear that "the Army and police really have nothing to do with this."

At the same news conference, Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones stressed government personnel had nothing to do with the incident. 

"Hindi involved ang gobyerno rito (The government is not involved in this)," he said, adding the DAR is working to improve the lives of landless farmers and of agrarian reform beneficiaries. — Jonathan de Santos

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