LA CASTELLANA, Negros Occidental – Like the gloom that looms over this town and the anger in the hearts of the farmers, the sky was overcast and the heat was stifling as more than 600 peasant-members of Task Force Mapalad paid their last respects to two of their kind who were slain here in hacienda Velez Malaga last June 4, the latest in a spate of violence that has marked their struggle for land.

As Alejandro Garcesa, 70, and Ely Tupas, 52, were buried last June 23, calls for justice resounded once more amid what appears to be an attempt by authorities to cover-up the slays during a try by the local affiliate of TFM, the Hacienda Veles-Malaga Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Organization, to cultivate the property where they were installed in March by Agrarian Reform Sec. Nasser Pangandaman.

Nineteen days after they were gunned down, emotions have not simmered down yet especially amid another failure of the land reform department to ensure that the farmers would finally cultivate the property.

“I call on President Arroyo to personally intervene in this case. There is no more hope left in our local officials, it is only the president who can bring an end to this if she wants to,” said an emotional Clarita, the widow of Alejandro.

Speaking in the vernacular, Clarita said President Arroyo should “show to us that she is not favoring the wealthy landowner who is trampling upon the rights of poor farmers like us.”

“I voted for her but if she forgets to look after us who placed her in office, I promise the president that I shall forget even her name,” she added.

Garces and Tupas, both hunger strikers in Metro Manila, were slain when armed guards of the Cornerstone Security Agency hired by landowner Roberto “Bob” Cuenca, fired at them without any provocation.

The suspects–Wennie Fernandez, Eduardo Maliksi, Felix Sadiasa and Ramy Sibongga–were already charged for the murders. Fernandez and Sibongga surrendered to policemen after two weeks of what provincial police director, Senior Supt. Rosendo Franco described as “diplomatic efforts.”

Amid the somber mood, Ely’s widow, Nilda, called on her fellow farmers to “continue the fight.” Her voice quivering with emotion, Nilda urged them “not to lose hope because if we do, the deaths of Ely and Nong Alejandro would be in vain.”

As emotions rose during the requiem mass, local TFM organizer Jerry Cajilig dared Fifth District Cong. Ignacio “Iggy” Arroyo, Governor Joseph Maranon and police and town officials to “prove their worth” by ensuring that the killers of Garcesa and Tupas would be brought to justice.”

Cajilig scored Arroyo and Maranon for their “hypocrisy” because “while they make it sound and appear that they are concerned with the plight of the farmers, they are actually sitting idly by, not doing anything as the armed goons of Bob Cuenca are on a killing spree.”

Three TFM members have been killed so far in the hacienda.

“The tombstones of Ka Ely and Ka Alejandro should be brought to the doorsteps of Malacanang because it is here where the government’s very own land reform program is being slaughtered, just like what happened to Ely and Alejandro,” an indignant Cajilig said.

Maranon and Cong. Arroyo have consistently defended Cuenca despite the series of violent incidents perpetrated by armed men in the hacienda.

Bob Cuenca is reputed to be close to Malacanang, his son, Roberto Jr., being the former husband of Arroyo’s daughter, Bianca.

TFM spokesman Edna Sobrecaray said the only thing that government should do aside from running after the killers in hacienda Velez Malaga is to ensure that the farmers would be allowed to cultivate the land.

“That is what Tay Ely and Tay Alejandro fought and died for. If the President is even just half-serious that she is now entering her ‘legacy phase,’ we challenge her to make the hacienda Malaga-Veles an example of what true legacy really means for the farmers,” Sobrecaray added. –Task Force Mapalad

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