“We are the victims and survivors yet we are the ones being accused and slapped with cases.” – Rene Manlangit, chairperson of NFSW in Barbara, Sagay
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – After they heard several false claims about them coming from the local police in Sagay City, Negros, some survivors of the Sagay Massacre trooped to the central office of the Commission on Human Rights in Quezon City, November 7.
“We went to the CHR for help in investigating what happened that night of October 20. We are the victims and survivors yet we are the ones being accused and slapped with cases,” Rene Manlangit, chairman of a local chapter of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Barbara, Sagay City, told the media. Manlangit survived the strafing that killed nine others only because he happened to be charging his cellphone nearby. They were about to rest from a day spent tilling the field after the current renter had hauled off his last harvest. Tiempo Muerto or dead season is upon them, a time when farmworkers like them no longer could find work with all the sugarcane already harvested and being milled. Tilling the newly vacant land for food crops is their hope for warding off hunger in the coming months.
“The police misrepresented the farmworkers as if they were newly minted members of NFSW that day they began to occupy the farmland, and as if they were strangers who just came into the hacienda,” said John Lozande, secretary-general of NFSW. But according to Manlangit, they have been members of the NFSW since 2012. And they have been working that same piece of land for longer than that as seasonal hired hands.
A long familiar tale of land reform evasion
Since 2000 the farmworkers have petitioned the government to declare the hacienda as covered by the land reform program. With that, it will be up for distribution to farmers and farmworkers. “But the owners, Barbara and Carmen Tolentino, threatened and harassed the sugar workers to force them to retract the first petition for land reform coverage,” Lozande said.
Despite the threats, other farmworkers filed another petition after another. Three times a notice affirming that the land is covered by land reform was issued. First in 2000, then in 2012, and the latest in 2014.
“The police and military claim — that the farmers including those killed were not farmers and not beneficiaries of land reform — is false,” Lozande said. If the land reform program were being implemented, those farmworkers would have been its beneficiaries, he added. Unfortunately, the land owners have “circumvented the land reform program and continued their control of the land,” Lozande said. The latest “circumvention” they did was “donate” the land to 25 beneficiaries, but NFSW attested that they have retained control of the land.
Because of the police and military’s “series of lies” about the farmers and their hunger-coping mechanism called bungkalan (tilling the land according to principles of land reform), the Sagay massacre survivors said they no longer trust the “investigation” being conducted by the police. Lozande said the police seem to already have preconceived notions of who to blame in the massacre even before it investigated or finished its investigation.
Follow the trail here of the National Fact-Finding Mission spearheaded by Karapatan and joined by various organizations.
In response to the farmworkers’ request, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon welcomed them at the CHR. He offered a sanctuary for Sagay massacre survivors particularly the minor rescued from the police by his mother and the members of the National Fact-Finding Mission.
Gascon said they are also conducting their own investigation into the massacre. He said he will work with the findings to be shared by the Karapatan-led National Fact-Finding Mission. He expressed concern over the government’s treatment of child survivors, witnesses, and human rights defenders.