Sagay massacre: A matter of social justice

The massacre of nine sugar farmers, including four women and two minors in Sagay, Negros Occidental last Oct. 20 sparked outrage from various groups.

The military and police are caught in their own web of lies. Armed Forces Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez Jr. claimed that the Sagay massacre is connected to the ”Red October” plot by the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA). Just a week ago, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced that the military had neutralized the Red October plot, an alleged conspiracy to oust the Duterte presidency. Now, it’s on again.

The Philippine National Police is echoing the same line, saying the NPA might be directly involved. And yet, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo alleged that the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), to which the slain farmers belonged, is a front of the CPP-NPA. Panelo even insinuated the NPAs were the ones who killed their alleged recruits.

The telenovela spin of state security forces never erases the fact that the Sagay massacre is yet another proof of the failure of government to render social justice to the tillers of the land.

Instead of admitting this failure, Agrarian Reform Secretary John Castriciones went on to blame the victims, saying they are not agrarian reform beneficiaries.

The question is why are the victims not beneficiaries even as they have been tilling the 75-hectare Hacienda Nene for decades.

It turns out that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) exempted Hacienda Nene from land reform coverage. Despite clamor from farmworkers, the DAR approved the landowners’ deed of donation in 2014.

Most haciendas in Negros islands remain untouched. Data from DAR-Negros Island show that as of September 2016, more than 95,000 hectares have yet to be distributed under land reform. Ninety-nine percent of these lands are private agricultural lands.

Moreover, an estimated 70 percent of sugar lands that were distributed have been leased to landlords due mainly to lack of support services and other support facilities, according to the NFSW.

The Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura further revealed that of the 424,130 hectares of sugar lands in Negros Island, 40 percent are owned by only 1,860 big landlords and 30 percent are owned by just 6,820 big and small landlords.

It’s landlessness that spells hunger to Negros farm workers. To fight off hunger, thousands of farmworkers have resorted to bungkalan or collective land cultivation since 2009. With the increasing prices of basic commodities and their wages still a pittance, the NFSW has decided to expand their bungkalan campaign, with Hacienda Nene as one of the areas.

Then the tragedy happened.

Who is afraid of the collective action and unity of farm workers? Who has the intention of breaking the spirit of farm workers?

Following the massacre, Castriciones called on farmers to stop occupying private-owned lands.

The chorus of Malacanang, military, police and DAR shows that they are justifying the attacks on farm workers and are hell bent on upholding the interests of landlords.

Now, who’s making the NPA and its agrarian revolution appealing to the poorest farmers? The government seems to be helping out its avowed enemies. The absence of social justice provides the fertile ground for revolution. ()

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