BACOLOD CITY – Hundreds of farmers and sugar workers marched the streets of Murcia, Negros Occidental to call for justice for slain peasant leader Alexander Ceballos, who was killed by suspected paramilitary elements last January 20.
Members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) in Negros organized a series of burial marches-turned-protests here in the province since January 22, the 30th anniversary of the Mendiola Massacre. A luksang parangal or tribute program for Ceballos was also organized by NFSW beside the Murcia town church the night before the burial which was held yesterday, February 1, at the Murcia municipal cemetery.
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. NFSW is affiliated with the national farmworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura or UMA.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that another farmer, Wenceslao Pacquiao, was shot dead January 25 while ploughing a land cultivation area in Barangay San Benito, Calatrava town, around 75 kilometers east of Bacolod City. Pacquiao was a member of the KMP.
Human rights group KARAPATAN reported that Ceballos and Pacquiao are among four peasants across the country killed in January 2017 – the two others are lumad or indigenous peoples’ leaders in Mindanao.
But on January 31, farmworkers here in Negros marched with three mock coffins to symbolize the killing of three local farmers. Aside from Ceballos, two other farmers were shot dead last month in connection to agrarian disputes in the upland town of Don Salvador Benedicto alone.
The other victims were identified as Jovani Paguntalan and Iver Mulasi, both residents of Barangay Pandanon, Don Salvador Benedicto. Paguntalan was reportedly shot dead January 2, while Mulasi, chairman of the Nieves Agro Cooperative was also felled by gunshots on January 16 – only a few days before Ceballos was gunned down in front of his home in Barangay Pandanon Silos in Murcia, a village very near the boundary of Don Salvador Benedicto.
This means that counting Pacquiao, four farmers were shot dead within the first month of 2017 in Negros Occidental province alone.
NFSW Chairperson Rolando Rillo said gangster-type violence and impunity reign in Don Salvador Benedicto town where the incumbent mayor, Marxlen dela Cruz is the son of notorious landgrabber, ex-Mayor Nehemias “Nene” dela Cruz. The elder dela Cruz is also a known ringleader of the paramilitary group RPA-ABB.
Ceballos received death threats from the dela Cruz camp for leading the land cultivation campaign in Barangay Igmaya-an and other areas in Don Salvador Benedicto and Murcia. A few days before the killing, a certain Jigger Costan, close-in security of ex-Mayor dela Cruz, was seen loitering near the NFSW office in Bacolod City, where a meeting of council members was then taking place.
There are also reports that local leaders of the NFSW, KMP and BAYAN in Negros have also been receiving threats and harassment from Costan and suspected state elements following Ceballos’s killing.
“The spate of peasant killings will not stop until the country’s fundamental land problem is addressed. Negros Island remains to be a bastion of feudal oppression and the centuries-old hacienda system. Farmers continue to fight for genuine land reform,” said Ramos.