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Luisita farmers decry land reform disqualification

No land, no justice. Farmers suffer more violence, deception and land grabbing under the Aquino administration’s bogus land reform in Hacienda Luisita.

Atty. Jobert Pahilga of the Sentro para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo (SENTRA), counsel of Hacienda Luisita farmers under the alliance AMBALA, recently filed a motion before the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) protesting the agency’s disqualification of  125 farmworkers-beneficiaries (FWBs) from becoming awardees of Hacienda Luisita lands covered by government’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

The DAR sent out disqualification notices to 125 FWBs, composed mainly of AMBALA leaders and members who consistently fought for the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme and for land distribution in Hacienda Luisita since 2003, when AMBALA lodged its historic petition and joined the Hacienda Luisita People’s Strike in 2004 along with the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU).

In an order dated August 26, 2014 the DAR cited the FWBs’ failure to sign a promissory note, the Application to Purchase and Farmers’ Undertaking (APFU), as basis for disqualification. The APFU binds FWBs to pay amortization for the farmlots over a period of 30 years.

Luisita farmers, however assert that they should not be obliged to pay for the land because their ownership was affirmed when farmworkers were declared “stockholders” of  the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) in 1989, and entered agricultural lands as their share, composing 33% of the corporation. Moreover, FWBs have already paid HLI for the value of the land by their labor and “mandays.”

“We are in fact, the rightful owners of Hacienda Luisita,” said Florida Sibayan, AMBALA chairperson. Sibayan  also lambasted the DAR for consistently ruling against the interests of Luisita farmers. “The Supreme Court affirmed that the Cojuangcos still owe us our share of the whooping Php 1.33 Billion-peso sale of Hacienda Luisita land assets – agricultural lands cunningly sold to the Luisita Industrial Park Co., RCBC and the BCDA for the SCTEX right-of-way. The DAR must work to have the Cojuangcos pay us immediately, and not the other way around,”  said Sibayan.

“There should be no need to require farmworkers to apply for the purchase of lands that they already own. There is therefore, no basis for DAR’s imposition to FWBs to sign the AFPU,” said Pahilga.

Atty. Pahilga also pointed out that the disqualification of the 125 FWB’s is unwarranted because “the said order has no factual and legal basis and was issued in violation of the rights of the said FWBs to due process of law.  It was also issued while the Motion of AMBALA questioning the validity of the ‘tambiolo system’ of land reform implemented by the DAR and the order to sign the AFPU under pain of disqualification is still pending with the Supreme Court.”

The CARP law, RA 6657 as amended by RA 9700, does not provide as basis for disqualification of a beneficiary, the failure or refusal of the farmer to sign the AFPU. “In the same vein, their failure to claim their lot allocation certificate or even their Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA), is not a ground to disqualify farmers,” said Pahilga.

Aside from this latest move, officials of the DAR have been directly involved in displacement of farmers and destruction of crops in Barangays Mapalacsiao and Asturias.

“The DAR’s lot allocation via ‘tambiolo’ (raffle draw) was designed to attack our land cultivation program bungkalan and facilitate the reconcentration of lands back to the Cojuangco-Aquinos,”  said Sibayan.

The DAR also condoned the violent assaults of Cojuangco-Aquino firm Tarlac Develoment Corporation (TADECO) by denying the Cease and Desist Order (CDO) filed by AMBALA to stop illegal eviction of the farmers and destruction of crops and properties in barangays Balete and Cutcut. From November 2013 to March 2014, TADECO ordered the bulldozing and destruction of more than a hundred hectares of palay and other food crops, burning of homes, and fencing off of some 360 hectares of agricultural lands. The attacks resulted in the death of one AMBALA member, Dennis dela Cruz,  mauling and unlawful arrests, and the filing of harassment suits to hundreds of farmers.

More recently, the DAR acted favorably on the appeal by TADECO to exempt the 358 hectares of lands from land reform by planning to conduct a special hearing on Oct. 28 – 30, 2014 at the Office of the DAR  Regional Director in Pampanga.

In a decision issued by Atty. Roland Cua OIC-Director of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance (BALA), also last August 26,  the DAR put the burden of proof on AMBALA as to why the above-mentioned agricultural land must be distributed to beneficiaries. Even if it was the DAR which issued a Notice of Coverage (NOC) for the said lands in December 17, 2013, for eventual land distribution.

“Disqualification and consistent attacks against organizations and individuals who fought for land and justice in Hacienda Luisita – this is how the government honors the memory of those who were killed fighting for our rights,” said Sibayan, referring to the seven farmworkers who died during the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004.

Farmers point to President BS Aquino, who was then a congressman and manager of the Luisita estate, as one of the perpetrators of the massacre.

Luisita farmers and their supporters are preparing international solidarity activities in the weeks leading to the 10th year commemoration of the Hacienda Luisita massacre (HLMX) on November 16, 2014.

Source Verification:
Gi Estrada
UMA Media Officer


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