Tension rises as farmers assert their right to till in Salvador Benedicto town, Negros Occidental.
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – One sugar worker was wounded in an ambush on July 17 by suspected armed goons of a landlord in Salvador Benedicto town, Negros Occidental.
Ronel Bariga and his nephew Ariel Ceballos were on board a jeepney on July 17 at 3 p.m., headed to Igmaya-an village to gather wood, when two assailants wearing bonnets strafed their vehicle, according to the national agricultural workers federation, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).
Bariga was grazed on the right side of the body, while Ceballos, who was driving the jeepney, was unharmed. The property was said to be sold by former Mayor Nehemias de la Cruz to business tycoon Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros, condemned the attempted extra-judicial killing (EJK), which they believed targeted Ceballos’s father, Alexander.
UMA’s acting chairperson John Milton Lozande said the elder Ceballos has led the land cultivation campaign in Igmaya-an village, and has been receiving death threats from Dela Cruz’s camp.
“Dela Cruz is behind landgrabbing attempts involving a 25-hectare area made productive through the efforts of around 50 members of NFSW since 2013. The area is now planted to rice, corn, cassava, and bananas,” Lozande said.
Based on the factsheet by UMA, on June 16, a certain Jigger Costan, reportedly a bodyguard of Dela Cruz, threatened to kill the elder Ceballos and 11 other sugar workers.
On July 14, in a confrontation at the Provincial Agrarian Reform Office (PARO) in Bacolod city, municipal councilor JR dela Cruz, who is also the son of the former mayor, told NFSW chairperson Rolando Rillo that they would file charges against Ceballos and vowed to seize NFSW’s land cultivation areas “no matter what.” Lozande said the confrontation was witnessed by PARO head Emily Vergara.
UMA said the land used to be under the care of the late Eusebio Ginson, who acquired a free patent from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) but failed to develop the property.
“De la Cruz, meanwhile, is said to have accumulated through intimidation, killings and illegal means, around 771 hectares of land seized from peasants during his and his family’s reign as local officials,” Lozande said.
Lozande said the authorities should investigate and prosecute De la Cruz and his goons.
“Hundreds, even tens of thousands of hectares acquired by landlords like Dela Cruz through violence and intimidation reflect the bogus land reform policy of the landlord President Benigno S. Aquino III. The attempt to kill farmers in Salvador Benedicto is testament to the dismal failure of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), especially in Negros Occidental and Negros island, where landlordism still holds sway,” Lozande said.
He added that land cultivation is not a crime. “Land reform must provide land to the tiller. Aquino must be held accountable for bogus land reform and grave human rights violations against peasants in last State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 27.”