THE father of the minor who witnessed the bloody massacre in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, and three policemen from Sagay City Police Station are facing charges before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday, December 4, for allegedly forcing the minor to testify on the “Sagay 9” incident which happened on October 20.
Lawyer Katherine Panguban of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), in a phone interview with SunStar Bacolod on Tuesday, said the mother of the minor filed a complaint for violation of Republic Act 9262 or the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act against Vic Pedaso, her estranged husband.
Panguban said the criminal complaint came after the mother, whose name was withheld, has been reportedly receiving constant threats from Pedaso through text messages and phone calls to locate her whereabouts.
She said Pedaso is forcing his estranged wife to return their son to him, despite their hesitation.
Panguban also said the minor does not even know his father, who abandoned him for 10 years.
“It is already a psychological violence. It made the mother worried and afraid for her son,” the lawyer added.
Panguban said the mother and son took sanctuary in Manila, through the assistance of Karapatan-Negros and NUPL, after they feared for their safety following the issue on the custody of the child-witness.
The minor was first under the custody of Sagay City Police Station for safekeeping but they turned him over to Sagay City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) for debriefing after his traumatic experience.
On October 25, the CSWDO turned over the minor, whom police considered as a primary witness on the incident, to his mother in the presence of his father.
But Pedaso filed kidnapping charges against Panguban for allegedly taking custody of his child by using his estranged wife.
He believed that his estranged wife was only being used by progressive groups to get the custody of his child, a statement which the NUPL had earlier dismissed, claiming they are only protecting the child.
The kidnapping charge was already forwarded to the Regional State Prosecutor’s Office in Iloilo City and was sent to DOJ in Manila for appropriate disposition. However, NUPL has yet to receive a copy of the complaint.
As this developed, the minor, represented by his mother, also filed charges for violation of Republic Act 7610 or the Special Protection of children against abuse, exploitation, and discrimination act against Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, chief of Sagay City Police Station, and two personnel of Women and Children’s Protection Desk (WCPD) for allegedly allowing the minor to be interviewed without the consent of his parents or guardians.
Panguban said the police violated the handling of a child-witness. He was alone all the time, she added.
For his part, Mansueto said he welcomed the charges filed against him, but he considered their claims and basis of the complaint as “fabricated.”
Mansueto said he has evidence that can prove that the minor was not forced when he was asked to testify on the incident through an affidavit.
“Wala man na diri ang nanay sang natabo na di. Amu na bisan ano ila ihambal sa nanay, mapati na lang sa ila (The mother was not present here when it happened. She will just believe whatever they say to her),” Mansueto said.
It is just their way to harass the police because they can’t think of other ways, he added.
There was no intimidation that happened, he reiterated.
The CSWDO earlier said there was an agreement between the mother and the office that if the minor is needed for the investigation, he will be transported to Sagay City but the said office has no communication with them since they went to Manila.
The Philippine National Police (PNP) in a media interview said they respect the mother's decision but they stressed that it is also the duty of the police to file charges against persons whom they think are hindering their investigation.
On October 20, nine farmers were killed by unidentified armed men while they were resting in a makeshift tent at Hacienda Nene in Bulanon village.
Barely a week after the incident, the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (Nocppo) filed multiple murder charges against Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, and seven John Does.
Police have been questioning the alleged "malicious disappearance" of Manlangit and Arquillo, the alleged recruiters of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFWS), who invited the nine victims to the said hacienda when it happened.
Both survived when they went to a nearby hut to charge their cellular phones when the shooting happened but they denied the allegations against them, claiming they have no involvement in it.
Authorities have been blaming the NFSW, whom they considered the legal front of New People’s Army (NPA), as behind the killings by using the slain farmers as "sacrificial lambs" to pursue their "wicked motive” to destroy the government.
The NFSW and other progressive groups denied the claims of the police and military and even condemned the PNP for filing the charges against two of its members while the killers of the massacre go scot-free.
On November 28, families and members of human rights advocate and progressive groups led the ecumenical service in Escalante City to mark the 40th day of the slain farm workers.
They offered a mass and tribute to martyrs held at the Mt. Carmel Church followed by a candle lighting ceremony.
The same services were also held in Bacolod City and Quiapo, Manila, the following day, to express their solidarity in the people’s call for justice for the victims of the Sagay massacre.