SAGAY CITY, Negros Occidental – President Rodrigo braved Wednesday the inclement weather, but poor visibility spoiled his attempt to attend the wake of nine massacre victims here as the presidential helicopter that he was riding in could not land, thus, preventing him from setting his feet on the ground.
Mr. Duterte, however, still made his presence felt through Agrarian Reform Secretary John R. Castriciones when the latter handed to each of the bereaved families of the victims Duterte's dole out of unspecified financial assistance and mobile phones, an expression of his sympathy to the victims' surviving relatives.
"This financial assistance is the President's way of expressing his deep sympathy to the families of the victims," Castriciones said, speaking on behalf of the President.
President Duterte was supposed to be at the wake held at the Sagay City Hall on Tuesday morning, but hisschedules stood in the way.
The Presidential Communication Operations Office (PCOO) told members of the media that the President was already heading for Negros Occidental and would be arriving late in the afternoon. He had paid respect to the slain three police-escorts of Food and Drug Administration Director-General Nela Charade Puno, whose convoy was waylaid last Thursday while travelling along the national highway in Lupi, Camarines Sur.
After arriving in Silay City Airport, the PCOO said President Duterte was fetched by the presidential helicopter and was heading for the wake at Sagay City Hall when the pilot advised the president to return to Manila due to poor visibility as it was already dark and was raining hard.
Shortly after, around 7 p.m., the PCOO announced that President Duterte had gone back to Manila.
Castriciones said the President might still consider attending the wake if his schedule permits.
The victims of the massacre were among a group of farmers, belonging to the National Federation of Sugarcane Workers (NFSW), who stormed and occupied a portion of the Hacienda Nene in Barangay Bulanon, Sagay City last Saturday morning. At 9:45 p.m. of the same day, a group of armed men peppered them with gunfire. Two of the victims' companions escaped.
Three of the victims, Angelife Dumanguit, 47, Morena Mendoza, 49, and Rannel Bantigue, 41, had burns, raising speculations that they were burnt by the suspects, numbering more or less 10.
Castriciones said the police are getting into the bottom of the case in an effort to identify the group behind the gruesome massacre.
He added that the victims appeared to have been set up to occupy the property owned by Carmen dela Paz-Tolentino, one of the heirs of the late Emma dela Paz. The massacre looked like a part of a propaganda to discredit the government and cast doubt on the integrity of the country's land reform program.
He said police had gathered new information that may lead to the identification of the group behind the dastardly act.
DAR-Western Visayas (Region 6) Director Stephen Leonidas said occupying a certain landholding by force is an illegal act known in the province as "bungkalan," a common practice of various groups of landless farmers to assert their claims over landholdings without regard to due process.
"We, in the Department of Agrarian Reform, do not tolerate such an act," Castriciones said. (Richard B. Gallardo)