MANILA - The administration and the military should be held responsible for the fatal shooting of 9 sugar farmers at a farm in Negros Occidental, former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares said Sunday.
The fatalities, all members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), were eating dinner inside tents at Hacienda Nene in Sagay town when they were shot by 5 to 6 gunmen, initial reports said.
Before the massacre, the farmers were preparing a land cultivation area (LCA), where they can plant vegetables, corn and root crops to ward off hunger during the "tiempo muerto" or lean season of the sugar industry, said Colmenares, who is a Negrense.
But Brig. Gen. Eliezer Losañes, commander of the military's 303rd Infantry Brigade, earlier claimed that LCAs were communal farms that support the New People’s Army, Colmenares noted.
"That is really absurd because the issue of land is a legitimate issue. This is an attempt of the Duterte gov't to quell any form of protest by criminalizing legitimate demands," he said in a statement.
He and John Milton Lozande, secretary general of both Unyon ng Mangggawa sa Agrikultura and the NFSW, blamed the military and the Duterte administration for the attack on the Sagay farmers.
"We demand an immediate impartial probe on this massacre and we will not stop until justice has been served," he said.
Malacañang has yet to give a statement on the issue.
Rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, said the incident was "reflective of a kind of system that further strangles the victims of landlessness and poverty."
The group called on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent investigation into the massacre.
The 9 fatalities succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds and burns. Among them were 2 minors and 3 women, Mansueto said.
Several witnesses came forward but gave conflicting statements on the shooting, the police said.