Nine sugar farmworkers were shot dead in a plantation in Sagay City, Negros Occidental province in central Philippines last Saturday night. According to local reports, the attack on the farm workers by dozens of armed men occurred at around 9:30 pm while the victims were sleeping inside their makeshift huts.
The farm workers killed were union members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW); among them were three women and two minors. They were part of the collective land cultivation or ‘bungkalan’ in the disputed Hacienda Nene sugarcane plantation organized by the NFSW. Through ‘bungkalan’, farmers occupy idle and undistributed lands covered by government’s land reform program to assert the farmers’ right to land and food.
Those killed were identified as Eglicerio C. Villegas; Angelife D. Arsenal; Rene “Dodong”Laurencio; Morena Mendoza; Marcelina “Necnec” Dumaguit; Rannel “Bingbing” Bantigue, and Paterno Baron.
The two minors were Jomarie Ughayon Jr.,16 years old and Marchtel A. Sumicad, 17 years old.
Farmers who survived the incident initially reported that at least 40 armed men arrived and fired at them.
The bloody massacre occurred a day after the farm workers started the ‘bungkalan’ last Friday (Oct. 19) on 75 hectares of land inside Hacienda Nene being claimed by a lawyer Barbara Tolentino.
The NFSW said that the hacienda system in the Philippines’ Negros province, which has kept massive tracts of mostly sugar plantations concentrated in the hands of a few landlords, is being shaken by intensified ‘bungkalan’ campaigns and are now turning to these ‘merciless’ peasant killings.
“They (the landlords) are awfully afraid of the unified strength of the farmers to collectively cultivate the land. They even result to the use of brute force and killings in order to attack farmers who continue to assert and defend their democratic, civil, and political rights,” said John Lozande, NFSW leader.
The NFSW condemned the killings of their union members and demanded justice for what they now call “Sagay 9”. This brings the total of political killings to 45 in the Negros island alone under the Duterte government, 36 of which were farmers and farmworkers.
For their part,the Peoples Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) joined the Filipino farmers and people in condemning this brutal attack on small producers and supported calls that justice be served without delay.
“It’s despicable that the toll of peasant killings in the Philippines has reached to a point that the country is now fast becoming the most perilous place for farmers in the world. The culture of impunity and murderous violence against small farmers and farmworkers must be put to a stop,” said Roy Anunciacion, PCFS global coordinator. ###