Farmworkers picket Cojuangco offices, demand end to reign of terror and impunity in Hacienda Luisita

About a hundred farm workers from Hacienda Luisita belonging to the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA, Alliance of Farm Workers in Hacienda Luisita) trooped to Makati City this morning and held a picket in front of the Jose Cojuangco & Sons building, condemning what they alleged are the alarmingly escalating attacks against their rights and livelihood by the Cojuangco-Aquino-owned Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO).

TADECO is staking claim over at least 400 hectares of agricultural land in the villages of Balete and Cutcut. “With the complicity of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) and the local police forces and courts in Tarlac,” said AMBALA acting chairperson Florida Sibayan, “TADECO and the Cojuangcos have been able to destroy our crops, imprison our members, and practically set in motion a grand plan to totally evict us from our villages.”

Last  December, barely a week before Christmas, armed TADECO guards and elements of the Tarlac PNP were reported to have literally bulldozed their way into the ricefields of Balete, precipitating tension in the village which led to the arrest and, according to AMBALA, the torture of five farm workers.

An almost similar incident transpired on 16 September 2013, when 11 members of a fact finding mission, including land reform advocate Anakpawis Representative Fernando Hicap, who were trying to look into reports of TADECO’s land-grabbing activities as well as of the circumvention of the Departnment of Agrarian Reform itself of the land distribution process in the hacienda, were arrested and detained for three days by the Tarlac PNP (Philippine National Police) upon the alleged orders of the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

According to Sibayan, AMBALA’s Makati contingent could have been bigger if not for the need to constantly keep a large intact segment of their ranks in the hacienda in anticipation of another series of violent attacks by the TADECO guards and the police. Farm workers in Barangay (village) Cutcut, for example, have been standing vigil in their fields for almost two weeks now.

“The tension in Hacienda Luisita is escalating,” said Ranmil Echanis, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Agricultural Workers Union). “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.”

TADECO started aggressively positioning itself in the disputed lands sometime last August — coinciding with the DAR’s earliest announcements of the imminent completion of land distribution in Hacienda Luisita — when it ordered the setting up of guard posts in Barangays Balete and Cutcut and issued eviction notices to a number of farmers who have long been tilling the said lands. Currently there are at least a hundred Cutcut and Balete residents who, as consequence of their refusal to comply with the said notices, have been charged in court of unlawful detainer by TADECO.

“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.  “All these have been made possible because it is the Cojuangco-Aquinos who rule in Tarlac. It is them in fact, through Benigno Cojuangco Aquino, who rule in the Philippines,” she added.

The protesters brought with them several scarecrows which they set up along Dela Rosa Street to symbolize their commitment to ward off the reign of impunity and terror in Hacienda Luisita. The Luisita farm workers in Metro Manila are set to join a delegation of hundreds of other farmers form Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog to attend this year’s commemoration of the 27th year of the infamous Mendiola Massacre on January 22 at Mendiola.

Florida “Pong” Sibayan
acting- Chairperson, AMBALA
CONTACT NO: +639293201477

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