Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Philippine president visits site of farmers’ killing as activists demand action

  • Nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation in the city of Sagay in central Philippines
  • The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to Global Witness

BANGKOK: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday visited the site where nine farmers were killed while occupying part of a sugar plantation, according to campaigners who have criticized the government for failing to protect land rights activists.
Two minors were among those killed on Saturday night in Negro Occidental province’s Sagay City, according to the Philippines National Police, which said it was investigating reports that gunmen opened fire on the farmers.
The National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) said the farmers had been staging “bungkalan,” or collective cultivation of idle farmland that they had occupied.
“Bungkalan reflects the failure of the government’s land reform program and the landlords’ refusal to distribute land to the tillers,” the NFSW said in a statement.
The land was earmarked for redistribution under the government’s agrarian reform program, but the plantation owner had used a private security force to intimidate the farmers, according to NFSW.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that Duterte was “deeply perturbed” by the killings, and had ordered “a thorough and impartial investigation.”
Mike Concepcion, a campaigner with the rights group Bayan Negros in Sagay City, said Duterte visited the spot where the farmers were murdered, and was scheduled to meet with their families in City Hall where the coffins have been placed.
While the president’s visit is “unprecedented,” it does not negate the fact that the government has failed to implement agrarian reform, and protect farmers and activists, said Christina Palabay of the rights group Karapatan.
“We have demanded a genuine agrarian reform program to ensure redistribution of agricultural land and adequate support for farmers,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We are conducting our own fact-finding mission, but we are not confident that these perpetrators will be brought to justice,” she said.
Land reform has long been a contentious issue in the Philippines, where a lasting legacy of Spanish colonial rule is a concentration of ownership — including of farmland — among a wealthy few.
The agrarian reform program, known as CARP, was enacted in 1988, with an aim to reduce inequality and alleviate poverty. Its deadline has been extended several times.
Of a total area of 5.4 million hectares under CARP’s scope, the government has distributed 4.8 million hectares as of December 2017, according to the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).
But activists say officials accepted thousands of fraudulent claims, and that allocated land remains with private owners and corporations who refuse to honor titles issued by DAR.
The killings are the latest in the country that is the deadliest in Asia for land and environmental activists, according to UK-based advocacy group Global Witness.
Hundreds of farmers have also been arrested, and at least 172 killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to peasants’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP).
“The climate of the country is not favorable for farmers and for land and environmental defenders,” said Palabay.
“We are in grave danger.”


Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

Updated 46 min 8 sec ago
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Shanahan drops bid to lead Pentagon, citing ‘painful’ past

  • The acting defense secretary cited a 'painful' family situation that would hurt his children
  • Donald Trump said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief

WASHINGTON: After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”
President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said that Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.
“It is unfortunate that a painful and deeply personal family situation from long ago is being dredged up and painted in an incomplete and therefore misleading way in the course of this process,” Shanahan said in a statement. “I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal. Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation but media outlets including The Washington Post and USA Today published extensive reports Tuesday about circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce shortly before Trump tweeted that Shanahan’s nomination would not go forward.
In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.
Defense officials said that leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.
In his tweet, Trump simply said that Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.”
And, in noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!“
The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since Gen. James Mattis retired in January following policy differences with Trump.
Trump announced in May that he would nominate Shanahan but the formal nomination process in the Senate had been inexplicably delayed.
Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.
His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.
In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.
Shanahan, 56, had extensive of experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.