Peasant leader slain in front of farmers' association's office in Davao City, Philippines

Account of Incident:

On May 15, 2008 at around 5:45 in the morning, Celso Pojas, 45 years old, was having coffee with his officemates inside the Farmers Association in Davao City (FADC) and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)-Southern Mindanao office. They were to travel to Compostela Valley to visit the Lumad farmers who were victims of forcible evacuation due to massive militarization in their area.

A little while later, Pojas excused himself to buy cigarettes at a nearby sari-sari store. He promised to be back immediately to finish his coffee.

At about 6 a.m., his officemates heard the sound of about four gunshots. A Lumad boy who was sitting at the veranda of their office saw Pojas outside the gate waving and shouting, "Tabang!" ("Help!").

One of their officemates rushed to the gate and saw that Pojas was already slumped on the ground. It took a little while before they reached Pojas because they were very afraid that the gunmen would fire at them.

Maa Brgy. Captain Loreto Laud, Jr. responded about five minutes later followed by elements of the local Philippine National Police (PNP) on-board mobile patrol car 41. The PNP's Scene of the Crime Operations (SOCO) team also arrived in the area and cordoned the crime scene.

A Karapatan quick reaction team also rushed to the scene at around 6:30 a.m.

Celso_PojasBy 8 o'clock in the morning, the SOCO concluded its spot investigation and Celso's body was brought to Patalinghog Funeral Parlor in Cabagiuo Street, Davao City. An autopsy was then conducted by the SOCO.

Celso Pojas actively led the campaign to put a stop to the military operations in Compostela Valley Province from February to March 2008. These military operations escalated the human rights violations against farmers and lumads. He had fought for justice together with the victims of militarization in Baganga and Cateel in Davao Oriental, in New Bataan and Compostela and most recently he spoke for the family of the slain Datu Doming Diarog (a Lumad leader fighting for ancestral land rights who was killed last April 30, 2008 in Tugbok, Davao City).

For the past few months, Pojas has been receiving death threats. Sometime March this year, after coming from a radio station DXDC, where he was guest at a radio program, a man driving a jeepney stopped to warn him to "be careful as his time is due." He has also been receiving death threats through his cellular phone. The owners of the store near the place of the incident suspected that Celso's movements have been monitored since December 2007 because they have observed suspicious-looking men lurking in the vicinity. ###