After 2 years, justice remains elusive for slain farmer-leader

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/13 June) – Two years after his death, justice has remained elusive for a farmer-leader in Sumilao, Bukidnon who helped organized a march from the province to Manila to dramatize their quest for land under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

Renato “Ka Rene” Peñas and two companions were ambushed in Barangay San Vicente, Sumilao midnight on June 5, 2009. His companions survived the attack which took place some 200 meters away from the house of Alipio Tumangday, one of three suspects.

Tumangday was arrested the following day, after Samson Dollete, one of the survivors of the attack identified him in an affidavit as one of the suspects.

However, then provincial prosecutor Mirabeaus Undalok moved for the dismissal of the case against Tumangday when Dollete executed another affidavit retracting his previous statements.

Dollete retracted “due to serious threat and intimidation,” the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama)-Palambu and Balaod Mindanaw alleged in a statement dated June 9.

Undalok, now a Regional Trial Court judge in Gingoog City, ordered a reinvestigation of the incident after the court dismissed [the case against Tumangday].

But the Pakisama and Balaod Mindanaw statement said the police have not made a reinvestigation.

A fact finding mission led by Balaod Mindanaw in July 2009 recommended that a full-blown multi-agency investigation be conducted “in order to explore other possible angles and motives for the killing.”

The mission also pushed for then PNP Director General Jesus Versoza to “investigate the Sumilao and Bukidnon police, particularly those involved in the Rene Peñas case, and order their immediate relief and replacement, as necessary, to ensure impartiality and the adequate protection of the community.”

It further asked the NBI to “effectively protect all vital informants and witnesses”.

Meanwhile, two other suspects have remained at large.

Penas’ belonged to a group called the Mapalad farmers which demanded the full redistribution of 94 hectares of the 114-hectare Quisumbing estate in San Vicente, Sumilao. The farmers staged a grueling Sumilao to Manila march in 2007 to press their demand.

In 2009, Penas’ family called for a deeper investigation of the case even if the police were zeroing in on Tumangday and his alleged accomplices.

“I am angry. Our cry is for justice. The government should give an appropriate investigation,” Noland, eldest of Penas’ four children said.

But Noland, provincial coordinator of the Pakisama dismissed personal grudge as the motive behind his father’s death.

He said his father was killed for supporting the extension of CARP and other farmers’ groups.

Sumilao police chief Rae D. Vasquez told MindaNews in June 2009 that strong evidence pointed to Tumangday, saying Peñas was killed in relation to a conflict involving another property, the 19-hectare land beside the 50 hectares granted to the Sumilao farmers in 2007.

“The motive has been established,” Vasquez said as he showed reporters copies of affidavits and police record indicating the suspect had threatened Peñas and John Calopez, one of the seven beneficiaries of the property.

Peñas claimed they allowed Tumangday to till the property for them with an agreement on crop sharing.

Vasquez showed documents indicating the group of owners has charged Tumangday with qualified theft for cutting a total of 454 mango trees, 54 of which were reported to police in February 2009.  This was after Tumangday allegedly failed to honor their deal.

Tumangday said then that he owns the land since nobody was tilling it when he first occupied it, adding the group only claimed it when he had already cleared it for farming. He denied any deal was made. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)