NFSW decries charges vs members over 'Sagay 9' killings

NFSW decries charges vs members over 'Sagay 9' killings
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 — The National Federation of Sugar Workers has condemned the filing of multiple charges against two of its members over the massacre of nine of its members in a hacienda in Sagay City, Negros Occidental on October 20, calling it a dangerous precedent against mass-based groups.

In a statement on Sunday, NFSW secretary general John Milton "Butch" Lozande said the charges against members Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo set "a dangerous precedent as mass-based and people’s organizations who build the capacity of marginalized sectors to assert their rights, such as the NFSW, are deemed as criminals by the [Philippine National Police]."

Police see CPP-NPA conspiracy

Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, Western Visayas police director, said in a The STAR report on Sunday that Manlangit and Arquillo conspired with an armed group in planning the attack that killed nine NFSW members.

He also claimed the victims were manipulated by the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army into occupying a private property as part of its Oplan Bungkalan and Okupasyon.

"Upon examination of the statements of the... witnesses... the recruiters deceived the victims and enticed them to join (NFSW) by promising them a parcel of land once their cause succeed," Bulalacao said.

Authorities have insisted the NFSW, which was founded in 1971, is a "legal front" of the CPP-NPA, a claim that the federation and other national democratic organizations reject as "red-tagging."

The CPP, NPA, and the National Democratic Front have in separate statements condemned the killings and denied involvement.

In its statement, NFSW said the police had "re-echoed the Armed Forces of the Philippines line that the Land Cultivation Areas which the NFSW had started since 2006 are Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army projects."

Membership in a mass-based organization does not automatically mean membership of, or even support for, the CPP-NPA. 

RELATED:  AFP links Sagay massacre to 'Red October' plot

The group also said the PNP's supposed witnesses may have been coerced "as the Sagay PNP, 79th Infantry Battalion and 31st Infantry Division of the Armed Forces of the Philippines have encamped in the community near the massacre scene."

The group claimed that Hacienda Nene, where the "bungkalan" or cultivation of idle land between sugarcane plantings, was done had been leased to a certain Allan Singbenco, whom the group claimed "even agreed to the LCA of the NFSW after he harvested its sugarcane crop."

The Department of Agrarian Reform, which is in charge of distributing land to farmers under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program, said within days of the massacre that it does not encourage "bungkalan", which it said is a potential source of conflict between landowners and farmers.

But a land rights organization that works with agrarian reform beneficiaries in Negros and the rest of the Western Visayas, said the activity is an offshoot of the delayed implementation of CARP. "[T]he root of it all is the social injustice that remains unaddressed by our government," KAISAHAN said on October 22.

The process of agrarian reform from coverage of land, to awarding, to the beneficiaries finally getting to till their own land can take years and can be delayed by legal challenges and security risks from the former landowners.

KAISAHAN, which is not affiliated with NFSW, said "the unbearable situation made the farmers resort to doing the agrarian reform activities on their own, without the government's assistance, even more exposing them to threats and dangers caused by individuals who never respected human rights."

A national fact-finding by rights group Karapatan and other affiliated groups have urged authorities to look into the possibility that a private armed group employed by a landowner may be behind the massacre.

BMP: Police findings 'plain rubbish'

Labor group Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, which is not affiliated with the national democratic activist movement, also condemned the filing of charges against the NFSW members, calling police findings "plain rubbish, severely lacking in logic and that may have dubious motives behind it." 
"First, how is it even possible that the PNP established the identities of the accomplices without having an idea who the perpetrators are and their motive behind the slaying?" said Leody de Guzman, chairperson of BMP and who is running for senator in 2019.

Police have pointed at NFSW leaders leaving the area before the shooting happened as supposed proof of a conspiracy, but de Guzman said authorities have not established "that the alleged accomplices knew beforehand that the slayings would happen."

BMP also called on the Duterte administration to look beyond the Sagay massacre and "holistically craft policy reforms that will avert further violence that may arise from land disputes." — Jonathan de Santos

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