PHILIPPINES: Luisita farmers held at gunpoint as Cojuangco-Aquinos’s men destroy huts, crops

Friday 14 February 2014

Date: 11 February 2014

Type: News

Source:Bulatlat.com

Keywords: Hacienda Luisita, land reform, human rights abuse, land grabbing

“The tension in Hacienda Luisita is escalating.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA Bulatlat.com

MANILA – - After the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre, husband and wife Wilfredo and Florida Sibayan started tilling a piece of land in Balete village. Like many members of Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (Ambala), the couple dreamt of a better life for their children and grandchildren.

In a previous interview with Bulatlat.com, Florida or Pong to her colleagues said Ambala embarked on the tillage campaign to end decades of hunger and poverty. The Sibayans planted palay and vegetables and raised poultry.

After the Supreme Court issued its final ruling in April 2012 ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmworker-beneficiaries, the farmers had hoped the Cojuangco-Aquinos would respect the decision and would give back their land. That hope is far from what is happening. On February 8, the day President Aquino turned 54, Wilfredo was held at gunpoint as security guards of Cojuangco-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (Tadeco) destroyed their hut. Two other farmers – Abelardo Mallari and Edgar Aganon – suffered the same fate.

That morning, the hut of Ricky Flores was also dismantled. His son, Rey, 16, attempted to videotape the destruction of their hut through his cellphone’s camera but the guards pointed their guns at him and turned him over to the police. He was subsequently released upon the intervention of Tarlac City Councilor Emmy Ladera-Facunla and representatives of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

On the same night of the president’s birthday, the hut Eddie de Castro was set on fire. Ambala reported that the following day, February 9, the farm huts of Renan deal Pena and Conrado Dacanay were also destroyed. The only hut spared in the 260-hectare agricultural land in Balete village is the one owned by Jesus Flores, which has been been occupied by the Tadeco security guards. The farmers have chosen to remain in the area to look after their remaining crops. They are staying in makeshift tents, according to the fact sheet sent by Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma).

This morning, Uma reported that Tadeco employee Villamor Lagunero and Mauro Dela Cruz, head of the Great Star Security Agency, threatened the farmers that they would be arrested if they insist on tending to their crops. Tadeco is claiming ownership over at least 461 hectares of land in the villages of Balete, Cutcut and Central. The corporation started bulldozing farmlands and evicting farmers in Balete village in November last year. Last month, Tadeco started putting up fences and security outposts in Cutcut village.

Uma said the area in Balete village is not the private property of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. “It should have been covered earlier by the 2012 SC decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita to farmworkers. It is now covered by a notice of land reform coverage issued by the DAR [Department of Agrarian Reform] December 17, 2013,” Uma said.

“The Cojuangcos do not respect even the laws made by their own kind. This useless NOC [notice of coverage] issued by the DAR is under the bogus and anti-peasant Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) enacted by the first Cojuangco-Aquino president, Cory,” Florida said in a statement.

Uma pointed out that the recent incidents of destruction of huts and crops took place even after the local court dismissed the unlawful detainer and ejectment charge against Sibayan and 20 other farmers in Balete village. In a decision dated January 24, 2014, Municipal Trial Court Judge Eleanor V. de Jesus dismissed the case filed by Tadeco for lack of jurisdiction.

Uma said a new headquarters of the 3rd Mechanized Battalion of the Philippine Army is also located inside the Tadeco fenced area. Farmers said soldiers conduct regular patrols around the 260-hectare area. Tadeco’s bulldozers are also parked near the army headquarters.

“All these point to the fact that what we have right now in Hacienda, to complement the sham land distribution of the DAR, is a reign of terror and impunity,” Sibayan said. “Ambala has pending petitions, motions and complaints before DAR offices, the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, but all have yet to decisively act on our pleas.”

On December 26, 2013, Ambala filed a petition for a cease and desist order against Tadeco before the DAR but DAR has yet to act on the urgent petition. Some 30 farmers who were victims of threats, harassment, destruction of crops and property, illegal arrest and detention, robbery filed criminal cases against Tadeco guards and policemen before the Department of Justice (DOJ) on January 16. The DOJ, through Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III agreed to form a special panel to look into the rights violations in Hacienda Luisita. Until now, the special panel has not been created yet.

On the same day, Ambala also filed a motion to cite DAR in contempt before the Supreme Court.

“The tension in Hacienda Luisita is escalating,” Ranmil Echanis, Uma secretary general, said. “If real land distribution is not carried out and if militarization in the area continues, we just might see a situation not unlike the period which led to the tragic Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004.”###

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