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Slain farmer’s kin seek arrest of 6 suspects

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – The family of lumad farmer Wilce Gica, who was shot dead on August 24 in Maramag, Bukidnon has asked authorities to arrest the six guards of Villalon Ranch who were tagged as suspects.

Police confirmed that murder charges had been filed against the suuspects, led by a Milo Ceballos, before the Bukidnon prosecutor’s office in Malaybalay City.

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Senior Police Officer 1 Jonathan Bataican, Maramag investigator, said the murder charges were filed after witnesses came forward and identified the guards as suspects in the death of Gica.

Gica was to attend a meeting called for by guards of Villalon Ranch purposely to inform him and his group that they were not allowed anymore to till the land they had been farming.

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The slain farmer reportedly declined to surrender his farming tools when frisked outside the meeting venue in Pansalan village in Maramag.

Bataican said witnesses tagged Ceballos as the one who shot Gica, using a Carbine rifle.

The other guards were identified as Kevin Musico, Manuelito de la Cerna, Celso Oplimo, Romeo Dacquiano and Dante Cardines.

Glenda Gica Ubanan, the slain farmer’s eldest sister, said they were puzzled why the suspects remained at large.

Ubanan said because of this, the family decided not to bury his brother’s body yet.

“The family’s intention was not to bury the body until justice is. served,” she said.

Ubanan also said they were hoping that the family decision could pressure the National Commission on the Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) to decide on the case of Villalon Ranch.

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The Pansalan-Dagumbaan Tribal Association (Padata), the group that Gica belonged to, maintains that the renewal of Villalon Ranch’s Forest Land Graze Management Agreement (FLGMA) last year, three years after it expired in 1997, was backed by spurious documents.

Joseph Coles of Task Force Mapalad said Padata had claimed that the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) presented by the ranch’s owners was a forgery.

“If we can’t get justice here, we might bring Wilce’s body to the National Office of the NCIP in Manila,” Ubanan said.

Maramag Mayor Alicia Resus told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the local government has not been remiss in trying to address the problem involving the farmers and the Villalon family.

She said Bukidnon vice governor Jose Ma. Zubiri even called for a meeting between the contesting parties.

The last one, she said, was a few weeks prior to Gica’s death.

“The Villalons were always not available but represented by their lawyers,” Resus said.

As to the lumad farmers’ demand for the cancellation of Villaon Ranch’s permit, Resus said local government units have no authority to do so since it involved an agreement between a national agency and the permit holder.”

“It has to be resolved in the national level,” she said.

“The win-win solution is that everyone involved should come to an agreement,” she said.

Bobby Lagsa and Dennis Jay Santos, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: Agriculture, Crime, Indigenous people, land dispute, Lumads, Police, Villalon Ranch
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