5 more farmers shot in property dispute

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO -- The City of San Fernando Police here said on Tuesday that another five farmers were shot while holding a meeting about the demolition operations being conducted in a farmland at Barangay Maimpis, City of San Fernando.

The farmers, who were brought to the nearest hospital on Monday, were identified as Inocencio Galang, 65; Alfredo Catacutan, 67; Jessie Dela Peña, 50; Jaime Gulapa, 56; and Jun Jacinto, 44, who was allegedly pistol whipped by a security guard identified as Anthony Gliban, 33, police said.

Hansel Galang, one of the witnesses of the incident, said the farmers were "recklessly shot" by the roving security guards.

"The security guards fired a warning shot as soon as they noticed that we were gathering near the area. The next thing we knew they were already running after us while pointing their guns at us," said farmer-witness Galang.

Galang further shared that around 60 security guards surrounded a group of 89 farmers who assembled near the disputed area in an attempt to talk about the ongoing demolition operations.

The security guards were allegedly sent by the Great Star Security Incorporated to protect the area as per the request of lawyer Eligio Mallari, the claimant of the disputed 130-hectare agricultural land within the bounds of Barangay Maimpis.

Superintendent Edilberto Pitallano, city chief of police, said that a demolition team hired by Mallari was executing the writ of demolition under an LRC case issued by Judge Amifaith Fider-Reyes of the City of San Fernando Regional Trial Court branch 42.

According to a Sun.Star Pampanga source, there were also some women who attempted to halt the shooting incident.

"I was only able to stop the man wearing a blue shirt and another wearing white," said one of the women who refused to disclose her identity for security purposes.

Not the first time

The shooting incident is just a part of a series of violent incidents ever since the demolition operations started last July 9.

During the first week of demolition operations, five farmers were detained for four hours due to obstruction of justice, the City of San Fernando police said.

Last July 18, two unidentified men also allegedly shot Guillermo Padua, 32, in the midst of negotiations between the farmers and the demolition team.

"When we were about to talk to them about the demolition activities, they went down their vehicles and two of them pointed their guns at us," said farmer-leader Jomer Santiago.

According to another witness, the demolition team immediately escaped after the incident on board a white truck, an orange van, and three jeepneys with plate numbers DXW 525, DXW 303, and DCC 459.

Due to the previous incidents, the Barangay council requested the security team of the demolition operations to leave the disputed area.

The security team initially agreed to barangay’s proposition, according to the village councilor Nestor Manarang.

"We clearly agreed that they will not go near the premises of the demolition site and some even said that they cannot do the same acts of violence performed by the demolition team because they also belong to farming families," said Manarang adding that the security guards were also waiting for their salaries to be given before they decided to leave the demolition site.

Human rights violation

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Central Luzon office said last week that it will probe on the shooting incident as the agency believes the demolition team violated the rights of the farmer group when it shot one of their members.

Mallari, a former CHR chairperson during the Arroyo administration, assumes that the Department of Agrarian Reform-approved site is already non-agricultural.

Lawyer Jasmine Regino, regional director of CHR, said that the commission is now making efforts to get the statements of the victims and the witnesses of the incident.

Additionally, Regino relayed that the CHR is always ready to provide assistance should the farmers decide to pursue a case against the demolition team.

The CHR clarified, however, that the decision-making process on the land dispute is not anymore within the powers of the commission.

"We are not in the position to decide who the rightful owner should be but how the parties should behave while negotiating through the land dispute," held Regino.

No bullets recovered

The San Fernando police, who probed the area after the shooting incident, failed to recover even a single gun bullet, which may serve as an important piece of evidence against the security guards.

The city police, however, saw several traces of blood around the area, which may indicate that the victims were critically wounded.

Currently, the City of San Fernando police are still investigating the incident while the five farmers are still recovering in the hospital. One of the victims, Barangay Chairman Romy Dizon said, is now blind after sustaining a gunshot wound in the head.


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