39 arrested in Aloguinsan over fencing of hacienda

A riot broke out yesterday in Aloguinsan town, midwest Cebu, where policemen clashed with about 250 protestors who were trying to stop the fencing of a disputed 140-hectare tract of agricultural land.

At least 39 people were arrested, including local farmers and college students from Cebu City.

They were brought to police jails in Pinamungahan town and Toledo City, pending the filing of charges of obstruction of justice.

Injuries were reported by four policemen and a still-undetermined number of demonstrators,  who threw plastic bags  of human feces and urine and used Indian pana or darts and slingshots to try to stop  the police.

The one-hour commotion started about 9 a.m. after a sheriff brought a court order to allow laborers to start fencing the property in barangay Bonbon owned by the Gantangco family.

The Hacienda Gantuangco has been a flash point of agrarian reform dispute for several years with organized farmer groups and activists fighting off efforts to have it sold off to investors.

Yesterday’s fencing activity was backed with bulldozers and about 200 policemen from towns of Pinamungahan, Aloguinsan, and Balamban and Toledo City.

A human barricade was broken up when the policemen surrounded the group and pulled out individuals from the barricade.

Farmers protested the rough handling.

“Our cameras, bags and cell phones were thrown away. Women were dragged down to the highway. The men were mauled,” Susan Altos, community organizer of the San Roque Farmers Association, told Cebu Daily News.

Lt. Jesus Binarao, 78th Infantry Battalion Bravo Company Commander,  whose men were securing the area, said the riot erupted after one farmer threw a mixture of water and human urine at the demolition team.

Protestors came from militant groups like the Kilusang Mambubukid ng Pilipnas, Karapatan, Bayan Muna and Anakpawis, said P02 Solomon Cardoza, desk officer of Aloguinsan police.

Police said some demonstrators threw liquid acid.

PO3 Gerardo Abad suffered acid burns on his back. PO1 Ompad of Regional Public Safety Management Batallion, FO1 Leroy Quisido and the driver of a back hoe were hit with  slingshots.

Some protesters cut the hose of the Aloguinsan fire truck with a sickle, a sharp bladed farm tool.

Others used Indian pana darts and and struck at law enforcers with the pointed ends of poles that held up their protest banners.

When they ran out of improvised arrows, others started to boil water and throw it at the police, said Senior Supt. Patrocinio Commendador, provincial director of Cebu Provincial Police Office (CPPO).

Altos, the San Roque Farmer’s Association community organizer,  said the farmers and their allies  formed a human barricade to prevent the fencing of the farmland.

A sheriff of the Toledo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 59 first showed them a court order for the fencing of the area. But she said the order “expired” last Sunday and the fencing was illegal.

According to her, the court order took effect last Aug. 12 and a 17-day extension was granted.

Lawyer Kim Mendoza, representing the Farmer’s Development Center (Fardec) in Cebu City, drove to Aloguinsan town and confirmed at 6 p.m. that all 39 arrested persons were at the  Pinamungahan police station.

The group includes 21 women and elderly farmers aged 70 or more.

The 18 arrested men were later sent to the Toledo City police office while the 21 females were kept at the Pinamungahan police station.

Mendoza said Fardec would assist the detainees and help arrange their bail. She said Fardec may file charges for police brutality as she urged the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to investigate the dispersal and arrests.

All 39 detainees will stay in jail till Wednesday when regular office work resumes. Police will file charges before the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office after the two-day holiday.

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