Farmer leader killed, grandson wounded inside home in Laur, Nueva Ecija, Central Luzon, Philippines

Pascual Guevarra, fondly called by friends and colleagues as “Tatay Pascual,” was preparing the evening meal in the kitchen located at the back of the house when a man in his mid to late 30s, fair skinned, 5’5” in height, medium built, wearing a light blue shirt, denim pants and a hat quickly walked towards him and pulled a handgun tucked in his waist.  Tatay Pascual raised his head from putting firewood under the hearth to see a gun aimed at his direction.  Despite his advanced age, he struggled with his attacker but was eventually overpowered and was shot and hit twice in the right portion of his chest.  

This was witnessed by his daughter who was taking a bath inside the house but was too petrified and shocked to immediately help him.

The shots were heard by Ronnel Viloria, the victim’s grandson who was tying their carabao in the yard.  He immediately rushed inside the house and saw the assailant standing over his wounded grandfather.  Ronnel grabbed the assailant from behind and tried to wrest away the gun.  Tatay Pascual’s daughter, Lilibeth, came out from where she was hiding and tried to help Ronnel but when she saw blood oozing from her father, she let go of the assailant and hugged Tatay Pascual instead.  Ronnel continued to struggle with the gunman until the latter broke free and shot Ronnel in the shoulder.  The gunman hurriedly ran outside.  The wounded Ronnel attempted to run after him but the gunman was already gone.

According to Ronnel’s brother the gunman boarded a waiting black motorcycle without license plate driven by a man in a jacket. The perpetrators sped north.

Lilibeth loaded Tatay Pascual into a tricycle and brought him to a hospital in the nearby town of Bongabon but he was pronounced dead upon arrival.

Ronnel was brought by the Philippine National Police (PNP) investigating team to a hospital in Cabanatuan City, the capital of Nueva Ecija.

Another grandson of the victim related that around 4:00 pm of July 9, he saw two men on board a motorcycle stopped across their house.  They went directly to the mango tree beside his grandfather’s house.  Thinking that the men were acquaintances of his grandfather or persons seeking assistance from him, he did not mind them.

The relatives of Tatay Pascual recalled that a month before the incident, they noticed a suspicious looking used-bottle buyer and an icedrop vendor who frequently passed by and furtively monitored the victim’s house.  Both persons mysteriously disappeared a week before the shooting.

On July 5, while Tatay Pascual together with other farmers were in the Department of Agriculture Region 3 office, Engr. Byrone dela Cruz of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) District 3  of Nueva Ecija went to see him at his house.  He found Lilibeth instead who told him where her father was.  Engr. dela Cruz left a message for Tatay Pascual that the farmers affected by the DPWH projects would now be paid.  He also told Lilibeth that he was coming back on Friday, July 9 and specifically told Lilibeth to tell her father not to leave the house on the said date.  He also asked where Lilibeth’s husband was and took both of her mobile phone numbers, then he left.  Engr. dela Cruz never came back on the day he said he would.

Lilbeth also noticed, on two occasions, a black Hyundai Starex van with red license plate (government owned) passed by her father’s house.  She first noticed it at 4:00 PM the day before the shooting.  It slowed down when it neared the house and made a U-turn a few meters away and again slowed down

near the house.  It came back on the morning of the shooting while they were conducting a bible study and did exactly the same thing.

The disputed 3,100 hectare land is located inside the Fort Magsaysay Military Reservation (FMMR) – home of the 7th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army.  Fort Magsaysay was positively identified by three torture victims (Raymond and Reynaldo Manalo and Oscar Leuterio) as one of the places where they were taken by the soldiers who abducted them. 

In 1956, President Ramon Magsaysay issued Presidential Proclamation Order No. 237 declaring the 73,000 hectares land in Nueva Ecija as a military reservation.  The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) uses 15,000 hectares of the 73,000 hectares as a camp and training ground.

By 1991, the Corazon Aquino administration allotted 3,100 hectares of FMMR to peasants displaced by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption through a Transfer of Deed between the Department of National Defense (DND) and the Department of Agrarian Reform.  By virtue of this Deed of Transfer, over a thousand peasant and other residents were awarded Certificate of Land Ownership Awards or CLOAs.

But on 24 June 2008, the newly-appointed commanding general of the 7th Infantry Division, Brigadier Gen. Ralph Villanueva, wrote a letter to Mr. Orlando Tumacay, the Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer of Nueva Ecija requesting the latter to revoke the awarded CLOAs and to defer the issuance of new ones pending the litigation of a case filed by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) against the DAR before the Court of Appeals.

The residents in the 3,100 hectares organized themselves and formed ALMANA to oppose the 7th IDPA’s plan of evicting them from their community.  ALMANA sought the help of the Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) or the Peasant Alliance in Central Luzon, a regional chapter of Kilusan ng Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) or the Philippine Peasant Alliance and conducted a fact-finding mission on 5-6 October 2008.  Since then, ALMANA has actively lobbied and held dialogues with concerned agencies regarding the farmers’ plight.