Activists and farmers groups in the Philippines marched in the capital Manila on Wednesday, October 21, to mark the observance of Peasant Month.
Members of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines and its allies gathered outside the presidential palace in Manila protest against what they described as “worsening poverty, hunger, and repression.”
Danilo Ramos, chairperson of the peasant group called on the government to pay attention to the people’s demands and enact a genuine agrarian reform law.
In the island of Negros in the central Philippines, activists and families of victims of killings marked the 2018 massacre nine farmworkers, including four women and two children.
On Oct. 20, 2018, still unidentified gunmen shot and killed the victims who were eating dinner in a makeshift tent the village of Bulanon in Sagay City, Negros Occidental province.
The farmers were manning a piece of land they collectively cultivated inside a disputed landholding.
In a statement, the National Federation of Sugar Workers said that instead of justice for the victims, the government vilified those who died and persecuted the survivors.
Arje Marangga, secretary general of the federation, said the 2018 incident was an attempt of the state to derail a growing peasant movement for land rights.
“It was obviously instigated by the landed elite and powerful people,” said Marangga, adding that the massacre was the start of the spate of killings in the central Philippines in recent years.
One month after the Sagay incident, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the deployment of state security forces in Negros, Bicol, and Samar regions to quell “lawlessness.”
Data from the Peasant Movement of the Philippines show that since 2018 there were at least 168 people who were killed in Negros, majority of whom were farmers.
The group also claimed that 288 farmers across the country have been killed for “defending land rights” since July 2016.
Rights group Karapatan said only 202 cases of peasant killings have been verified, adding that the remaining 86 cases are still under investigation.
The group recorded a total of 328 “extrajudicial killings” and 463 frustrated political killings from July 2016 to August 2020.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, said result of their investigations showed that the perpetrators have links to the military, paramilitary groups, or private armed groups.
Prominent land and human rights activists were also killed in Negros in the past two years, including lawyer Benjamin Ramos, city councilor Bernardino Patigas, and church worker Zara Alvarez.
Faith-based human rights group Isaiah Ministry called on authorities to “immediately act” on the spate of killings and appealed for “respect for those who produce the food we eat.”
Father Dionito Cabillas, lead convener of the group, said acts of “injustice toward the country’s food producers is a national concern because all of us rely on agriculture for sustenance.”
The priest said it is the duty of all Filipino citizens to “put pressure on the government to impose policies that would protect land tillers and address the root of poverty.”