Nearly three decades after the implementation of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program or CARP, farmworkers under sugarcane haciendas launch simultaneous actions against the powerful Cojuangco landlord clan.
In Tarlac, national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) joined local farmworkers in a caravan yesterday in Hacienda Luisita barangays to assail undeclared “martial law” within the controversial sugar estate.
Hacienda Luisita is controlled since the 1950s by the family of former Presidents Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, who enacted CARP in 1988, and Benigno Aquino III, under whose regime the CARP expired in 2014. Large parcels of prime agricultural land in Luisita is still heavily guarded by private security and armed state forces.
Yesterday, around 100 policemen were deployed to guard a 500-hectare fenced area in Brgy. Balete which is claimed by commercial bank RCBC. SWAT teams were also seen toting high-powered firearms in checkpoints. Today, farmers and their supporters formed a human chain near an army headquarters located right smack in the middle of a thriving land cultivation area also in the same barangay.
UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos says successive land reform schemes under CARP failed to uplift the lives of downtrodden sugar workers in Hacienda Luisita. Instead, farmworkers were to exposed to various atrocities, including the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004.
“First, Cory implemented the oppressive Stock Distribution Option or SDO. Today, despite a Supreme Court decision for total land distribution, Hacienda Luisita is still under the effective control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos through the aryendo or illicit leaseback set-ups. The Cojuangcos are now also business partners with another despotic landlord family, the Lorenzos of Lapanday, who controls thousands of hectares of banana plantations in Mindanao,” said Ramos.
Meanwhile in Negros, notorious landlord and Marcos crony, Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr., an estranged brood of the Cojuangcos of Luisita, still controls around 5,000 hectares of land under the CARP’s “corporative scheme,” another non-land transfer scheme akin to the SDO.
According to NFSW Secretary General John Milton Lozande, more than 200 farmworkers from 11 Cojuangco haciendas in Negros Occidental have set up a protest camp in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) local office in in Bacolod City to demand the termination of Danding’s corporative scheme and revocation of various joint-venture agreements forged with CARP “beneficiaries.”
The corporative scheme was enforced in the following haciendas in 1998: Hda. Balatong, Hda. Nieva, Hda. Bonifacia, Hda. Soledad, Hda.Candelaria, Hda. Fe, Hda. Caridad and Candaguet, Hda. San Antonio, Hda. Ara-al, Hda. Kaiyaman and Hda. Adelina and has since comprised the Eduardo Cojuangco Jr or ECJ landholdings. The protests in Bacolod City are led by the ECJ Farmers and Farmworkers Alliance in Negros or EFFWAN.
“The SDO, corporative scheme and joint-venture are onerous contracts and landgrabbing schemes made legal by the CARP. This is the reason why farmworkers reject any extension of this pro-landlord policy and instead push for a genuine land reform program composed mainly of free land distribution to actual tillers,” said Ramos.
Ramos is referring to the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill filed as HB 555 by Anakpawis Partylist and Makabayan bloc, a piece of legislation which is widely supported by farmers across the country.
UMA also said that before the cancellation of the 5th round of peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), the negotiations were nearing positive developments, especially since both parties have already agreed to free land distribution as component in the crafting of a Comprehensive Agreement for Socio-Economic Reforms or CASER.
“We are enraged that instead of addressing basic socio-economic problems to solve the roots of peasant unrest and armed conflict, the Duterte regime is gearing towards Martial Law and militarist solutions fed to him by ex-generals and other imperialist lapdogs within his Cabinet,” said Ramos.
“Duterte’s peace agenda now appears to be totally undermined with the piling up of various military atrocities in peasant communities in Mindanao and other parts of the country where state forces are under ‘red alert.’ The farmworkers of Hacienda Luisita and Negros have already showed us how to daring land occupation and cultivation actions. Farmers have no recourse left but to continue the fight and dismantle the centuries-old hacienda system,” ended Ramos.