“We need to show them that we are not buying their story line– the victims are the ones being blamed and a child survivor is being forced to pin down innocent persons for the crime.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Farmers, Church workers and human rights activists formally launched the Stop Killing Farmers: Justice for Sagay Massacre Network, Dec. 5 at the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) chapel in Quezon City.
The network aims to gather support for the campaign for justice for the nine sugar workers killed by suspected paramilitary forces in Hacienda Nene, Sagay City, Negros Occidental on Oct. 20.
John Milton Lozande, secretary general of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma), lamented that the Sagay police, instead of going after the real perpetrators, filed multiple murder charges against NSFW leaders Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo and five other John Does over the killing of their own colleagues.
“The victims are now the ones being blamed,” Lozande said in Filipino.
The NFSW leader said that a national fact-finding mission concluded that the massacre was carried out by paramilitary forces under the command of the Philippine Army. Lozande said the police did not even consider looking into this angle.
Lozande added, “Not only that, even those who help the Negros farmers are considered at fault.”
Lozande cited the Nov. 6 killing of the victims’ lawyer Benjamin Ramos and the filing of kidnapping and serious illegal detention charges against another lawyer Katherine Panguban, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and Karapatan-Negros.
The NFSW, NUPL and Karapatan had earlier dismissed the charges as fabricated and only meant to harass those who provide sanctuary to Lester, a child survivor, and his mother.
Lester’s mother filed yesterday charges of child abuse against the Sagay police for taking her son’s testimony without the presence of any person the child trusts. She also filed Anti-Violence Against Women and Children against her former partner Vic Pedaso who, Panguban said, “has been forcing Lester to go back to the police and blame the incident to the New People’s Army (NPA).”
“We will turn the law in our favor,” Panguban said.
The NUPL also filed charges of grave threats against two Army personnel who tailed and harassed the convoy of human rights activists while on their way to the wake of Ramos last Nov. 17.
The young lawyer added that the pursuit of justice does not end with the filing of counter-charges. “We need to show them that we are not buying their story line– the victims are the ones being blamed and a child survivor is being forced to pin down innocent persons for the crime,” Panguban said.
The narrative of the police and military came as no surprise for Danilo Ramos, secretary general of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP). He said that previous massacres such as the Escalante Massacre, the Hacienda Luisita Massacre and the Mendiola Massacre were all blamed on the NPA while the state security forces who pulled the trigger and their commanders were never punished.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement that the filing of counter-charges “will send out a clear message to perpetrators and the Duterte government, that the victims’ families will not take this sitting down.”
The campaign for justice for the Sagay massacre victims should also push for genuine agrarian reform, Rafael Mariano, KMP chairperson, said.
Mariano said Negros continues to be the bastion of landlordism in the country. He said that the nine slain sugar workers were among the thousands of landless sugar workers in Negros who engaged in bungkalan (land cultivation) to stave off hunger during tiempo muerto (dead season) in sugar industry.