Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones on Tuesday said farmers belonging to the National Federation of Sugar Workers could be behind the killing
of nine of their fellow members who occupied a private farm in Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Negros Occidental on Oct. 20.
“Our undersecretary received confidential information that those who shot the victims were members of their group, [too],” Castriciones said in an interview over radio dzMM.
He said this could be part of efforts to discredit the government’s agrarian reform program.
READ: Massacre in Negros: 9 workers killed; land dispute eyed
He said the Philippine National Police and DAR are both conducting their own investigations into the identity of the perpetrators and the motive behind the killings.
Based on police reports, the communist rebels have some “influence” on several members of the federation, he said.
Castriciones said the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council met with different farmer leaders, such as with Jimmy Tadeo, and had come to the conclusion that neither the military nor the government was involved in the killings
“Not even a single government official is involved here,” he said.
Castriciones said he was at the DAR provincial office in Negros Occidental to personally go through the records of the victims, and determined than one of them were beneficiaries under the agrarian reform program.
“Two of them were minors, who could never be qualified as agrarian reform beneficiaries,” he said.
He added that the disputed land on which the farmers were killed
was never placed under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
The Commission on Human Rights, meanwhile, has also sent a fact-finding team to investigate the killings, its spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
The police on Tuesday said they have established “persons of interest”—one of them being the farm onwer—in the killing of the nine sugar farmers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, on Saturday.
PNP chief Oscar Albayalde declined to say how many persons of interest
were tagged, or who they were, but he said there were two witnesses now in police custody.
READ: AFP chief ties Sagay massacre to Red plan to incite outrage
Initial reports after the killing incident identified the farm owner as Mrs. Carmen Tolentino.
Nine of the newly recruited members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers were killed while resting in a makeshift tent in Hacienda Nene owned by Tolentino at 9:45 pm Saturday.
The victims were made to stay at the tent in the middle of the farm lot on the promise of becoming regular tillers or tenants.
But Albayalde said the victims are not legitimate tillers as the farm lots have already been distributed to legitimate beneficiaries.
“They are not the legitimate tillers or tenants or landowners because that farm lot has been distributed already to legitimate farmer-beneficiaries,” Albayalde said.
“This nine just occupied that farm lot,” he said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, directed the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct its own investigation into the massacre of the nine farm workers.
Guevarra said the probe may be undertaken even as the Philippine National Police is conducting its own investigation.
“We will not wait for the results of the PNP investigation if we think that the circumstances require our immediate participation, we shall conduct our own investigation,” Guevarra said.
The victims, including four women and minors, were resting at their makeshift shelter inside Hacienda Nene in Bulanon, Sagay city when unidentified armed men opened fire on them. The suspects then fled the crime scene.
The local government has already offered a P500,000 reward for any information that might lead to the identification and arrest of the killers.
Aside from the PNP, the Department of Agrarian Reform and other agencies tasked with implementing the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program have also created a task force to investigate the killing.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday said the killing of nine farmers by 40 armed men at Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental, demonstrates the culture of impunity has spread throughout the country.
“That this happened under the watch of President Rodrigo Duterte, who prides himself in allegedly instilling fear in the heart of criminals, points to two possible things: Despite his tough talk against criminals, the perpetrators of this gruesome crime are not afraid of him; or, his rhetoric of violence and the climate of fear he created inspired this latest act of violence,” Hontiveros said.
Either way, she said, Duterte failed in his promise to keep the people safe.
“His simplistic and barbaric approach to enforce law and order is not working. It only preys on poor people but leaves the big-time druglords, landlords, and oligarchs untouched,” she said.
Other senators expressed outrage over the killings and called on the police to conduct a swift and thorough investigation.
READ: NPA blamed for massacre of 9 farmers