The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) trooped to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) today to urge the agency to immediately probe the brutal killing of four farmers inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) camp in Barangay San Isidro, Laur town in Nueva Ecija last September 3, 2016.

“Several days after the gruesome killing, no suspect was arrested, no one was held accountable. Not even person/s of interest were investigated by authorities. We urge the DILG to go after the perpetrators in this heinous crime against farmers. The list of human rights violations and abuses against farmers is getting longer by day. This cannot continue,” says KMP secretary general Antonio Flores.

“We challenge the government to deliver justice,” said Flores, adding that the peasant group is seeking “justice for the farmers who were helplessly killed by mercenaries.”

Based on media reports, five armed men pursued and fired at farmers Elejo Barbado, Emerencia ‘Baby’ dela Rosa, Violeta Mercado and Gaudencio Bagalay even as they hid in nipa huts. The farmers were tilling part of the 3,100 hectares land covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform (CARP) inside the disputed military reservation camp.

Another farmer, Angelita Milan was hit in the leg and an unidentified boy was also wounded in the indiscriminate firing. “The Fort Magsaysay incident was reminiscent of the carnage in Hacienda Luisita and Kidapawan wherein unarmed farmers asserting their rights were brutally attacked by armed men,” Flores said.

The victims were originally from Bigting in Gabaldon town, Nueva Ecija who lost their homes after the successive landslides caused by typhoons Lando and Nona last year. The farmers relocated and joined a land cultivation activity led by the Alyansa ng Magbubukid na Nagkakaisa 3100 (ALMANA) in Sitio Minalkat, Barangay San Isidro, Laur town inside Fort Magsaysay, hoping to become land beneficiaries.

Accounts from the ground said that around 12 noon, Saturday, a helicopter landed and delivered armed rifles near the farm where some 40 members of ALMANA were tilling the land. At around 2PM, goons affiliated to a certain Col. Rigor and started pursuing and firing at the farmers.

This is the latest in a series of attacks against Fort Magsaysay farmers. In March this year, 40 temporary huts built by farmers were torched by armed men. The farmers reported the incident to the DAR regional office but local DAR officials failed to act on their complaint.

Initial investigation by the local police indicated that land dispute is likely the motive of the killing.

Flores said there is an urgent need to probe if the killing was carried out by armed goons, private armies or military forces. “We want justice for our fellow farmers.”

Spawn of evils of CARP

The KMP leader also urged the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to immediately resolve the land issue in Fort Magsaysay. “DAR and its former national and regional officials are accountable for this pending agrarian dispute inside the military reservation. Had DAR acted in favor of the collective claim of farmers to the land, this wouldn’t have happened. “This and other circuitous land disputes in many landholdings spawned from the failures of CARP,” Flores said.

DAR’s PARO failed in determining the farmer beneficiaries to the disadvantage of Fort Magsaysay farmers. KMP said the decision of former DAR officials to place the 3,100 hectares of agricultural lands under CARP’s Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) option further complicated the situation.

The AFP is now using some 200 hectares of land surrounding Fort Magsaysay for its Barrio Militar, an off-base housing for retired army personnel.

Aside from the retired army officials claiming ownership of parcels of lands inside the camp, whom in 2008, connived with the DAR PARO for the cancellation of CLOAs awarded to farmer-beneficiaries, several land speculators have also displaced farmers and prevented them from tilling the land.

Around 5,000 farmers and their families are claiming 3,100 hectares of lands inside FMMR. From 1978 to 1983, Fort Magsaysay farmers paid 2 to 3 cavans of palay for every hectare per harvest season. They said the military officials acted like landlords and warlords during the period.

In 1991, the Department of National Defense and the Department of Agrarian Reform through former Sec. Renato de Villa and Sec. Benjamin Leong, respectively signed the Deed of Transfer based on Executive Order 407 and 448 of former President Corazon Aquino, allowing the agrarian department to cover the area for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).  Fort Magsaysay now serves as headquarters of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army. ###