9 farm workers massacred, their lawyer murdered

Dear friends and colleagues, 

Interests backed by government arsenal ravaged the Negros region in the past weeks. The entire country woke up to the news of the massacre of nine (9) sugarcane workers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental on October 20, 2018. The issue was muddled with government pronouncements to mislead the public from getting to the root cause of the problem – landlessness and the dire situation of peasants in the Philippines. To further aggravate the situation, those who openly supported the relatives of the victims were subjected to threats and intimidation, even murder. On November 6, 2018, Atty. Benjamin Ramos, Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) chapter in Negros and one of the legal counsels of the murdered peasants, was gunned down while on his way home.  As of this writing, members of organizations such as Karapatan, National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), among others, continue to be threatened and harassed by State forces of the Duterte regime and by Duterte himself. The climate of impunity is very much alive in the country, preserved by the Duterte regime and those with big business interests who have much to gain from the intensifying repression of the poor and exploited sectors.
 
Though it is with both grief and rage that we inform you of these incidents, we ask you to join us to demand an end to these attacks against the Filipino people. Stand with us in solidarity as we show the monsters behind these killings that impunity is not forever. We will not be silenced nor cowed. We will not waver in our struggle for people’s rights and for genuine freedom and democracy. We remain resolute in our commitment to exact accountability from the perpetrators and bring justice to the victims. 
 
ACCOUNT OF INCIDENTS:
 
At around 9:00 in the evening on October 20, 2018, nine sugarcane workers and members of the National Federation for Sugar Workers (NFSW) were killed in a strafing incident at Hacienda Nene, Purok Firetree, Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental. The victims were identified as Rene Laurencio, Morena Mendoza, Marcelina Dumaguit, Angelife Arsenal, Eglicerio Villegas, Paterno Baron, Rannel Bantigue, and two minors.
 
On the morning prior to the incident, 43 members of the local chapter of National Federation of Sugar Workers in Hacienda Nene participated in a “bungkalan” or land occupation and cultivation activity in Brgy. Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental. After their ingress in the land which was already vacated after a lessor named Allan Sinbengco had harvested his sugarcane days before their scheduled land cultivation, they put up a makeshift tent. Around that time also, a certain Zenaida, farm manager of Allan Sinbengco, called Rene Manlangit, the chairperson of the local chapter of NFSW in Hacienda Nene. Manlangit informed Zenaida that some members of their organization and the arrendador (lessor) already had a verbal agreement a month prior, allowing the NFSW to enter the area to cultivate the land.

At around 2:00 in the afternoon, the farmers saw Allan dela Cruz walking along a narrow pathway towards the sugarcane fields. Later on, his father, Emilio dela Cruz, followed the direction of his son. Emilio dela Cruz is the driver and farm caretaker of Carmen Tolentino, the mother of Atty. Barbara Tolentino and the current land owner of Hacienda Nene. The farmers also saw three different motorcycles pass by three times on a secondary road near the tent at around 3:00 p.m.
At around 5:00 in the afternoon, after NFSW members had finished planting corn, banana and cassava, some of them had returned to their homes while 23 stayed behind. The group later had dinner and were resting in their tents. Manlangit informed his companions that he will proceed to a nearby house to charge his phone. He was accompanied by another NFSW member and two minors.
 
At past 9:00 p.m., the group heard gunfire. Danilo Cañete, one of the survivors, attested that he saw armed men clad in black, discharging their long firearms while approaching the tent. He remained lying on the ground and pretended to be dead. One of the assailants poured gasoline around the tent. Cañete felt gasoline being poured on his shorts and feet. He saw the assailants burn the body of Marcelina Dumaguit. At that point, he got up and bolted towards the direction of the nearest house. The assailants who saw him shouted at him, but was not able to pursue him. He hid under the table inside the house where he ran towards.
 
Aside from Cañete, seven other NFSW members and their relatives survived the massacre. 
A quick reaction team led by Karapatan was sent to the area the morning after the incident. The team recovered slippers with blood stains, hats, broken and burned water containers, and sacks of rice. In the massacre site, they also saw marks of burnt soil.
 
On October 24-25, a national fact-finding mission led by Karapatan, NFSW, Unyon ng Mangagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA-Union of Agriculture Workers) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Peasant Movement in the Philippines) was conducted to investigate the incident. Initial findings report that Allan Sinbengco, lessor in Hacienda Nene, knew the plan of the farmers to conduct “Bungkalan” activities in the area. Allan Sinbengco is a close friend of the Marañons who are known to have a private army, composed of former Revolutionary Proletarian Army (RPA, who have become paramilitaries and mercenaries) and active members of Special Civilian Auxiliary Army (SCAA).
 
Local SCAA elements are commonly known to protect haciendas in Negros and are under the control of the local government. They are actively recruiting former RPA members. In fact, the local housing project in Brgy. Bulanon is allotted for SCAA members.
 
SCAA members were also tied to the killings of Flora Jimola, the late city chairwoman of NFSW who was killed last December 2017 in Hacienda Susan, and Ronald Manlanat, a member of NFSW who was killed in Hacienda Jofred in January 2018. Jimola’s body was burned while Manlanat was brutally shot in the head. Both haciendas are located in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. The same trend of brutality remain common in these incidents. 
Up to now, the police continues to play its blame-game while the military continues its arbitrary linking of every event to its imagined destabilization plot. The perpetrators and the hacienda owners, however, remain scot-free while the organizations supporting the victims have become the new targets of threat and harassment. 
 
Roughly two weeks later, Atty. Benjamin Ramos, one of the lawyers assisting the relatives of the victims of the Sagay 9 massacre, was gunned down by armed motorcycle-riding gunmen on November 6, 2018 in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental. The victim was brought to the Holy Mercy Hospital in Kabankalan City but was pronounced dead on arrival; he sustained at least three gunshot wounds to the body and chest. 
 
Atty. Ben Ramos is the secretary general of the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL) chapter in Negros. He handled numerous cases involving rights violations against the marginalized in the region, including that of political prisoners. He was also the executive director of the Paghidaet sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG), a non-governmental institution providing assistance to farmers in Negros. Atty. Ben Ramos was among those red-tagged by State forces prior to his cold-blooded murder. In April 2018, his name and picture, together with that of many Negros-based activists including Karapatan National Council member Clarizza Singson and health worker Zara Alvarez, appeared on a poster cum hitlist which was circulated all over the region. According to NUPL, 24 lawyers have already been killed under the Duterte regime. 
 
 
We call on the Philippine government to:
 
1. Conduct an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation of the separate incidents to be conducted by an independent body, taking into consideration the role of local land owners, their private armies and its possible link to current local government officials; 
2. Stop the killings and the attacks against the Filipino people; 
3. Stop the red-tagging of members and leaders of progressive people’s organizations. Stop the threats, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders;
4. Freely distribute  land to the tillers, along with overall support for the agricultural sector;
5. Dismantle private armies and paramilitary groups used by land owners, the military and government officials to terrorize the people and restrict avenues for protest;
6. Enact the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill which seek to create an enabling environment for human rights defenders, including human rights lawyers, to continue their work, and exact accountability from State forces;
7. End to the Duterte administration’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan which encourages State security forces to threaten, harass and intimidate activists, community leaders and civilians;
8. Adhere to and respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and all major Human Rights instruments that it is a party and signatory.

We urgently appeal for your support and solidarity through:
1. Issuing statements of solidarity for circulation to the public and media circles. Publish these on your websites, social media platforms among others. Please send a copy to karapatan@karapatan.org. 
2. Reporting malicious posts on social media and flagging said posts, users, and pages as false news or hate speech. 
3. Conducting or joining mass actions and campaigns to support rights defenders under attack.

4. Assisting efforts to raise financial and material support for the legal defense and safety fund for the activists and human rights defenders. Please email karapatan@karapatan.org on the details. 

5. Informing and lobbying with officials of government and inter-governmental bodies in other countries. 


You may send your communications to the following Philippine-based authorities:

Mr. Rodrigo Duterte
President of the Republic
Malacañang Palace,
JP Laurel St., San Miguel,
Manila, Philippines 1005
Voice: (+632) 564 1451 to 80
Fax: (+632) 742-1641 / 929-3968
E-mail: op@president.gov.ph or send message through http://op-proper.gov.ph/contact-us/
 
Mr. Jesus Dureza
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process
Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)
7/F Agustin I Building, F. Ortigas Jr. Road,
Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Telephone:+63 (2) 637-6083
Trunkline: +63 (2) 636-0701 to 07, local 823 or 824
Fax:+63 (2) 638 2216
Email: peace.opapp@gmail.com
 
Ret. Maj. Gen. Delfin Lorenzana
Secretary, Department of National Defense
DND Building, Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo,
Segundo Avenue, Quezon City 1110
Trunkline:+63 (2) 982-5600
Email: publicaffairs.dnd@gmail.com or through http://www.dnd.gov.ph/contact-us.html
 
Mr. Menardo Guevarra
Secretary, Department of Justice
Padre Faura St., Ermita, Manila
Direct Line: 521-1908; 526-5462
Trunkline: 523-84-81 loc. 211/214
Telefax: (+632) 523-9548
Email: osecmig@gmail.com, osec@doj.gov.ph, communications@doj.gov.ph  
 
Mr. Jose Luis Martin Gascon
Chairperson, Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., UP Complex, Commonwealth Avenue
Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
Voice: (+632) 928-5655, 926-6188, 920-9510
Telefax: (+632) 929 0102
Email: chairgascon.chr@gmail.com 
 
Please send us a copy of your email/mail/fax to the above-named government officials, to our address below:

KARAPATAN Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights
National Office
2/F Erythrina Bldg., #1 Maaralin cor Matatag Sts., Brgy. Central,
Diliman, Quezon City 1100 PHILIPPINES
Telefax: (+632) 435 4146
Email: karapatan@karapatan.org  
Website: www.karapatan.org