MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/25 August) – Task Force Mapalad condemned the killing yesterday of Welcie Gica, a farmer, by gunmen believed to be goons of Ernesto Villalon, a former ranch owner, in Barangay Panalsalan, Maramag, Bukidnon.
Gica was hit in the left armpit and neck with a carbine with one bullet exiting through his mouth.
The suspects were already arrested but were released by the Maramag police at dawn today for unknown reasons, TFM said in a statement.
Gica is a member of Panalsalan Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata), a group seeking land tenure rights on the ranch under the government’s community-based forest management program.
Joseph Coles, TFM coordinator in Mindanao, was quoted in the statement as having said the killing of Gica was not an isolated case. He said it was “a signal for heightened violence in many ranches and public lands where farmer organizations are claiming their legitimate land rights”.
Last year, the Padata members demanded the resignation of an official of the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples for allegedly being party to the issuance of a fake free and informed prior consent to another group which was used by Villalon to retain control over the 480-hectare ranch through an extension of his pasture lease agreement.
Pasturelands are classified as public lands and government regains control over them upon the expiration of pasture lease agreements.
Gica was with 26 other Padata members who met with alleged goons of the Villalon Ranch to demand a stop to the harassments. The meeting was held at the time while other Padata and Alyansa Bukidnon members were at the Capitol having a dialogue with Bukidnon Vice Governor Jose Ma. R. Zubiri Jr. on the same issue.
The farmers identified some of the “goons” as Milo Ceballos, Ruerico Coronel, Rey Coronel, Edwin Coronel, Rowen Ragrag, Felipe Rayon, Benito Imostino, Rechipen de Asis and Quico Achacoso.
In that meeting, Coles said the farmers’ backpacks were collected by the “goons” for security reasons.
“The backpacks of the farmers were returned except for Gica’s. He protested and he was shot,” the statement further quoted Coles as saying.
Gica is survived by his wife and two sons, aged 3 and 4 years. (MindaNews)