‘Recruiters’ of 9 Sagay slain farmers charged

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BACOLOD City – A week after nine sugar farmers were killed in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, the Philippine National Police (PNP) filed a multiple murder charge against two members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW).

Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo – who the PNP said were recruiters of the slain sugar workers who conducted bungkalan (land cultivation) in Hacienda Nene, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City on Oct. 20 – were accused of having a hand in the massacre.

The PNP also filed the multiple murder charge against seven other unidentified persons.

Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto, commander of the Sagay City police station, filed the case at the City Prosecutor’s Office on Oct. 26, according to Police Regional Office 6 director Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao.

“We have secured eight complainant-witnesses who gave their statements. One of them was a minor who survived. All of them were willing and voluntarily signed their affidavits,” said Bulalacao, who formed a special investigation task force to probe the massacre.

He added: “Upon the examination of the statements of the complainant-witnesses, there is only one common ground…the recruiters deceived the victims and enticed them to join by promising them a parcel of land once their cause would succeed.”

Among the “Sagay 9” were Eglicerio Villegas, Angelife Arsenal, Rene Laurencio Sr., Paterno Baron, Morena Mendoza, Marcelina Dumaguit, Rannel Bantigue, and 17-year-olds Marchtel Sumikad, and Joemarie Ogahayon.

Armed men gunned them down while they were resting in their makeshift bunker in the middle of the hacienda at around 9:30 p.m. on Oct. 20. Three of the sugar farmers who tried to escape were burned.

The victims were all members of the NFSW, which has been organizing bungkalan since 2008 to help sugar farmers survive tiempo muerto or the “dead season” in the sugar industry.

The victims were laid to rest in separate funeral rites on Sunday.

“To the families of the victims, be assured that we will not stop our investigation to identify the assailants and bring justice to your family members who died in this incident,” Bulalacao said.

‘PRIVATE ARMY’

But the NFSW blamed an alleged “private army” of “powerful landlords” for the massacre.

The group was standing by a fact-finding mission’s result linking Hacienda Nene’s lessee, or aryendador, to the murders.

The NFSW said it organized the mission along with the human rights group Karapatan, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura, among other organizations.

The lessee is a “close relative of a powerful landlord” who maintains a “private armed group” composed of Special Civilian Auxiliary Army members, the NFSW claimed.

“Local SCAA are locally known to protect haciendas in Negros and are under the control of the local government,” the group said in a statement.

Moreover, the NFSW said, the fact-finding mission traced the “same pattern” of killing to the killings of some of their leaders in two different haciendas in Sagay.

The group cited the deaths of NFSW Sagay chapter chairwoman Flora Jimola in December last year and member Ronald Manlanat in January this year.

“In light [of] this new evidence, NFSW secretary general John Milton ‘Butch’ Lozande calls the public to hold the landlords, their agents, and the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) and PNP (Philippine National Police) accountable [for] the massacre,” the NFSW said. (With reports from Philippine News Agency and GMA News/PN)

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