Int’l movement calls for UNHRC probe of PH farmers massacre

PRESS RELEASE | Reference: Sylvia Mallari, PCFS Global Co-chairperson – [email protected]

An international movement of grassroots groups of small food producers and food sovereignty advocates appealed to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations (UNHRC) to independently investigate the killing of 14 farmers in Negros province, central Philippines.

Eight farmers from Canlaon City, four in Manjuyod town, and two in Sta. Catalina,Negros Oriental were killed in a joint “anti-crime” operation carried out by local police and military in the wee hours of March 30, 2019. Twelve others, also farmers, were arrested.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) condemned the killings and expressed its dismay that another state-perpetrated massacre of farmers took place as rural peoples organizations from all over the world are holding various activities to highlight their land struggles for the global action for “Day of the Landless” on March 29.

“The massacre affirmed the global trend of repression against rural peoples fighting for land, which was among the issues we are highlighting for the Day of the Landless,” said Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS. The Coalition is among the formations that spearheaded the global day of action, which aimed to expose the role of structural policies in enabling landgrabs worldwide.

“The political killings of farmers and the harassment of rural communities are often carried out to suppress local resistance against corporate landgrabs. Unfortunately for the Philippines, our President is bent on keeping the country’s reputation as the deadliest country for farmers, not just for illegal drug users,” Mallari said, who is also a Filipino.

She noted that among those who were killed are peasant leaders, namely: Edgardo Avelino, 59, chairman of the Canlaon City chapter of Peasant Movement of the Philippines (KMP); Valentin Acabal, local village head of Barangay Kandabong; and Sonny Palagtiw, local village head of Barangay Panciao. Azucena Garubat, 57, Canlaon City chapter coordinator of Anakpawis and Nestor Kadusale, 58, local peasant leader in Manjuyod town were among the arrested.

According to KMP, a member organization of PCFS, peasant death toll under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte is now at 200. The record keeps the country on top of the deadliest for farmers in Asia and among the top five in the world, Mallari added.

The PCFS official vented her concern on the spate of massacres happening in Negros province, especially since Duterte declared it with two other provinces in a state of lawless violence under Memorandum Order No. 32.[1] She said the island of Negros is known as the hacienda-capital in the Philippines as it is home to the largest landholdings still owned by landlords and to a large concentration of landless farmers. Similar massacres committed by military took place in Sagay City, Negros Occidental and Guihulngan, Negros Oriental, killing nine in October and six in December last year respectively. All victims were farmers actively campaigning on local issues.

Mallari also pointed out that it is “ironic that the Philippine government remains a member of the UNHRC when farmers are deliberately being slaughtered by the State.”

“But farmers massacres have been taking place in the Philippines even before Duterte’s administration. In fact, the ‘Negros 14’ massacre happened on the eve of the third anniversary of the ‘Kidapawan massacre,’” mentioned Mallari, referring to the violent dispersal of protesting farmers in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, southern Philippines in 2016 where three farmers were killed and more than a hundred were injured. The farmers were protesting the state inaction on the starvation and loss of livelihood they are experiencing due to drought.

“It is glaring how state forces are so empowered in killing poor and helpless rural peoples. Red-tagging has been such a convenient excuse that the perpetrators remain scot free to present day,” Mallari stated.

Police earlier claimed that their latest operation in Negros, under the local counter-insurgency program Oplan Sauron, was carried out to ensure peace and order in the ongoing election period in the Philippines. They later on admitted that the victims were accused to be members of the communist rebel group New People’s Army. The same allegation was made against the victims of the “Sagay 9,” “Guihulngan 6,”and the Kidapawan massacres, she said.

She added that the killing of rural peoples is also prevalent in Latin America and other countries in Asia. “However, the Philippines shines for the frequency of the massacres targeting farmers,” Mallari added.

“Justice will remain elusive for these massacres and more will happen as long as the culture of impunity prevails. PCFS demands the accountability of the Duterte administration and its state forces for the perpetration of these massacres,” the PCFS official concluded. ###

[1] Memorandum Order No. 32 was issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on November 22, 2018,ordering the intensified deployment and operation of police and military troops in the provinces of Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Samar, and Bicol.

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