Philippine faith-based groups denounced what they described as the “worsening attacks on farmers” in the country after a farmer was found dead last week in a town outside of the capital Manila.
Father Dionito Cabillas, convener of the group Isaiah Ministry, called on the government to “look deeper and address land rights issues,” which “often lead to killings of land defenders and farmers.”
On February 5, Romeo Torres, a 52-year old peasant activist in Norzagaray town in Bulacan province, was found dead in the province of Laguna, south of the capital, two days after he was reported missing.
According to the police, the victim was hogtied and shot in the mouth, chest, and back. The perpetrators tried to hide the body by cementing it in a blue plastic drum.
Kej Andres, spokesperson of the Student Christian Movement of the Philippines, blamed the killing on the “culture of impunity.”
The slain farmer was an active member of the peasant group SAMA-SAMA, which is involved in a dispute over a 75-hectare agricultural land.
Danilo Ramos, chairperson of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines, said the government has failed to protect the farmers against those who “employ violence and terror.”
He said the farmers in the disputed land “have a strong legal basis for their continued assertion of their rights,” adding that farmers have “dutifully complied with legal processes.”
Ramos accused the country’s Agrarian Reform department of “watching from afar” while “goons evicted the farmers (and) fenced their lands.”
Father Cabillas said the killing of Torres and the attacks on farmers in Bulacan are “not an isolated incident.”
In January, houses of farmers in the disputed Hacienda Yulo in Batangas province were burned by alleged hired goons.
The priest said at least 313 farmers across the country have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte took power in 2016.
“Land rights problem in the country is worsening and the democratic space for our farmers is continuously shrinking,” he said.
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