THE PHILIPPINE National Police (PNP) is exploring the possible involvement of communist rebels in the massacre Saturday night of nine sugar farmers at a village in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
For his part, Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones cleared the police and the military of any involvement in the crime.
The victims, including two minors, were strafed by some 40 armed men, according to police.
Activist groups, including the slain farmers’ organization, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), promptly condemned the killings. But on Monday, PNP Chief Director-General Oscar D. Albayalde said, reading his statement in a press briefing, “All indications suggest the participation of the CPP/NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army) in pursuit of their ‘Oplan Bungkalan at Okupasyon,’ a grand design to occupy private and government property using their mass base and to create untoward incident then blame it on the government.”
Mr. Albayalde added: “However, I have directed that all angles should be explored in their investigation and to gather solid pieces of evidence that will support an airtight case which should be filed in our courts as soon as possible.”
For his part, Western Visayas Regional Office 6 Director Chief Supt. John C. Bulalacao said about the victims, “Itong mga dalawang araw na members ng NFSW, lumalabas na parang ipinain sila doon.” (It appears that in the past two days, these members of the NFSW were drawn [to the hacienda where they were slain] as bait.)
“That’s why we came up with our angle (that) this was perpetrated by the NPA in pursuance of their campaign to discredit the Philippine government. Isa ito sa mga tinututukan namin (This is one of the angles we are focusing on),” he also said.
In his press conference on Monday, Mr. Castriciones said the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) will send a task force to Hacienda Nene where the workers were killed to investigate the crime.
But he also said, ahead of the investigation, “We would like to make it clear, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police do not have any involvement at all, in this incident.”
“So what transpired was a land occupation, so the farmers entered the premises of the plantation without any legal basis at all,” Mr. Castriciones also said, as he took to task the NFSW for violating Republic Act 6657, the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
For his part, DAR Undersecretary David D. Erro said, “Ang perpetrators dito ay RPA (Revolutionary Proletarian Army), isang group ng NPA.” (The perpetrators here are the RPA, a faction of the NPA.)
He added, “Ang RPA, sila ‘yung sinasabi nilang naka-base sa Negros. Pero before the incident, pumupunta na itong RPA at hinaharass ang mga farmer.” (The RPA is the group based in Negros. But before the incident, the RPA would go there to harass the farmers.)
In its statement, the Reciprocal Working Committee on Social and Economic Reforms of the National Democratic Front said, “As long as a handful of landlords monopolize land ownership and perpetuate their power through force, the Sagay 9 will not be the last victims of agrarian-related violence. Agrarian unrest will persist as the peasant masses continue to suffer from widespread poverty, high indebtedness, severe hunger and malnutrition.”
The Makabayan bloc, for its part, filed on Monday a resolution directing two House panels to probe the massacre. The lawmakers also criticized the government for red-baiting. “Nagpahayag agad sila….Malinaw na malinaw na ni-re-red tag na agad ng kapulisan at ng military ang nangyari na para bang excuse ito sa matinding nangyari,” Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said. (They issued a statement right away….It’s very clear that they are being red-tagged by the police and military as if it could serve as an excuse for the tragedy).
In his statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in part, “Families of the victims of this extremely cruel act can count on the government that it will enforce the full wrath of the law against its perpetrators.”
In a text message to reporters, presidential aide Christopher Lawrence T. Go said President Rodrigo R. Duterte is expected to visit Sagay City today. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, with Charmaine A. Tadalan and Arjay L. Balinbin