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Regional News

9 sugarcane workers murdered in central Philippines

BACOLOD CITY (The Philippine Star) — Nine sugarcane workers, including minors, were shot dead by some 40 armed men in what authorities described as a “massacre” in a plantation in Sagay City, in the central province of Negros Occidental on Saturday night.

The victims —  all members of the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers — were identified as Eglicerio Villegas, 36; Angelife Arsenal; a certain alias Pater; Dodong Laurencio; Morena Mendoza; Necnec Dumaguit; Bing Bing Bantigue; and Joemarie Ughayon and Marchtel Sumicad, both 17 years old, according to Western Visayas Police director Chief Superintendent John Bulalacao.

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Sugarcane workers gather at the scene of a massacre at Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental, Sunday.  MBC Aksyon Radyo Bacolod photo

Initial investigation showed that the NFSW members entered and occupied the farm owned by Carmen Tolentino, at Hacienda Nene in Purok Firetree, Barangay Bulanon on Saturday morning, a day after the owner harvested sugarcane for the season. The victims were resting in makeshift tents when the armed men opened fire at about 9:30 p.m., according to surviving NFSW members.

Sagay City Police head Chief Inspector Robert Mansueto  said there were 11 persons in the makeshift shelter set up by the victims.

Nine of them were killed on the spot, while two others managed to escape, he added.

Some of the victims were shot in the head, as police investigators aired suspicions that they were shot from a distance.

Danilo Canete, one of the two survivors, said they were resting in their makeshift shelters when the armed suspects approached and opened fire at them. He was able to survive by seeking refuge in a sack of rice, after which he fled the scene of the incident.

“The suspects were approximately 12 meters away based on the distance between the victims and the bullet casings recovered at the scene,” Mansueto said, adding that at least 10 gunmen were involved in the shooting, based on statements of witnesses.

The bodies of three of the victims — Bantigue, Dumaguit and Mendoza — were burned by the suspects, according to Bulalacao.

Police recovered 19 empty shells of M16 Armalite and .45 caliber pistol, assorted food items of the victims and burned cellular phones at the scene.

Negros Occidental Police provincial director Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Castil said an inspection conducted by Scene of the Crime Operatives indicated that about five to seven suspects may have been involved in the commission of the crime, contrary to earlier reports.

He added that Provincial Crime Laboratory personnel also recovered a .38 caliber revolver with a spent shell from one of the victims, and ammunition for a 12 gauge shotgun from the pocket of another victim, indicating that the two fought back.

“We have reason to believe to believe that the suspects initially tried to intimidate (the victims) but some of them retaliated,” Mansueto said.

The gunmen took the victims’ firearms before escaping toward an unknown direction on foot.

Land dispute is among the possible motives being looked into by the police that triggered the killings after receiving reports that two groups have been fighting over a piece of property in the area.

None of the victims were involved in illegal drugs and other crimes, according to the police.