ACTIVIST and labor groups on Sunday condemned the reported massacre on Saturday night of nine sugar workers at a farm in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
According to a report by the Philippine Star, the nine fatalities included three women and two minors who were strafed at around 9:30 p.m. by armed men at a hacienda in Purok Firetree, Barangay Bologna.
The fatalities belonged to the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), said the Star report, which also cited the provincial police director, Senior Supt. Rodolfo Castil, as saying that about 40 armed men were involved in the attack.
In their joint statement, the NFSW and the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) said they “hold the Duterte administration including the Armed Forces of the Philippines responsible for this reprehensible act of violence towards our farmers.”
The groups attributed to an Army official the claim that “the land cultivation areas (LCAs) being maintained by agricultural sugar workers and farmers in Negros Island are in fact New People’s Army (NPA) rebels communal farms.”
“The NFSW, on the other hand has time and again stated, that the goal of setting up land cultivation areas is to ward off the inevitable hunger brought by the Tiempo Muerto (dead season in the sugar industry) on properties covered by agrarian reform but which remain undistributed and idle, planting these with vegetables, banana, corn, and root crops to feed their families.”
“The 9 together with 4 others were resting in a farm hut when they were reportedly strafed by 40 armed men. They, together with others had just begun their LCA in the 75 hectare hacienda that morning. The names of the victims are still being ascertained and a Fact Finding Mission is still ongoing in the area.”
NFSW also said in a separate statement, “Land cultivation area or Bungkalan is our response to resonate our campaign for genuine agrarian reform and free land distribution. Farmers militantly occupy idle lands and collectively cultivate these lands in order to make it productive. Bungkalan reflects the failure of the government’s land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers.”
“It is morally right and just for the sugar workers and peasants in Negros Occidental to undertake their Land Cultivation Areas especially with a regime that has no land reform program to offer. Instead it red baits those who assert their rights to the land,” NFSW also said in its statement with UMA.
For his part, Makabayan senatorial candidate and former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said in a statement, “This is an attempt of the Duterte gov’t to quell any form of protest by criminalizing legitimate demands. As NFSW have repeatedly pointed out the goal of setting up land cultivation areas is to ward off the inevitable hunger brought by the Tiempo Muerto (dead season in the sugar industry) by planting on properties vegetable, corn and root crips on undistributed and idle lands to feed their families.”