Militant farmers’ group, Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley-KMP (Danggayan-CV), its local chapter AMARI-DAGAMI and Anakpawis–Isabela condemns in strongest possible terms the brutal killing of Virgilio Leotorco, a farm worker who was gunned down in the evening of March 16, 2015 while he was catching frogs for dinner at the irrigation canal of Brgy. Matusalem, Roxas, Isabela.
Leotorco was shot three times at close range by armed men using a .45-caliber pistol. The 56-year old Leotorco is an active member of AMARI-DAGAMI and a Kalinga migrant who has built his humble abode in Brgy. Matusalem which is part of the Mallig Plains Reservation, a proclaimed resettlement site. “This resettlement site, currently possessed, occupied and already being developed by many homeless and landless settlers as well as former and current employees and teachers of ISU-Roxas, is being falsely claimed by the Isabela State University-Roxas”, says Bino Abrogena, chairperson of Danggayan-CV.
“The land dispute became increasingly violent as the ISU-Roxas, an academic institution which should be a bastion of human rights advocacy, resorted to illegal demolition and burning of hundreds of houses, shooting of residents, indiscriminate firing of guns, destruction of plants, housing materials and house perimeter walls as well as verbal assaults, threats and intimidation by its security personnel,” added Abrogena.
“These barbaric acts were capped by the successive killings of Ben Chinangan and Junior Ponce in 2013, other attempted killings of witnesses and the abduction of Romulo dela Cruz last year, in the place already touted as the “university killing fields”, said Vic Feliciano of AMARI-DAGAMI.
ISU-Roxas security guards have escalated harassment, threats and indiscriminate firing of guns in recent months after a deadlock in negotiations regarding the land dispute.
Soldiers of the 5th Infantry Division AFP also entered the community, violating the International Humanitarian Law and conducted a public forum at the community school.
DENR Region II refused to recognize the land rights of the settlers and wrongly favored ISU-Roxas while the LGU turned a blind eye to the increasing violence in the area.
The militant farmers’ groups alleged that Leotorco’s killing was done to terrorize the poor settlers and force them to give up their home sites and leave the area. Days before Leotorco’s killing, security guards have been threatening settlers who were constructing houses or improving their dwellings.
Last February 20, peasant leader Junior Cureg’s house was partially burned and when he was repairing it, five security guards arrived and tried to stop him. Edmundo Calanday was also ordered by ISU security guards to stop constructing his house. Coming from a drinking spree at the house of ISU security guard Carding Corpuz’ son, a man wearing a bonnet, was seen with three other men destroying Calanday’s hollow blocks last March 5. The house fence of Vilma Buang was also destroyed last March 15. A day after Leotorco’s killing, Corpuz was seen brandishing an armalite rifle while making his rounds around the settlers’ houses.
Farmers, agricultural workers and other sectors held a protest march during the burial of Virgilio Leotorco on March 22 from Brgy. Matusalem towards the town center of Roxas to demand justice and condemn the brutal kiling. Farmers slammed the incapacity of the LGU to protect its constituents and the inaction of the DENR in solving the land conflict.
The ISU settlers said that the hardships they endure in barely making a living as farmworkers, vendors, laundrywomen and laborers, are compounded by the continuing harassment at the hands of security guards and armed goons of the ISU-Roxas. “We assert our call that the Mallig Plains resettlement site should be distributed immediately to poor landless and homeless settlers.
“Isabela State University should develop the lands that it truly owns but are now used for the personal benefit of some of its employees. It should stop encroaching on the resettlement site awarded to poor settlers. We demand justice for Virgilio Leotorco and all other victims of human rights abuses. We hold the Isabela State University, the DENR, the LGU, the Aquino regime and its Oplan Bayanihan program accountable for these atrocities,” Abrogena said.
“The Aquino government failed to respond to these poor settlers’ plight despite their petitions sent to Malacanang years ago. Instead, it favored the interest of hacienderos, institutional land grabbers and their business partners,” said DAGAMI peasant leader Reynaldo Gameng, “But we are determined to fight for our rights to land and justice,” added Gameng.
“We call on President Aquino to resign for utterly failing to protect the human rights of farmers and settlers and solve the brewing land problems in the countryside through genuine agrarian reform,” Gameng ended. ###