THREE months after the Sagay Massacre which killed nine farm workers including three peasant women and two minors, justice remains elusive. To rub salt in the wounds, state forces, including military and police elements, have launched operations targeting farmers and farm workers as well as human rights activists,” National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan) chairperson Zenaida Soriano said.
She added, “The Duterte government has consistently red-tagged farmers’ initiatives in asserting their rights to land in order to justify the intensified threat, harassment and extrajudicial killings of farmers and their supporters.”
A few weeks after the massacre, human rights lawyer Ben Ramos who had provided free legal assistance to the family of the victims was killed. Criminal charges were filed against National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) members Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, implicating them in the massacre. Lawyer Kathy Panguban was also charged with kidnapping after providing assistance to the mother of the 14 year-old-witness and survivor of the massacre.
“Duterte’s Memo 32 has made the attacks against the farming families of Negros more brutal. Duterte has made the military and police forces ‘untouchables’ despite vicious attacks against civilians. He practically endorsed different forms of rights abuses against peasant families and communities seeking land and justice,” Soriano added.
According to rights group Karapatan, around 1,600 military and police personnel are deployed in Negros.
Just before the year ended, six were killed while 16 were arrested in Guihulngan City by the 94th Infantry Battalion under the 302nd Infantry Brigade of the AFP together with PNP Region 7 in their Tokhang-like Synchronized Enhanced Managing of Police Operations (Sempo).
On Jan. 11, habal-habal driver Remeglo Arquillos was gunned down in Barangay Bulado, Guihulngan City in Negros Oriental by unidentified assailants. He was the 55th EJK victim in Negros since Duterte assumed presidency.
“The rising human rights abuses in Negros manifest chronic landlordism and warlordism in the country to maintain land monopoly championed by no less than Duterte who has no intention of enacting a genuine land reform program worse, integrates land to the foreign monopoly-dominated economy,” Soriano exclaimed.
“As long as the Duterte government fails to address the just and historic demands of the peasantry for land and social justice, farmers including women and the youth will rise and assert their rights,” Soriano added.
Amihan is set to join other peasant groups and sectors on Jan. 22 to commemorate the 32nd anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. - ZENAIDA SORIANO