Leader of farmers’ group shot dead in Davao City

May. 15, 2008

DAVAO CITY — Celso Pojas, a leader of a farmers’ group in Davao City, was shot dead this morning in front of the office of the Farmers’ Association of Davao City-Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (FADC-KMP), in sitio Bugac, barangay Maa, this city.

Slain farmers’ leader Celso Pojas during the peasant month press conference in October last year, where he decries the plight of peasants subjected to harassments and threats in the course of defending their farmlands from being converted into plantations and mining projects. Pojas’s group, the Farmer’s Association of Davao City (FADC), an affiliate of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), strongly opposed the extension of the government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). They call it just another scheme to take the lands away from farmers back to the hands of big landlords. (davaotoday.com file photo by Barry Ohaylan)

Pojas, 45, was the secretary-general of FADC and the spokesman of the KMP in Southern Mindanao. He was the first militant leader assassinated in Davao City, according to Karapatan-Southern Mindanao secretary general Kelly Delgado.

Pojas, Delgado said, was also the 14th activist killed in the Philippines this year and the 903rd since President Gloria Arroyo assumed office in 2001. Local and international groups, including the United Nations, have condemned the Arroyo regime for the series of extrajudicial killings in the country, a great majority of which have not been resolved.

Shortly before he was shot, Pojas was preparing to leave for Compostela town in Compostela Valley province to attend to peasant and lumads who had evacuated from the hinterlands due to intensifying military operations, according to the KMP. Pojas, the group said, had been receiving death threats since December last year.

Pojas was set to go to Compostela with Delgado this morning after receiving reports that soldiers had allegedly entered last night the municipality gymnasium where some 300 evacuees had sought refuge since Tuesday.

He was having coffee with colleagues inside the FADC office when he went out to buy cigarettes at a store across the street. Witnesses said Pojas was shot by two men on a motorcycle who escaped toward the Maa Diversion Road.

Pojas’s colleagues inside the FADC-KMP office said they heard four gunshots. A witness said Pojas was still able to run toward the office, crying for help. He fell to the ground just before reaching the gate.

They said the owner of the store where Pojas bought his cigarette had told them about “suspicious-looking” men hanging around in the area days before the murder.

After four gunshots that hit him in his right rib and his left arm, Celso Pojas, 45, falls near the FADC-KMP office gate, where earlier, he left to buy some cigarettes in a store across the street. He was about to leave for Compostela town in Compostela Valley, to assist peasants and lumads forced to flee their homes because of relentless military operations. (Contributed photo by FADC-KMP)

Investigators from the Talomo Police Station said Pojas was hit in his right rib and in his left arm. Police said they also recovered two caliber .45 shells in the scene.

According to his colleagues, Pojas had been frequenting areas in Compostela Valley province lately to help farmers and peasants reportedly harassed by soldiers.

Military operations had been intensifying in the region since early this year, resulting in the evacuations of hundreds of families and harassments of farmer leaders.

Pojas also had been helping the family of Datu Domingo Diarog, the Bagobo leader whose house in Manuel Guianga, Tugbok, was strafed by unidentified men on April 29. The Diarog family had pointed to the Task Force Davao (TFD) as perpetrators of the strafing, a charge the task force denied.

Delgado, of Karapatan, said 10 battalions of the Philippine Army forces have been stationed in the area so far, ever since Arroyo ordered the creation of an Investment Defense Force (IDF), a special unit of the military tasked to secure mining investments in the region. (Cheryll D. Fiel, davaotoday.com)

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