MANILA - A former farmer is being eyed as a person of interest in the fatal shooting of 9 sugarcane workers in Sagay, Negros Occidental over the weekend, police said Monday.
The fatalities, all members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers, allegedly occupied a private land in Hacienda Nene. They were eating dinner inside tents on Saturday night when they were shot by 5 to 6 gunmen, initial reports said.
Neighbors and 2 minors who survived the incident identified the person of interest and gave description for 4 of the gunmen, Sagay police chief C/Insp. Roberto Mansueto told radio DZMM,
Investigators are looking at land dispute as a possible motive in the massacre, he said.
Initial investigation revealed that the owner of Hacienda Nene had leased the land to the farmers, but their contract will end next year.
There are reports, however, that the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) has issued a Notice of Coverage to subject the area under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program of the government.
The police will clarify the status of the land with DAR, Mansueto said.
In a later interview with DZMM, DAR Secretary John Castriciones said the farmers were not beneficiaries of the government's land distribution program.
The provincial and town government are offering a reward of P500,000 for information that would help solve the massacre, Mansueto said.
The hacienda owner, he added, has given the assurance of cooperation with the probe.
SLAIN FARMERS WERE NEW RECRUITS
Superintendent Glenn Provido, Negros Occidental Police Deputy Provincial Director for Operations, said the 9 farmers were newly recruited members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers.
Provido said they are looking into the motive of the person who recruited the victims because he was not with the victims when the shooting happened.
He said the victims were only recruited by the cause-oriented group on the day that the shooting happened where they were told to occupy the hacienda and cultivate the land. The recruiters' disappearance during the incident was malicious, he added.
While the police have other persons of interest in the investigation and has created a special investigation task force to focus on solving the case, Provido said they are still considering other angles, including the possible involvement of the CPP-NPA to gain public sympathy and use the incident as a propaganda against the government.
They are also maintaining the possible angle of land conflict between the chosen beneficiaries of the landowner and the group's members who decided to occupy the land.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers however said their members had the right to occupy the hacienda because it was their only way to find out who owns the land.
The group said they have been applying as beneficiaries under CARP for so long but it took a long time for DAR to issue them certificates of titles.
They also say that the their two organizers who recruited the victims were coincidentally not present during the shooting because they went somewhere else to charge their cellphones. - with a report from Marty Go, ABS-CBN News