Farmers groups seek international support
TARLAC CITY, APRIL 5 — Agrarian reform advocates led by the Luisita Watch network launched a national fact-finding mission (FFM) in Barangay Cutcut, Hacienda Luisita today to document growing rights violations against land reform beneficiaries.
The fact finding mission led by Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis party list, and leaders of various peasant and human rights organizations and alternative media groups, will seek international support against escalating terror and impunity in Hacienda Luisita. The mission also brought relief aid, courtesy of Caritas Manila, to families and individual victims of rights abuses and displacement.
The organized ranks of Luisita farmers led by the AMBALA alliance and its land cultivation initiative called “bungkalan” have been targets of relentless attacks by the Cojuangco-Aquino family since the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) commenced land distribution activities in Hacienda Luisita.
Most recent rights violations include “Martilyo Gang-”type attacks, arbitrary arrests, and ‘legal’ harassment. Eviction of farmers, bulldozing of crops and dismantling of homes and farmhuts started by Cojuangco firm TADECO late last year became more aggressive as vast farmlands are fenced with barbed wires and concrete. Other Cojuangco-Aquino entities such as the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) sugar mill and the Luisita Realty Corp. (LRC) are also involved in the violent eviction of farmers.
Peasant and human rights organizations such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), and KARAPATAN observed that reported violations against Luisita farmers are practically state-sponsored.
Government institutions such as the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and local courts are involved in violations. State forces like the Tarlac Philippine National Police force, SWAT teams, and regular and paramilitary personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are utilized as “private armies” to impose landlord authority in Hacienda Luisita. The Department of Justice (DOJ), meanwhile, has been dragging its feet on farmers’ urgent pleas. President BS Aquino, a fifth-generation scion of the Cojuangco clan, has been mum on Luisita.
The mission focused on recent incidents in Barangay (village) Cutcut where terror was instituted by thugs and security guards hired by TADECO, with the support of local police and army personnel. The attack, according to the farmers, involved not only mauling but planned murder attempts of particular AMBALA leaders allegedly ordered by the Cojuangco family.
Three peasants were illegally arrested by the police on March 28 namely Marcelino Lugay, Ofelia “Pia” Hernandez, and Romeo “Fernan” Corpuz. All three were injured by hammer blows along with other farmers, while Corpuz was rushed to the Tarlac Provincial Hospital due to heart problems. Corpuz also suffered fractures on his left hand and was placed under hospital arrest. The three were released on 31 March. Charges of physical injury were lodged against them by their very attackers.
TADECO thugs with the help of police and military forces also dismantled and ransacked AMBALA’s Barangay Cutcut headquarters, and set up a checkpoint near the area to prevent tillers from entering the farmlands.
The fact-finding mission also interviewed AMBALA members George Gatus, Alvin Gratil, and Leoncio Suarez, who with two other farmers Gerry Catalan and Jaime Quiambao were illegally arrested on 3 April in Barangay Mapalacsiao by Tarlac police led by Acting Tarlac Chief of Police PSI Felix Bervo. To justify the arrest, an employee of the DAR-hired survey firm FF Cruz Co. lodged a complaint of coercion and violation of the implementation of the Republic Act 6657 or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law. The farmers were released the following day.
Human rights violations in Hacienda Luisita are monitored by the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and recently documented by international artist and activist Monique Wilson’s New Voice Company. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) also issued an appeal letter circulated globally regarding a Luisita peasant leader, Rudy Corpuz of AMBALA, who was hurt defending farmlands in a confrontation with thugs employed by TADECO.
Luisita Watch will release a full-report on this fact-finding mission and the status of implementation of land reform in Hacienda Luisita before 24 April — or two years after the historic Supreme Court decision to implement land distribution in this dispute-ridden sugar estate.
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