The Palace on Monday said the New People’s Army may have killed members
of their legal front to discredit the government.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo identified the organization of the slain farmers
as a legal front of the Communist Party of the Philippines-NPA.
“The Federation of the farmers… turns out to be the legal front of CPP-NPA
. And these farmers were only recruited a day before they were killed,” Panelo said in an interview with the state-owned Radyo Pilipinas.
“If that is really a legal front of CPP-NPA and the slain farmers were recruits, then why did they do that? It appears they killed their own recruitments, right?” he said.
READ: Massacre in Negros: 9 workers killed; land dispute eyed
Panelo said the surviving victims even identified their assailants as members of the CPP-NPA.
On Saturday, nine sugarcane farmers, including four women and two minors, were fired upon by some 40 armed men as they were resting in their makeshift shelter at Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
The Philippine National Police said it was too early to conclude the NPA’s involvement
, but the Palace assured the bereaved families that the perpetrators would face the “full wrath of the law.”
CPP founding chairman Jose Ma. Sison held the President responsible for the crime.
“Duterte is responsible for these crimes of mass murder. His favorite expression is to ‘Kill, Kill, Kill.’ That is his main call to military and police officers, he promises them impunity and he gives them rewards in terms of cash and promotions,” said Sison in an interview with ANC Sunday.
READ: Farmers vs farmers eyed
“You [can] expect a lot of killings to be undertaken by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and PNP, these are the manifestations of a ruling system that is already rotten and in a serious condition of disintegration,” he added.
The police have not arrested any suspect yet, but Occidental Gov. Alfredo Marañon Jr. has offered a P500,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the gunmen.
Former top aide to the President Christopher Go said Duterte will personally extend his condolences to the families of the slain farmers.
The deadly attack has provoked outrage as well as criticism of the slow-moving program to redistribute farmland to millions of sharecroppers—tenant farmers who give a part of each crop as rent—who remain mired in poverty.
The violence erupted Saturday on the central island of Negros, the center of the nation’s sugar industry and home to some of the country’s wealthiest landowners as well as some of its poorest farm workers.
READ: AFP chief ties Sagay massacre to Red plan to incite outrage
Up to 40 gunmen attacked a group of about 25 people who had entered the plantation near the city of Sagay just hours earlier to sow their own crops.
Authorities said they were investigating reports the farmers were killed by “goons”
employed by either the landowner or entities that leased the land.
“We vow to mobilize all available resources to ensure that those responsible are held accountable,” Philippine National Police chief Oscar Albayalde told reporters.
Under a land reform law passed in 1988, the state has distributed 4.8 million hectares to 3 million people, said Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones. But more than 800,000 hectares have yet to be broken up.
“There are areas such as these where we have not really been able to distribute (land titles), and maybe that’s one reason why some of our farmer brethren resorted to farming land that is not their own,” he said.
Lawsuits are either delaying or completely stopping the effort in some areas, including the Sagay plantation where the violence occurred, he added.
Farmworkers account for about 20 million people, a fifth of the Philippine population, who live on less than two dollars a day, the government says.
“Children in Negros work in haciendas [plantations] together with their families because of poverty due to government’s neglect,” the children’s rights group Salinlahi Alliance said Sunday, denounced the killing as a “massacre.”
Castriciones on Monday accused private goons, former members of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army, as being behind the massacre.
“I have created a task force so we could get into the bottom of this,” he said adding that he has coordinated with Albayalde to look into the possible motives behind the killings.
Senator Juan Miguel F. Zubiri pressed for an investigation into the killings.
“I condemn this killing in the heart of sugarland which is an important sector of our economy. I have just come from Bacolod in Negros and I feel disheartened by these deaths,” he said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta, AFP, and PNA