Before the incident, the Sustento family and other tillers experienced harassment while defending their collective land cultivation area.
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A beneficiary of the government’s agrarian reform program was abducted by unidentified men, Jan. 9 and was found dead the next day.
According to Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), Benjie Sustento, 30, was forcibly taken from his home in purok Eslabong, barangay Lopez Jaena, Murcia, Negros Occidental by still unidentified men at around 10:00 p.m. on Jan. 9. Witnesses said Sustento was blindfolded, gagged, hogtied and dragged several hundred meters on the street from a motor vehicle. His body, which was found the next day, bore torture marks and gunshot wounds in the face.
Sustento was a member of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NSFW), the local affiliate of the Uma in Negros island. The NFSW has led farmworkers in land cultivation activities, including in the area tilled by the Sustentos in Murcia. Uma said such bold initiative provided strong, viable alternative to the farmworkers’ usual toil as cane cutters enduring slave-like conditions and wages in vast sugar haciendas.
Before the incident, the Sustento family and other tillers experienced harassment while defending their collective land cultivation area. According to Uma, Sustento’s brother was charged with arson by a land speculator.
On Jan. 16, the Sustento family led farmers and supporters in a silent protest over the killing. In the religious service preceding the funeral march, Sustento’s brother called on the public to help them seek justice.
Uma said that the torture and killing of Sustento further highlights the failure of agrarian reform in Negros island, widely known as a landlord feudal stronghold since the Spanish colonial era.
Ranmil Echanis, Uma secretary general, said, “Sustento was merely a toddler when farmers seeking land rights were massacred in Mendiola by the first Cojuangco-Aquino dispensation. Today, even at the last few months of the oppressive regime of another Cojuangco-Aquino landlord president, young farmers like Sustento still become victims of cacique-style murder.”
On Jan. 22, 1987, thousands of farmers calling for land reform were fired upon by government troops, killing 13. To this day, no one has been held accountable for what is now known as the Mendiola Massacre.