Updated Oct 22, 2018, 12:38:00 PM
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 21) — Nine members of a sugar workers association, including two minors, were confirmed dead in a shooting incident, Saturday night in Negros Occidental.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said nine of their members were "massacred" at 9 p.m. during a Land Cultivation Area or "bungkalan" activity in Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City, Negros Occidental.
Local police reported that the victims, among them two 17-year old individuals, were resting in improvised tents when they were attacked by unidentified armed men. The assailants allegedly burned three of the victims, the police report said.
The NFSW said the shooting happened on the first night of its "bungkalan" activity, wherein farmers occupy idle lands and collectively cultivate to make them productive.
Malacañang condemned the incident and assured that the perpetrators shall face appropriate legal action once apprehended.
"Families of the victims of this extremely cruel act can count on the government that it will enforce the full wrath of the law against its perpetrators," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
Farmer rights group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and women rights group Amihan or the National Federation of Peasant Women also condemned the incident and called for justice for the victims.
"Kinukundena namin ang masaker na ito, at nanawagan kami ng hustisya para sa mga biktima,"Amihan said in a statement.
[Translation: We condemn this massacre and we are calling for justice for the victims.]
Police are looking at "land conflict" as the possible motive for the attack.
In an interview with CNN Philippines Newsroom Weekend, Sagay City Acting Chief of Police CInsp. Robert Mansueto said their persons of interest were former farmers of Hacienda Nene. He added, they were also confirming whether those killed were land reform beneficiaries.
"Malalaman natin 'to bukas sa DAR (Department of Agrarian Reform) office...So far, wala tayong natanggap, initially wala tayong natanggap na member ito or beneficiary ito ng DAR doon sa area," he said.
[Translation: We will know this from the DAR office tomorrow.. so far, we have not received, initially we haven't received word if these were members or beneficiaries of DAR in the area.]
Negros Occidental Police Provincial Office director Senior Supt. Rodolfo Castil Jr. told CNN Philippines in a phone interview that there are five to seven suspects based on their investigation.
Castil added that the local government unit of Sagay will give a reward of ₱250,000 while the provincial government of Negros Occidental will give another ₱250,000 to whoever can give information leading to the arrest of perpetrators.
Meanwhile, Regional Director C/Supt. John Bulalacao said they found several bullet cases in the crime scene including those coming from a rifle-caliber firearm.
He added that they will thoroughly investigate the matter to expedite the suspects' arrest.
"Sagay City Police Station and the Special Action Force is now on hot pursuit operation against the suspects while a thorough investigation is now being conducted to ensure the arrest of the perpetrators," Bulalacao said.
Stringer Shiela Gelera contributed to this report.