The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) condemns the killing of Alexander Ceballos, a leader of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Negros Occidental. Ceballos is the 20th peasant leader to fall victim to extra-judicial killing under the Duterte administration.
Ceballos was brutally shot in the head by a masked assailant in front of his home in Murcia town around 8 pm of January 20. The gunman sped off riding in tandem in a single motorcycle, escorted by two other men in their respective motor bikes. His wife and children witnessed the killing.
The killing coincided with protest actions in Manila commemorating the 30th year of the Mendiola Massacre. Today, farmworkers will march the streets of Bacolod City to condemn the killing of Ceballos.
Exactly 30 years ago, 13 farmers were killed when state forcers opened fire on a peaceful farmers’ march at the gates of Malacanang on January 22, 1987.
Ceballos is a regional council member of the NFSW and district area coordinator for Murcia and Salvador Benedicto towns where the bungkalan or land cultivation areas have been established by organized farmworkers.
Ceballos has been receiving death threats for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an, Don Salvador Benedicto town. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, known as close-in security of Don Salvador Benedicto ex-Mayor Nehemias dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.
Ceballos led the cultivation of a 25-hectare area in Barangay Igmaya-an which was made productive since 2013 through the efforts of around 50 farmworkers under NFSW. The area is now planted to rice, corn, cassava, and bananas.
This area is being coveted by ex-Mayor dela Cruz, whose camp directly issued threats against Ceballos and eleven other members of NFSW during a dialogue at the local agrarian reform office years before. Ceballos’ son Ariel and a companion survived an ambush in July 2015 where the elder Ceballos is believed to be the main target.
De la Cruz is also a former member of the RPA-ABB, a paramilitary group collaborating with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that the killing of Ceballos and other recent atrocities against peasants must be tackled by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) in the ongoing peace negotiations in Rome, Italy.
“The killing of Ceballos is also a chilling reminder that the new counter-insurgency program of the Duterte administration called Oplan Kapayapaan is no different from those of previous regimes. There can be no peace until gangster groups such as the RPA-ABB would be disarmed and disbanded. There can be no justice if the mercenary AFP and corrupt police force still exist to protect the interests of landlords and landgrabbers,” said Ramos.