By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — On the 40th day since the death of nine farmers in Hacienda Nene, Sagay, Negros Occidental, peasant groups and advocates offered Mass, lit candles and held a program at Plaza Miranda, Nov. 29.
Nine human figures made of black garbage bags with buri hats were laid on the ground. Photographs of the massacre were hung in a small makeshift tent, the central image that went viral on social media about the October 28 massacre. That day, he victims and their companions then just started a bungkalan (cultivation) to stave off hunger when gunmen peppered them with bullets and set their bodies on fire.
In a span of 40 days since, no suspect has been arrested. Instead, the police filed charges against Rogelio Arquillo and Rene Manlangit of National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW). Arquillo’s nephew Jomarie Ughayon and Manlangit’s two cousins Angelife Arsenal and Morena Cantemga were among the victims.
In an interview with Bulatlat, NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande said in Filipino, “The victims are the ones being charged now. The police is not doing a real investigation. They are misleading the public about the real killers and mastermind.”
Hacienda Nene is part of the vast landholdings under the control of the family of incumbent Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr, and his son, Alfredo Marañon III, incumbent mayor of Sagay City. Its landlords and leaseholders, the Tolentinos and Sumbincos, are related to the Marañons who control Sagay City for many decades.
‘Heightening state terror’
Lozande condemned the heightening state terror in Negros.
On Nov. 6, motorcycle-riding men tailed the convoy of lawyers and human rights activists on their way to Ramos’s wake. The two men who were arrested are enlisted officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). They were able to post bail for charges of grave threat.
Two staff workers – Felipe Levy Gelle Jr. and Enrita Caniendo – of the Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group, which Ramos founded, received death threats.
Surveillance also intensified against NFSW organizers.
On Nov. 22, President Rodrigo Duterte issued memorandum order 32, calling on the AFP and the Philippine National Police to suppress lawless violence in Negros region, Samar and Bicol Region.
“The lawless violence in Negros is perpetrated by private army linked to the military and police,” Lozande said.
Lozande said the deployment of more state security forces in the province and in the whole Negros Island would not lead to the so-called peace and order. “They are there primarily to protect the interests of big landlords who still lord over the Island,” he said.
The NSFW said that since 2017, there have been 47 farmers and sugar workers killed in Negros due to land conflict.
According to government data, 1,727 medium and large landlords control 52 percent of the more than 222,600 hectares of sugar cane areas of Negros Island.
Lozande said that even those covered by agrarian reform are still controlled by landlords.
In his speech at Plaza Miranda, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, said, “Is it a crime to occupy the land that should have long been awarded to farmers?”
Casilao said the nine victims of the Sagay Massacre were among the 177 farmers and rural folk killed under the Duterte administration.
“Those who feed the nation are the ones going hungry. Worse, they are being fed with bullets,” he said.