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.”


Michael Avenatti arrested in LA on domestic violence charge

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago
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Michael Avenatti arrested in LA on domestic violence charge

  • Police declined to provide any details about the victim, including the victim’s relationship to Avenatti
LOS ANGELES: Michael Avenatti, who skyrocketed to fame as a critic of President Donald Trump and the lawyer for porn actress Stormy Daniels, was arrested Wednesday and booked on a felony domestic violence charge, Los Angeles police said.
The victim in the case had visible injuries, according to Officer Tony Im, a police spokesman. But Avenatti slammed the allegation as “completely bogus” and “fabricated and meant to do harm to my reputation” in a statement released by his law firm.
Avenatti, who has said he’s mulling a 2020 presidential run, posted $50,000 bail and was released about four hours after he was arrested Wednesday on the same block where he lives in a skyscraper apartment.
Police declined to provide any details about the victim, including the victim’s relationship to Avenatti.
As he left the police station Wednesday, Avenatti said he had never hit a woman and said he’s been an advocate for women’s rights his entire career.
“I wish to thank the hard working men and woman of the LAPD for their professionalism and their work today. They had no option in light of the allegations,” Avenatti said. “I am looking forward to a full investigation, at which point I am confident that I will be fully exonerated.”
Avenatti became famous as Daniels’ lawyer and pursued the president and those close to him relentlessly for months, taunting Trump in interviews and baiting him and his lawyers in tweets.
Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had an affair with Trump in 2006 and has sued to invalidate the confidentiality agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election that prevents her discussing it. She also sued Trump and his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, alleging defamation.
The Vermont Democratic Party canceled events planned for Friday and Saturday, where Avenatti was scheduled to speak, and is refunding ticket sales.