Agrarian unrest and impunity linger in Hacienda Luisita, three years after the landmark Supreme Court (SC) ruling for total land distribution.
Farm workers led by the Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) once again trooped to the Department of Justice (DOJ) office in Padre Faura, Manila, today to demand land and justice for Hacienda Luisita farmers.
Even before the clamor grew with the DAP and the Mamasapano fiascos, Luisita farmers were among the first to call for Aquino’s resignation over sham land reform, human rights violations and violence unleashed by the state against supposed agrarian reform beneficiaries in the controversial sugar estate controlled by the Presidential kin for decades.
“It seems that it was not only in Mamasapano that Aquino gave a stand down order. It appears that even DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima was ordered not to act on the complaints we filed against the Aquino-Cojuangcos,” laments Florida Sibayan, AMBALA Chairperson.
During the past year, farmers have trooped thrice to the DOJ to seek justice for a string of atrocities committed by Aquino’s kin including his sister, Ma. Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz of the Tarlac Development Corporation (TADECO), their employees and goons, police officials, local government and Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) officials.
Complaints were filed by farmers on January 16, March 20, and October 10, 2014 for more than a hundred counts of various criminal offenses which involved the bulldozing and destruction of millions worth of crops, burning of homes, fencing of farm lots, theft of farm tools and animals, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention including that of a minor, assault, mauling and attempted murders over several incidents from September 2013 up to August of 2014.
After the last filing of complaints at the DOJ in October, Malacanang was quick to denounce AMBALA and even dared the beleaguered farmers to present evidence to the public to back their complaints. “We believe this is a strong signal from Aquino himself for the DOJ to ignore the cases we filed against his kin,” said Sibayan.
Despite several follow-up letters, the DOJ has yet to act on any of the complaints. Meanwhile, several farmers still face fabricated charges filed by the Aquino-Cojuangcos in local courts in their bailiwick Tarlac. Harassment of Luisita farmers and leaders continue to this day.
Even the DAR, the government agency mandated to carry out land distribution, weighed down thirteen (13) AMBALA members with absurd charges of violation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) which farmers see as a ploy to evict them from parcels of land they have been cultivating for years. Other pending cases against farmers and their advocates include a direct assault charge filed by police against nine (9) persons whom police violently nabbed whilst on a fact finding mission on September 17, 2013; a trespassing charge against Tarlac City Councilor Emily Ladera-Facunla, who was acting in her capacity as a public official to intervene in a bulldozing incident involving police and goons of the Aquino-Cojuangcos in December 2013; and physical injuries complaints against farmworkers Ofelia Hernandez, Marcelino Lugay and Romeo Corpuz, who ironically suffered near fatal injuries after a violent assault by Aquino-Cojuangco goons in March 2014.
Other fabricated cases against farmers have been dismissed by local courts or reverted to the DAR due to their agrarian nature, but not without tedious processes taking its toll on the victims.
On April 24, 2012, the Supreme Court issued a final and executory decision for total land distribution and the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) land reform scheme in Hacienda Luisita. Three years after, farmers complain of the chaotic distribution process carried out by DAR. The SC also ruled for the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. to audit and return Php 1.33 billion to farmworkers for the sale of Luisita landholdings.
Without any clear development in the auditing process, the Aquino-Cojuangcos have been continuously maneuvering to hide and maximize land and company assets without the knowledge of the thousands of farmworkers who were once practically co-owners of the HLI under the SDO, and even the thousands of others who remain shareholders of the company per the 2012 SC ruling. The fencing of agricultural land, commercial development of certain areas within the estate, and the reported sale of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac sugar mill are examples of recent maneuvers of the Aquino-Cojuangcos.
AMBALA also filed motions to cite the DAR with contempt and indirect contempt of court in January last year, which includes a prayer to order the DAR to put a stop to TADECO’s illegal bulldozing and destruction of farmers’ livelihood. The SC has yet to act on the farmers’ appeals.
Today, farmers say that the Aquino-Cojuangcos have maintained control of thousands of hectares of land, while majority of beneficiaries awarded CLOAs or certificates of land ownership have fallen prey to illicit lease or buy-back agreements with dummies representing the Aquino-Cojuangcos. President Aquino’s kin maintain control of sugarcane production in the estate while plans are underway for ambitious land conversion and development projects within the estate.
The illicit contracts peddled to beneficiaries are similar to agribusiness venture agreements or AVAs now being institutionalized by the Aquino government.
“AVAs are modified clones of the SDO designed to legitimize land monopoly, landgrabbing and slave wages for agricultural workers,” said Ranmil Echanis, UMA deputy secretary general. Luisita farmworkers received wages as low as P 9.50 per payday during the SDO period, prompting thousands of farmers to strike in 2004.
The SDO scheme, however, is still in effect in more than a dozen haciendas in Negros and elsewhere, affecting thousands of farmworkers up to this day. Meanwhile, at least 1.2 million hectares of “CARP-awarded” land across the country are under various AVAs.
“Bogus land reform and government’s failure to provide crucial support services to farmers are further highlighted by unabated bureaucratic corruption typical of multi-billion anomalies and scams in the state’s agriculture and land reform departments hogging today’s headlines,” said Echanis referring to recent Commission on Audit (COA) reports implicating Aquino’s alter-egos in the DAR and Department of Agriculture.
“We have had enough of Aquino’s corruption, incompetence and lies. Even without mentioning the monstrosities we now know as Yolanda, Mamasapano or DAP – Hacienda Luisita is more than enough reason to kick Aquino out of office,” said Echanis.
Aquino and AFP Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang are also implicated in the Hacienda Luisita massacre case where at least 7 farmworkers were killed in a violent strike dispersal. A motion by survivors and kin of victims to reopen the case was immediately junked by the Ombudsman several weeks after it was filed in August 2014.
Without any hope of justice from different levels of government and its institutions, farmers are now looking into filing their complaints through the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and its counterpart within the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) on the peace talks, and even international tribunals.
The NDFP incidentally celebrates its 42nd founding anniversary today.