MULTIPLE murder charges were filed on October 26 against the two alleged recruiters of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) and seven others for their involvement in the brutal killing of nine farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao, director of Police Regional Office (PRO)-Western Visayas, said in a press briefing at the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (Nocppo) headquarters in Bacolod City on October 27 that the criminal complaints were filed before the City Prosecutor's Office against recruiters Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, and seven John Does.
Bulalacao said the result of the investigation conducted by Nocppo showed that the two recruiters reportedly connived with the assailants by facilitating the recruitment of the victims.
On October 20, Eglicerio Villegas, 36 and his common-law wife Angelipe Arsenal, 47; Paterno Baron, 48; Rene Laurencio, 53 Marcelina Dumaguit, 56; Rommel Bantigue; Morena Mendoza; Jomarie Ughayon Jr., 16; and Marchtel Sumicad, 17, were resting in a makeshift tent at Hacienda Nene in Bulanon village when about 12 unidentified armed men fired at them using high-powered firearms. Three of them were partially burned.
Read Gunmen kill 9 people who occupied Negros farm
The victims were laid to rest in Sagay City on Sunday, October 28.
A 14-year-old boy and Danilo Cañete, who claimed to have taken cover in a half-filled rice sack during the shooting, survived.
Read Authorities turn over Sagay survivor to family
But police have been questioning the alleged "malicious disappearance" of Manlangit and Arquillo, who also survived when they both went to a nearby hut to charge their cellular phones before the shooting happened.
Upon the examination of the statements of the eight complainant-witnesses, there is only one common ground, that is, the recruiters deceived the victims and enticed them to join by promising them a parcel of land once their cause would succeed, Bulalacao said.
"The slain farmers were set-up and used as sacrificial lambs to pursue the wicked motive of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army (CPP-NPA) to destroy the government," Bulalacao said.
Bulalacao said these innocent victims were used as part of the CPP-NPA's Oplan Bungkalan o Okupasyon, a plan to mobilize farmers to pursue the Red October plot which was discovered by the intelligence community of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) some time ago.
Bulalacao said Manlangit and Arquillo were not identified as gunmen but because of their active participation to convince the victims, they were charged for indispensable cooperation.
Both suspects in their previous media interviews denied the allegations of the police.
Bulalacao believed that the charges they have filed against the suspects will stand in court.
Despite the filing of charges against the nine suspects, Bulalacao said the murder case is not yet closed as they are eyeing more suspects to be charged later on.
He is appealing to the people who have knowledge of the incident to help the authorities identify other suspects especially those who actually did the shooting.
Bulalacao, however, said they are still not discounting the possible involvement of donees, who also might have links with the NPA.
The NFSW, in a press statement Sunday, October 28, condemned the Philippine National Police (PNP) for filing the charges against two of its members while the killers of the massacre go scot-free.
NFSW secretary-general John Milton Lozande said: "This is a dangerous precedent as mass-based and people’s organizations who build the capacity of marginalized sectors to assert their rights, such as the NFSW, are deemed as criminals by the PNP.”
The group also questioned how police got their witnesses, claiming that "it is highly probable that the PNP and AFP have resorted to coercion since military and police have encamped near the massacre scene.
Superintendent Glenn Provido, deputy provincial director for operations of Nocppo, said the victims and the survivors are in a comfortable state prior to the shooting. Hence, there may be a possibility of treachery within the group.
There is also a possibility that the victims and survivors are well-acquainted with their assailants, he added.
Based on the result of the police investigation, the gunshot wounds of the slain farmers were mostly from behind, thus they really had no idea about the plan against them, he said.
The motive can be clearly attributed to internal disagreement or land dispute among farm workers. The atrocity was timely orchestrated to intentionally and purposely discredit the current government and its forces, he said.
Paraffin tests on the nine victims and survivors yielded negative for gunpowder nitrate. However, the recovered .38 caliber revolver from the crime scene was positive for gunpowder nitrate.
Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Castil Jr., Nocppo director, said they cannot establish yet if the recovered firearm was used prior to or during the incident.
"We cannot even tell yet if there is an exchange of gunfire between the victims and the assailants," he added.
A white envelope containing 7.7 grams of soil with ashes also yielded positive for the flammable substance.
Meanwhile, Bulalacao supports the independent investigative body organized by Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. to look into the Sagay massacre.
He said the members of the body have already met with Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, city police chief, to materialize the plan to conduct a parallel investigation.
Bulalacao said it will not prejudice the results of the police investigation because it is their mandate to investigate all cases happening in their area of responsibility.
“We will go on with whatever action that was conducted and undertaken by the police. It will depend on the courts involved if they wanted to wait for the results of the independent investigative body,” Bulalacao added.