While harvesting sugarcane: 4 shot dead, 1 wounded

Judy Flores Partlow (The Freeman) - February 23, 2018 - 12:00am

DUMAGUETE CITY, Philippines — Four farmers, three of them females, were shot dead Wednesday morning while they were harvesting sugarcane in a plantation at Barangay Napacao in Siaton town of Negros Oriental.

A fifth farmer, a male, also sustained gunshot wounds but survived the bloody attack which police investigators initially reported as having been allegedly perpetrated by security guards of the estate owned by a certain Don Gaspar Vicente, said Inspector Rafael Serion, chief of the Siaton Police.

The victims—who all died on the spot after they were shot at close range—were identified as Jessebel Amantillo Abayle, 34; Carmelina Garingo Amantillo, 57; Consolacion Esparcia Cadevida, 66, all residents of Napacao in Siaton; and Felimon Torres Molero, 66, resident of Barangay Mayabon in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental.

The wounded farmer was identified as Lito Prudencia de Jesus, 28, of Barangay Mantiquil in Siaton, who was brought to a hospital in Dumaguete City.

Responding police arrested immediately five suspects in the shooting incident. They were identified as Roswil Antanoy, 29, of Jimalalud town; Edilberto Pancho, 41, of Tanjay City; Reynante Rubia, 36, of Zamboanguita; Nelcher Abordo, 24, of Siaton; and Jason Ramos, 31, of Napacao in Siaton, Negros Oriental.

The suspects claimed to be security guards of the Nico Security Agency and who were assigned at the estate in Napacao, according to Serion. They are also believed to be members of the “Pulahan Group,” a religious revival cult group, which they all denied.

Initial police investigation showed that at around 8 a.m. Wednesday, the casualties and five others were resting under a blackberry tree after harvesting sugarcane when suddenly they were fired upon by the suspects. A hand grenade was also lobbed at them and exploded, Serion added.

According to the farmers, they harvested the sugarcane because they were the ones who planted it even though they have a pending petition for inclusion of the land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Police immediately conducted follow-up operations which led to the arrest of the five suspects inside a “farmhouse,” where they were holed out after the incident.

Senior Superintendent Edwin Portento, police provincial director, immediately deployed a team from the Provincial Public Safety Company, headed by Chief Insp. Alvin Futalan, to track down the suspects who were already wearing their blue guard uniforms at the house of Anabel Ramos, whom they identified as the caretaker of the property of Don Gaspar Vicente.

Seized from them were four shotguns, 41 rounds of ammunition for 12-gauge shotgun, and one magazine for 9 mm pistol containing 23 rounds of ammunition. Also recovered was a round of live ammunition for a .38-caliber revolver and shrapnel and parts of a hand grenade that exploded.

The suspects claimed the firearms are licensed and were issued to them by the Nico Security Agency. Serion, however, disclosed they still have to find out if the security guards are duly licensed. They were subjected to paraffin tests to determine if they had fired a gun during the commotion.

The five denied being members of the cult group “pulahan,” even if several of their wares were recovered from their bodies including a small booklet written in Latin, a red scarp with Latin writings on it, and the so-called “orasyun,” “habak” or “anting-anting.”

A certain Gerardo Cardona, who claimed to be a representative of Task Force Mapalad, an NGO helping the farmers in their petition to become beneficiaries of the property, said that 37 of them are already CLOA holders while the rest of the 228 members has a pending petition at the DAR.

Napacao village chief Jovencio Japon Jr., was on hand to assist in the police operation. As far as his information is concerned, the contested property is more than 160 hectares. — Juancho Gallarde

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