Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered police and armed forces to arrest communists who occupy land illegally; those who resist violently will be shot.
Duterte made the announcement on Oct. 28 during a speech (pdf) celebrating the birthday of his friend and former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
The announcement was made in response to the killing of nine farmers in Bacolod, Philippines on Oct. 20, who were occupying part of a privately owned sugarcane plantation.
The nine farmers killed were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), according to the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The NFSW is a farmer’s organization that was founded in 1971. The NFSW introduced the farm-lot program for cultivating idle land (also known as “bungkalan”) in the 1980s; this has since been a major source of conflict between landowners and laborers.
What Occurred on Oct. 20
On Oct. 20, a group of 14 farmers arrived at a sugarcane farm, the Hacienda Nene, Purok Pine Tree, on the outskirts of Sagay City. The farm is in the province of Negros Occidental, known as Philippine’s sugarcane capital.
The farmers had planted beans and other crops and were resting inside improvised tents.
At around 9:30 p.m., a group of gunmen fired at the victims, killing nine, according to the Manila Standard.
In an Oct. 22 statement, the PNP said they believed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and New People’s Army (NPA) were behind the attack as part of their bungkalan. The PNP referred to bungkalan as part of a “grand design to occupy private and government property using their mass base and to create untoward incident then blame it on the government.”
The NPA, which is part of the Communist Party of the Philippines, seeks to overthrow the Philippine government and to expel U.S. influence from the Philippines.
The Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office (the regional arm of the PNP) put out a statement on the incident on Oct. 29 with testimony from Nove Bantigue, who says she’s the niece of one of the shooting victims, Rannel Bantigue. She told police her uncle was deceitfully recruited by the NFSW.
“My uncle was recruited by a certain Rene Manlangit, NFSW organizer, because he was promised to have parcel of the land in Hacienda Nene.” She said her uncle had only joined the group two days before the shooting.
“There were more or less 15 new recruits and my uncle was among them with the promise of owning a land. This I think is the reason why all of them were enticed to join the group,” the niece said.
She also said she learned that during the incident, Manlangit was in the area when the killing was happening and believed he was behind it.
In a Facebook post on Oct. 25, the Negros Occidental police said that certain groups were hindering their investigations and spreading fake news:
“They see the collaboration of the PNP and AFP as a threat to their goal that is why they are spreading fake news to scare the public. They are turning the table in order to ruin the joint forces and for the government to take the blame of the shooting incident in Sagay.”
On Oct. 28, Rene Manlangit and Rogelio Arquillo, who were identified as recruiters of the NFSW, were charged with murder, according to a police press release.
“Upon the examination of the statements of the complainant-witnesses, there is only one common ground. That is, the recruiters deceived the victims and enticed them to join by promising them a parcel of land once their cause would succeed,” said Chief Supt. John Bulalacao.
Both Duterte and the PNP have linked the Oct. 20 shooting to the New People’s Army.
“That’s how it is … The style of the communists is they kill their own comrades and blame it on the [government]. The NPA are such fools,” the president said on Oct. 24.
Duterte has declared an Agrarian land reform for Negros province.
“To my brothers and sisters who are with the NPA, if you want land distribution, slow down and wait because we will claim even the privately-owned lands, but we will do it in accordance with the law,” Duterte said during the distribution for certificates of land ownership award on Oct. 31.
“Do not confiscate nor seize or occupy the lands that are already owned. Don’t do that, don’t steal lands that already have tenants,” Duterte added.
Duterte sent a strong message to communists who intend to occupy lands illegally.
“I have issued an order to the police and to the Armed Forces. … If you resist violently … then my orders to my soldiers and policemen is just simply to shoot,” Duterte warned.
“From now on there will be no confiscation of other people’s or somebody else’s property. Do not do that because you are sowing anarchy.”