Opposition senators seek probe into Sagay farmers' massacre

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Minority senators called for an immediate investigation into the massacre of 9 sugarcane farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.

The opposition composed of Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, senators Leila de Lima, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Risa Hontiveros, and Antonio Trillanes IV filed Senate Resolution No. 929 on Wednesday, November 7.

"The indiscriminate and thoughtless killing of the members of the impoverished and marginalized sectors of the society by those who circumvent the law, such as powerful landowners and local warlords, must be put to an end," the resolution states.

Back in October, at least 9 members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) were killed by unidentified armed men while they were preparing to cultivate land at Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City.

"This [killing] is not an isolated case as it only reflects the prevailing situation in many farmlands around the country, necessitating immediate attention of government to address the plight of our Filipino farmers," the senators said in their resolution.

Local police alleged that the 9 sugarcane workers were recruited to the NFSW, which according to the Philippine National Police is a "legal front" of communist rebels.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines tagged the killings as part of the supposed communist-led "Red October" plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: AFP chief sees CPP-NPA hand in Sagay massacre)

'Stronger social justice measures'

Duterte had blamed the New People's Army for the massacre. He also warned communist-linked farmers occupying idle lands that they would be shot should they resist arrest.

But minority senators cited the initial fact-finding mission by human rights and leftist groups claiming that Hacienda Nene lessor Allan Simbingco and other landowners related to a big political clan were behind the massacre.

"The death of the farmers should lead to a stronger program to implement social justice measures and protect our impoverished countrymen and women. It should not be used as a political device to impute criminal acts against critics of this administration without any factual basis," they added.

On Tuesday, November 6, human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos was killed by riding-in-tandem assailants in Negros Occidental. Ramos, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers-Negros Island, was among those who provided legal assistance to the families of the Sagay farmers.

Aside from investigating the incident and prosecuting those behind it, the national government should also look at the implementation of Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law to ensure just distribution of agricultural lands, the senators said.

"Aside from the pockets of investigations led by various agencies seeking accountability for the lives lost in this eventuality, the government should not only prosecute those responsible [for] the killings but should probe and swiftly respond to the primal causes of the continued landlessness of many Filipino farmers that shackle them and their families to the chains of poverty and social injustice," they said.

Guevarra orders 'deeper' probe

Meanwhile Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Thursday that he has directed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a deeper investigation into the Sagay massacre, in light of the killing of Ramos who had provided legal assistance to the victim’s families.

Guevarra said he gave the order after he received the NBI’s progress report on its investigation.

"NBI has submitted a progress report [on the death of the farmers in Sagay]. I directed them to investigate more deeply," Guevarra said.

He said the NBI should look into a possible link between Ramos’ murder and the Sagay killings.

The Sagay massacre  is the 8th recorded massacre of farmers under the Duterte administration, according to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, an organization of farmers. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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