Wednesday, 15 March 2000

Murders at Haciena Looc
A struggle for land, a struggle for life

By Gina Mission

pic_03015_03.gif (41971 bytes)
fact-finding mission team, upon the invitation
of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas,
check the spot in Hacienda Looc where
farmers Terri Sevilla and Roger Alla were
shot dead by still unidentified men.

It was rough going. The jeepney that was taking us to Hacienda Looc, in Nasugbu, Batangas, was crawling at no faster than 5 kph, but, inside, our bodies swayed this way and that, or knocked each other as we negotiated each hump, each pothole, each boulder along the way. With each lurch and bump, a cloud of dust billowed, and we could barely keep ourselves from choking.

...That overland ordeal lasted for almost two hours, on this my second trip to the hacienda. It was so unlike the first, in September last year--a breathtaking journey on a pump boat that sliced through pristine blue waters, gliding past Nature-sculptured rock formations, while undulating grassy hills and craggy peaks beckoned us ashore.

Dark forces

...Suddenly, it dawned on me: When Hacienda Looc is good, it’s beautiful beyond words; when it’s bad, it can be violently nasty. Not Looc itself, really, but some dark forces drawn perhaps to its beauty, but certainly to its potential as a moneymaker.

...It’s been almost two weeks since the killing of two residents, Terri Sevilla and Roger Alla, both farmers, aged 33 and 31, and until now, their loved ones do not know whose evil hands snuffed out their lives. And nobody, not their neighbors, not the people in nearby areas, no one would talk. For fear stalks the land these days, especially at night.

...By 6 p.m., hardly anyone dares to go outdoors, unless extremely necessary. The self-imposed curfew has actually been observed by most people since late last year, although the fear that motivated it was not as intense as it is now.

...On March 10, a day after Sevilla and Alla were buried, members of a fact-finding mission team went to Hacienda Looc on the invitation of the Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (KMP) to investigate the mystery surrounding the twin killings.

...In a place where previous violence had driven many people to silence, the team did not expect to uncover much. Finding the littlest thing that could lead them somewhere was such a challenge.

Gunshots in the night

...Residents of Hacienda Looc, 82 kilometers southwest of Manila, woke up on March 4 to the news that two men had been killed by unidentified gunmen the night before. For people who went about their lives as quietly as possible, the report was truly chilling. But, in a way, it no longer surprised them.

...After all, they weren’t the first violent deaths in the hacienda. Three other killings had happened there since 1996, when the place first grabbed the headlines for a controversial land reform case involving the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR).

...At that time, the DAR canceled the 25 collective certificates of land ownership award (CLOAs) it had issued to10,000 farmer-beneficiaries, covering 3,981.7 of Hacienda Looc’s total land area of 8,650.78 hectares. After canceling the farmers’ ownership certificates, the DAR reclassified the hacienda’s rice farms into non-agricultural use, thus clearing the way for real estate developers to come in.

...To farm folk who look to Hacienda Looc as the realization of their dreams, the deaths of Sevilla and Alla constitute another tragic chapter in their violence-plagued struggle—a struggle for land that had become legally theirs, a struggle for life itself.

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A WIDOW'S LIFE. Poverty and the urgency
of seeking justice for her slain husband don't
give Malou Sevilla the luxury of taking a
break from daily chores to grieve.

Their only fault

...Sevilla and Alla were known to be peaceful men whose only fault—if it be a fault—was their active involvement in UMALPAS-KA, an alliance of Hacienda Looc farmers opposed to the conversion of the place as site for Harbour Town, featuring four golf courses, and a marina by real estate developers Fil-Estate and Manila Southcoast.

...Sevilla was married with a one-year old son, while Alla was single and breadwinner for his family. Like most everybody else in the hacienda, both had farmed and fished for their livelihood. They were very good friends, their folks said.

...Their families recalled that Sevilla, Alla and another man, who escaped the murders, went to a boda de oro, the celebration of a couple’s golden wedding anniversary, in the adjacent barangay of Looc, after which the hacienda was named, on March 3. Neither Sevilla nor Alla returned home after the celebration.

Riddled with bullets

...They were already dead when found the next day. Their bodies were riddled with bullets from five different kinds of firearms—a shotgun, a .45-caliber pistol, a 9-mm pistol, M14 and M16 rifles. Their bodies also bore many wounds on the knees and face, indicating, according to KMP chair Rafael Mariano, that they were "tortured and dragged about before they were finished off." Sevilla's brains, genitals, bowels and eyes were blown up. The mouths of both men had been stuffed with soil.

...Members of the victims’ families, interviewed by PNI, said the lone witness who escaped the killings told them he was walking home to Barangay Calayo, together with Sevilla and Alla, around 10 p.m. after the party in Looc, when a group of armed men came out of nowhere and ambushed them without warning.

...Details of the attack were skimpy, and until now, members of UMALPAS-KA do not know how the witness managed to escape unharmed.

pic_03015_01.gif (35978 bytes)
RECALLING THE TERROR. Sevilla's uncle gives PNI
reporter Gina Mission his version of the twin killings story.

Manila picket

...The killings took place a day after members of the alliance picketed the Manila office of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for its lifting of the cease-and-desist order on Fil-Estate and Manila Southcoast, a move that would now allow the realty firms to start bulldozing a private road in Barangay Looc.

...The fact-finding team decided to make a call on the captain of barangay Looc, the community where the killings took place, and where the hacienda is situated. He was out, and his wife, who was alone in the house, said she did not expect him back until seven in the evening. The team members thought it might be risky to stay on and wait for him till dark. As it was still broad daylight, they decided to proceed to the scene of the crime and interview the families living near it. .

...The team broke up into four groups, each going to one of the four houses closest to the scene. I went with the group assigned to interview the family whose house was believed to be the one that the lone survivor ran to for help. After the interviews, the four groups were to reassemble at the crime scene itself.

...Santiago Limita, the owner, said that he heard sounds of gunfire in the evening of March 3 but thought these came from the celebration. It was a practice in the area, he said, for people to fire gunshots or explode firecrackers during merrymaking. Besides, his wife had just given birth at around 8:30 that night, and he was too preoccupied with the condition of his wife and baby to think about what was going on outside his house.

Knocks ignored

...Limita added, however, that at10 p.m. or thereabouts he heard someone knock on his door at least four times but he just ignored it--as he had in the past, and would most likely do in the future. "We lock our homes here at six," he explained.

...All follow-up questions by the team members yielded no information. Invariably, Limita’s answer was: "I don’t know."

...The four groups later converged at the crime scene, or where the bodies were found, to find a small crowd watching us, not saying anything. I approached one man who had been observing our group intently, and asked a few questions. He said that even if the lone witness had run to his house, which was not too far from the scene of the killings, he would never have opened the door for him—just as his neighbor hadn’t. "We just don’t do that here," he said.

They all knew nothing

...When the four groups were alone and exchanged notes on their respective interviews, the common finding they had was: Nobody knew what happened on the night of March 3. If anyone knew anything at all, he or she had certainly chosen to keep quiet.

...Not willing to give up, one group went to see the hilot, the traditional midwife who assisted Limita’s wife, another group went to see the barangay councilor who was supposedly present when the bodies of Sevilla and Alla were taken away by the Nasugbu police in a funeral car. Both the hilot and the barangay councilor were out when the two groups visited their homes.

...It was daylight still, and the group I had gone out with decided to return to the barangay captain’s house. We finally found him at home. My group thought that if he too kept saying "I don’t know,’’ the way everybody else did, he was at least duty-bound to answer questions involving geographical jurisdiction, being the head official of the place where the crime took place.

...As expected, the barangay captain, Ignacio Tenorio, didn’t talk much, except to say that the police did not consult him before taking the bodies away.

...By six p.m., we all boarded the jeepney for the next barangay, Calayo, where we were to spend the night. Along the way, I noticed the same thing I did when I first came here in September: every activity in the hacienda came to a halt when darkness set in. Fear stalks Hacienda Looc these days, but especially at night.