The Philippine National Police (PNP) on Monday said it is looking at a land dispute and the involvement of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels as possible angles in the killing of nine people in a sugar farm in Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
In a press conference in Camp Crame, Chief Supt. John Bulalacao, Police Regional Office-6 director, said it is likely that the incident may have been perpetrated either by the owner of the land using goons or the other claimants because the property is also tilled by other farmers.
“Accordingly there are 40 legitimate farmers (in the land), although some of them have been linked to the New People’s Army,” Bulalacao said.
Bulalacao said the nine victims joined the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) a few days prior to the incident.
“Third of course, the possible involvement of the NPA based on the information we gathered, the two victims were only two days old as NFSW members so they are new. They were taken to the hacienda to occupy and when they settled down there, there recruiters were allegedly core group of the NFSW has left in a few minutes after that, around 9:45 in the evening they were shot,” Bulalacao said.
“It seems they were used as bait. That’s why we came up with our angle that it was perpetrated by the NPA in pursuance of their campaign to discredit the Philippine government. Isa ito sa mga tinututukan namin (This is one of the things we are closely watching),” he added.
Citing initial police investigation results, Bulalacao said the victims also had firearms, which they likely used to retaliate against the attackers.
He, however, said they are still waiting for the results of the ballistic tests on the empty shells recovered from the crime scene, which will help validate these findings.
“The SOCO (Scene of the Crime Operatives) who investigated the crime scene, said it is possible that the there are five to seven suspects but the core group members who left said there were 40 attackers. So there are conflicting statements from the core group members. We are checking whether they did this themselves and then they will blame the government,” he explained.
Bulalacao said two people have already provided their statements, undergone paraffin test and investigation processes before they were released to their lawyers last night while their other colleagues, who were all witnesses, have yet to give their testimonies.
PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said the PNP condemns the despicable attack on poor peasants and vowed to mobilize all available resources to ensure that those responsible are held accountable for their crime and justice is served to the victims and their families.
“Pursuit operations, composed of AFP and PNP units, have been launched since Saturday while a Special Investigation Task Group has been formed to look deeper into the incident. All indications suggest the participation of the CPP/NPA in pursuit of their “Oplan Bungkalan at Okupasyon”, a grand design to occupy private and government property using their mass base and to create untoward incident then blame it on the government,” Albayalde told reporters.
“I have directed that all angles should be explored in their investigation and to gather solid pieces of evidence that will support an airtight case which should be filed in our courts as soon as possible,” the PNP chief stressed.
According to a police report, the fatalities were among the alleged members of the NFSW, who occupied the farm at Hacienda Nene in Purok Firetree on Saturday.
The male fatalities were identified as Eglicerio Villegas, 36; Paterno Baron, 48; Rene “Dodong” Laurencio; and Rannel “Bingbing” Bantigue, 41, while the females were Angelife Arsenal, 47; Morena Mendoza; and Marcelina “Necnec” Dumaguit.
The two minors were identified as Jomarie Ughayon Jr., 16, and Marchtel Sumicad, 17.
The bodies of Mendoza, Bantigue and Dumaguit were allegedly burned by the assailants, the police report said.
Investigators led by Chief Insp. Roberto Mansueto, head of Sagay City Police Station, and personnel of 62nd Special Action Force team, proceeded to Barangay Bulanon after receiving information about the incident that took place around 9:30 p.m.
The teams learned that the farm owned by a certain Carmen Tolentino was occupied by alleged NFSW members, a day after the harvest.
While the victims and their companions were resting inside the improvised tents, a group of about 40 gunmen fired at them, immediately killing the nine.
Those who survived were able to run and seek refuge in various areas near the sugarcane farm.
Operatives from the Negros Occidental Police Provincial Crime Laboratory recovered 12 fired cartridges of 5.56-caliber rifle and seven others of caliber .45 along with a homemade .38-caliber pistol with a live cartridge and a fired cartridge case of the same firerarm. (PNA/Christopher Lloyd Caliwan)