This was how former Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada felt when he heard the news about the gruesome massacre of nine sugarcane workers in Bacolod City, Negros province yesterday.
The murder happened right inside Hacienda Nene, reportedly owned by a certain Carmen Tolentino, where the victims who were all members of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW) have been staying.
The nine victims were resting at a makeshift tent when around forty armed men stormed their location and opened fire. Not content, those who were already down on the ground were shot anew to make sure that they had no chance of surviving.
Worse, at least three of the victims were doused with gasoline and burned.
“This is not the first time that farmers have lost their lives trying to gain possession of the lands awarded to them, and I fear it won’t be the last,” Tañada said
“This is a persistent problem in the implementation of agrarian reform,” he continued.
The brutal murder happened on the first night of the land cultivation area or bungkalan campaign initiated by the federation at Hacienda Nene. Under the campaign, farmers will try to militantly occupy idle lands and cultivate them in order to make them productive. The federation said that Bungkalan is their response to resonate its call for genuine agrarian reform and free land distribution.
“Bungkalan reflects the failure of the government’s land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers,” the NFSW said in a statement.
Tañada asked the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to intervene, meet the Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (ARBs) and finally determine those lands which can be placed in their possession. For those ARBs which has pending legal questions to their possession, DAR should support any legal actions or initiative that will remove these legal barriers.
According to Tañada, failure on the part of DAR to intervene and hold dialogues will only force the tillers and farm workers to assert their rights over the land awarded to them even to the point of risking their lives while the former owners of the lands will expectedly use force to repel them.
“Allowing this violence will just be a waste of one of the country’s best pieces of legislation,” Tañada stated apparently referring to Republic Act No. 6657 or the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL).
Tañada urged the government to stand up for the victims and their families and bring the perpetrators of the gruesome massacre within the realm of the law.
“Bullets can never be the answer to the farmers’ quest for social justice, to own the land they till and to end poverty and hunger among their families,” Tañada quipped.
“The government has to stand up for the families of the victims of this gruesome mass murder and to bring justice to their death,” he further said.