Sun Star Bacolod - - Opinion -

1. Eglice­rio Vil­le­gas

2. An­gelife Arse­nal

3. Paterno Baron

4. Rene Lau­ren­cio

5. Morena Men­doza

6. Marcelina ‘Nec­nec’ Du­ma­guit 7. Ran­nel Ban­tigue

8. Jo­marie Ugya­hon Jr., 16 9. March­tel Su­mi­cad, 17

I ASK you, if you care about jus­tice and the sanc­tity of life, to re­mem­ber th­ese nine names.

Th­ese are the names of the nine per­sons gunned down Satur­day night in a field in Ha­cienda Nene, Purok Fire Tree, Barangay Bu­lanon, Sa­gay City.

The dead were among 14 mem­bers of the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Sugar Work­ers who had opted to stay overnight in a tent they had erected ear­lier in the day at the start of their “bungkalan,” a cam­paign to till land cov­ered by the agrar­ian re­form pro­gram but which has yet to be dis­trib­uted to farmer-ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

In the case of Ha­cienda Nene, ac­cord­ing to NFSW, the plan­ta­tion is un­der a no­tice of cov­er­age, mean­ing the process of dis­tribut­ing it to the farm­ers has al­ready be­gun. Never mind that it is 2018 and the orig­i­nal Com­pre­hen­sive Agrar­ian Re­form Law was en­acted in 1988.

All the vic­tims bored shots to the head – in­di­cat­ing that the gun­men wanted to make sure they were dead – and three of them had also been set on fire.

It does not re­ally mat­ter on whose or­ders the killers – the NFSW sus­pects ei­ther pri­vate se­cu­rity per­son­nel or mem­bers of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Pro­le­tar­ian Army, who are ev­ery­thing but “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” and “pro­le­tar­ian,” or even an “army” – car­ried out their evil deed. The mes­sage was clear: The tillers of the soil have no right to own the soil. If they per­sisted, it would be at the cost of their lives.

This is why Ne­gros – and the whole coun­try for that mat­ter – re­mains what the late, great Bishop An­to­nio For­tich called a “so­cial vol­cano,” a sim­mer­ing caul­dron of ten­sions fu­eled by the huge dis­par­i­ties be­tween the small elite that con­trols most of the land and re­sources and the teem­ing masses whose toil pro­duces what we eat but who are de­prived not just of the fruit of their la­bor but the means as well, in this case, the land it­self.

Con­sider this. The NFSW says 34 per­cent of the prov­ince’s 424,130 hectares planted to sug­ar­cane is owned by only 1,860 land­lords own­ing 50 hectares or more. An­other 30 per­cent of the land is owned by 6,820 medium and small land­lords with hold­ings of 10 to 50 hectares.

The re­main­ing 35 per­cent is dis­trib­uted among 53,320 work­ers, roughly 18 per­cent of the es­ti­mated 300,000 work­force of the sugar in­dus­try.

It has not helped, of course, that ever since it was founded just be­fore Fer­di­nand Mar­cos de­clared mar­tial law and plunged the coun­try into 14 years of strong­man rule the NFSW has openly and reg­u­larly been branded by the gov­ern­ment and its se­cu­rity forces a “le­gal front” of the com­mu­nist rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment.

In fact, as the Unyon ng mga Mang­ga­gawa sa Agrikul­tura, of which the NFSW is an af­fil­i­ate, re­minded us, in April 20 this year, the Army’s 303rd In­fantry Brigade claimed that the Komiteng Re­hiy­onal of the Com­mu­nist Party of the Philip­pines was main­tain­ing com­mu­nal farms on Ne­gros when, in fact, th­ese were tilled by mem­bers of the NFSW and the Kilu­sang Mag­bubukid ng Pilip­inas as a coun­ter­mea­sure to the an­nual “Tiempo Muerto,” the lean months be­tween the plant­ing of a new crop and the har­vest, when there is hardly any work to be found on the ha­cien­das.

More re­cently, just last month, KMP mem­bers in Barangay Bi-ao, Bi­nal­ba­gan said some 60 farm­ers were in­vited to what they were made to be­lieve was a meet­ing with of­fi­cers of the De­part­ment of Agrar­ian Re­form only to be tagged by the 62nd In­fantry Bat­tal­ion as rebels and made to “sur­ren­der.”

Such base­less and ir­re­spon­si­ble claims not only serve to lay down the ba­sis, if not the moral or le­gal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, for the per­se­cu­tion of farm­ers and farm work­ers strug­gling to sur­vive and build a bet­ter lot for them­selves but also ef­fec­tively crim­i­nal­ize poverty or, rather, any means to free one­self from its grip.

It is good that Sa­gay Mayor Al­fredo Marañon III and his fa­ther, Gover­nor Al­fredo Marañon Jr., have vowed jus­tice to the vic­tims. We will hold them to their word.

We have lived far too long with blood in our sugar.*

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