Look at private army angle in 'Sagay 9' killings, rights group urges

Look at private army angle in 'Sagay 9' killings, rights group urges
According to the Department of Agrarian Reform, there were 89,794 hectares of land on Negros that had yet to be distributed in 2017.
PM, file photo

MANILA, Philippines — A human rights group is urging an independent investigation into the possibility that militia and hired goons are behind the massacre of nine sugar workers in Sagay, Negros Occidental last Saturday.

In a statement, rights group Karapatan said it is "most plausible" that a private army of the Marañon political clan is involved. The clan controls Sagay City hall and the provincial capitol, although both offices have offered rewards for information on who is behind the killings.

Early last week, the Department of Agrarian Reform said they had received reports members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, a group that broke away from the New People's Army in the 1990s and signed a peace deal with the government several years after, had become hired goons for landowners. It said the information had yet to be verified.

"The [Special Civilian Active Auxiliary] is commonly known to protect haciendas in Negros and are under the control of the local government. They are actively recruiting former RPA members. In fact, the local housing project in Barangay Bulanon is allotted for SCAA members," Karapatan said, referring to the village where the "Sagay 9" were killed while resting in a makeshift shelter.

The group said militia members had been suspected in the killing in 2017 and earlier this year of two other members of the National Federation Sugar Workers, the same group the nine were in and which the government claims is a "legal front" for communist rebels.

"The same pattern of brutal killings can be seen in the injuries sustained by the victims and the witnesses’ accounts," Karapatan said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines, which claims the killing is part of the so-called "Red October" plot, has said all the weapons and ammunition issued to members of the militia have been checked and accounted for. 

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'Red October' plot

The military floated the idea of a "Red October" plot earlier this month, and then said it had fizzled out and was rescheduled for December, only to blame the killings on the plot that had allegedly already been defeated.

The killings are also not among the supposed operations that the military earlier said is part of the plot. 

Earlier this month, the AFP revealed recovered and decoded documents with operation codes Supermarket, Casino, Bulldozer, Tabasco and Hades, referring to the supposed destabilization attempts of the communist rebels.

Supermarket referred to attacks against AFP detachments and Philippine National Police, Casino refers to special partisan unit operations targeting military assets and intelligence, while Tabasco targets Oplan Tokhang agents.

Bulldozer involves attacks against mining companies and high-impact government projects and Hades are attacks against government personalities with "blood debts."

A fact-finding mission composed of groups affiliated with NFSW under the national democratic activist movement have said they found no evidence to show the NPA or the NFSW were to blame for the killings.

"Instead, the AFP, PNP, the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Maranons are guilty of victim-blaming, malice and cover up of their accountability when they concoct these baseless accusations to fit their idiotic narrative on 'Red October'," Karapatan said.

Aside from the police and military, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Commission on Human Rights have announced parallel investigations.

The farmers had entered Hacienda Nena on October 20 for a "bungkalan", or land cultivation, activity there a day after the end of harvest. During a bungkalan, idle plots of land are cultivated so farmers will have food during "tiempo muerto",  the lean season between sugarcane plantings. 

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