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Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA Pilipinas) is the national progressive center of unions, federations, associations and organizations of agricultural workers in the Philippines.

UMA works closely with other progressive people’s organizations in the Philippines such as the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU, May First Movement), and other organizations affiliated with the umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN, New Patriotic Alliance).

UMA is a member of the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC), Coalition of Agricultural Workers International (CAWI) and the International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS)

Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura

Hacienda Luisita farmers’ bungkalan under siege

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Alert posted by Tanggol Magsasaka, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP)

The week-long tension between armed men of Brgy Capt. Edison Diaz and the farmer-members of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) escalated last night, when drunken thugs fired gunshots and forcibly evicted the farmers from the bungkalan or land cultivation areas in Barangay Mapalacsiao.

National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) condemns in the strongest possible terms the ongoing reign of terror in Hacienda Luisita. UMA secretary General Danilo Ramos scored local police in Tarlac for its inaction.

“AMBALA members have been seeking assistance from police since the tension started a week ago. Bolo-wielding thugs were then sent by Diaz, who is a barangay captain in Lourdes (also known as Texas), around 2 kilometers away from Mapalacsiao. Diaz ordered the construction of farm sheds around AMBALA’s bungkalan to serve as security outposts. Drunken armed men are now manning these posts,” said Ramos.

According to the update from AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan posted by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP): at around 9pm last night, the goons led by Diaz, who were all drunk, attacked and forcibly evicted AMBALA members from their huts in Sitio Silangan, Brgy. Mapalacsiao. During the altercation, the armed men fired gunshots. AMBALA members led by farmer Gerry Catalan, scrambled to escape. The goons are now occupying the huts.

AMBALA reported that there are now more than a hundred men occupying their farm huts, which are scattered in the contested area measuring more than 200 hectares. The tension between the Cojuangco-Aquino-backed Buena Timbol-Edison Diaz group and farmer-members of AMBALA in Brgy Mapalacsiao has been ongoing since November 25.

AMBALA is the farmworkers organization which petitioned to scrap Cory Aquino’s SDO or stock distribution scheme implemented in 1989. The Supreme Court issued a final ruling for total land distribution in Hacienda Luisita in 2012.

Since 2005, AMBALA has been maintaining the bungkalan or land cultivation areas in different barangays to counter the reconcentration of lands back to landlord control. The Timbol-Diaz group along with other Cojuangco minions have been mobilizing thugs and local constituents from Brgy. Lourdes to create chaos, discredit AMBALA and dismantle the bungkalan, particularly in Mapalacsiao.

Catalan and his family already went through several incidents of harassment and actual destruction of crops and demolition of their farmhut. Catalan was once arrested and detained on orders of officials of the previous administration of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) which implemented BS Aquino’s fake land distribution via tambiolo or lottery raffle in 2013. Diaz was involved in all the violent incidents in the said contested area.

“The Cojuangco-Aquinos still reign in Hacienda Luisita. With this incident, Diaz and his thugs are openly defying the DAR’s status quo order issued by DAR Sec. Rafael Mariano on July 8,” said Ramos. Sec. Mariano’s order was made in response to the destruction of Catalan’s crops on orders of known Cojuangco people, Buena Timbol of the Luisita Estate Management (LEM) and Villamor Lagunero, Chief Security officer of TADECO, on July 1, the first day of President Duterte in office.

“The local DAR officials in Tarlac and Central Luzon are also so obviously beholden to the Cojuangco-Aquinos. The same officials who committed atrocities against farmers under the BS Aquino regime are still in power in Tarlac,” said Ramos.

UMA is also urging the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) to raise the issues regarding Hacienda Luisita with the Duterte government as part of the socio-economic reforms agenda of its peace talks with the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP).

“Outside of the talks, it is an open secret that farmers who cannot rely on the GRP and its fascist police and armed force, raise their grievances with the ‘other government’ and the peasant army in the countryside,” said Ramos.

AMBALA members will also protest the continuing violence and harassment this morning.

 

Free Felicidad Caparal! Free All Political Prisoners!

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The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) today joined the sympathy fasting of farmers led by the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) in support of the hunger strike of political prisoners nationwide.

Farmers are demanding for the unconditional release of more than 400 political prisoners in the country especially those who are sick, elderly, and the women who have spent many years in jail on fabricated charges.

These include Felicidad Caparal, an organizer and national staff member of UMA who was sentenced to life in prison at the Correctional Institution for Women in Mandaluyong City.

Caparal was abducted by state security forces on January 27, 2009 while on her way to Northern Samar to attend to her sick mother. She was planning to bring her to Manila for medication. Caparal was held incommunicado and missing for nine days. She was convicted last year of absurd charges for involvement in a December 2002 ambuscade by the New People’s Army (NPA). Caparal could not have been involved in the said incident as she was eight months pregnant with her first child during that time.

Majority of political prisoners are ordinary farmers. The land problem and the monopoly of lands by powerful ruling elite in the Philippines impose political repression against activists and land reform advocates like Caparal. This fundamental problem also sparks the decades-long peasant war in the countryside.

UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos stated that it is not enough that the Duterte government recently pardoned 4 political prisoners, and again promised to release dozens of others on humanitarian grounds.

“All political prisoners must be released,” said Ramos.

“The Martial Law legacy of militarization and peasant killings persist in the countryside. Until these issues are addressed, a just and lasting peace would still be elusive,” he added.

Duterte promised the release of all political prisoners as part of measures pertaining to the peace talks between the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP), but the majority of political prisoners are still languishing in jails nationwide.

The fasting and hunger strike of the political prisoners will peak on December 10, Human Rights Day.

 

Aquino’s “tambiolo land reform” continues to sow tension in Hacienda Luisita

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AMBALA Chairperson Florida Sibayan is confronted by masked men sent by Brgy. Capt. Edison Diaz, a rabid Cojuangco-Aquino minion in Hacienda Luisita

“Dadanak na ang dugo dito!” (There will be bloodshed here!)

This is the lament of Hacienda Luisita farmers while Cojuangco-Aquino minions are still currently attempting to completely dismantle the bungkalan or land cultivation areas in Barangay Mapalacsiao, Hacienda Luisita.

The bungkalan campaign, which started during the height of the Hacienda Luisita strike in 2005, is spearheaded by the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawa sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA, the same farmworkers organization which petitioned for land distribution and the revocation of the oppressive Stock Distribution Option or SDO in the controversial sugar estate. 

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that from November 25 up to the present, Cojuangco aides Buena Timbol and Brgy. Capt. Edison Diaz of Lourdes (Texas) have allegedly sent local constituents and thugs to Mapalacsiao to set-up farm sheds and threaten Mapalacsiao farmers that their crops would soon be destroyed.

As local government official, Diaz has been using the claims of farmworker-beneficiaries (FWBs) in his barangay to justify the clearing and demolition of huts in the bungkalan areas in Mapalacsiao. The FWBs in both Lourdes and Mapalacsiao were dislocated and disenfranchised by BS Aquino’s fake land distribution via tambiolo and the rampant aryendo or illicit leaseback agreements.

“These ploys ultimately seek to create an atmosphere of chaos among farmworkers, discredit AMBALA, and to justify and effect the reconcentration of lands back to the control of landlords,” emphasized Ramos.

Diaz, Timbol and other known Cojuangco minions such as former Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) supervisor Arsenio Valentino, Tarlac Development Corp. (TADECO) Chief Security Villamor Lagunero and “kabarilan” Virginia Torres (now deceased) have been involved in the violent eviction of farmers and destruction of crops in Hacienda Luisita since 2013, coinciding with BS Aquino’s bogus land distribution scheme implemented via tambiolo or lottery raffle.

Today, AMBALA reported that Diaz is mobilizing masked goons armed with bolos to forcibly claim lands awarded to Lourdes FWBs by the former Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) leadership. AMBALA says that Diaz is eager to claim the area to replant sugarcane for the Cojuangcos and honor the illicit lease agreements he brokered with financiers. This is not for the benefit of disenfranchised FWBs, some of whom they have coerced to fight with AMBALA members, but to cater to economic interests of the Cojuangco-Aquinos and other land speculators.

Diaz has been involved in all violent incidents in the contested area since 2014. This is the second time that they have caused tension under Duterte. Previously, last July 1, or on the first day of the Duterte administration,  Cojuangco-Aquino goons led by Lagunero destroyed crops of farmer Gerry Catalan, supposedly to prove to farmers that “the Cojuangcos are still the boss.” 

Several violent incidents have been reported in the same area from 2014 up till the last part of the BS Aquino administration in 2016. These include illegal arrests and detention of farmers and destruction of crops and property. Aggrieved farmers were then slapped with trumped-up criminal charges in local courts and complaints before the Aquino-controlled DAR. All these harassment suits, however, have since been junked by the respective government institutions.

While there are no longer any fabricated cases against AMBALA members in Mapalacsiao, it is worthy to note that the rabid Cojuangco aide Diaz has a pending criminal case for  destruction of crops and property before the local Regional Trial Court. It is also worth mentioning that AMBALA members and victims have filed complaints against perpetrators of these atrocities at the Department of Justice (DOJ) main office in Manila in October 2014. These complaints however have been gathering dust at the DOJ.

AMBALA also fears that the local police force based in Tarlac City and with a community precinct in Mapalacsiao, will still work in favor of the Cojuangcos, since they have been traditionally deployed in the area to quell farmworkers’ protests against the landlords. 

“This is why we are calling on the Duterte administration to take concrete action in Hacienda Luisita. The extent of BS Aquino’s atrocities should be thoroughly investigated so that the bogus tambiolo land distribution scheme implemented by the previous DAR would be nullified and rectified. The rampant aryendo and sale of farmlots should also be stopped. The Cojuangco-Aquinos and their minions must pay for all their crimes,” said Ramos.

“Luisita should no longer be used in the murderous political squabbles of the ruling elite. This is not about the Marcoses or the Aquinos – this is about the welfare and interests of farmworkers long-oppressed by oligarchs since the Spanish colonial period. There can be no peace without justice,” ended Ramos. 

#MarcosNoHero | Marcos was never a hero for agricultural workers

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The national agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) joins the clamor of the Filipino people against the burial of Ferdinand Marcos Sr at the Libingan ng mga Bayani in today’s nationwide protests.

UMA is also wary of the possible resurrection of martial rule by the Duterte government: “President Duterte’s decision to let Marcos be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani leads to the undue rehabilitation of the late dictator. It seeks to downplay Marcos’s crimes against the Filipino people. It also lets Duterte test the waters for his recent dangerous pronouncements that may actually lead to martial rule if left unchecked,” said Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General.

“Duterte seems to be conditioning the minds of the people that martial law was okay. He even pronounced the revival of the notorious Philippine Constabulary (PC) and of lifting the writ of habeas corpus. We must never forget the lessons of martial law,” stressed Ramos.

UMA scored Duterte for justifying Marcos’s clandestine burial as a ceremony for a former president and solider, or simply a matter of “following the law.”

“We need not debate with the President – we leave it to lawyers and experts to gladly demolish his feeble legal claims. For us ordinary folk, it is quite obvious that Duterte is simply paying off political debts to the Marcoses with this distasteful burial. Duterte may also be aware that he is risking his own political ground. He will earn the wrath of the Filipino people because of his unholy alliance with this clan of known plunderers and murderers,”

“Duterte must be reminded that his promise of change should be towards progress. With the Marcos burial, we seem to be returning to the darkest chapters of our country’s history,” added Ramos.

UMA also emphasized that Marcos shamelessly pandered to US imperialist interests and neoliberal attacks on labor including low wages, contractualization, and the establishment of Export Processing Zones (EPZ’s) where the No Union, No Strike Policy was institutionalized. It was also during Marcos time that the Labor Export Policy was put in place, which started the systemic exodus of Filipino workers to work abroad, including thousands of agricultural workers.

These labor policies worked hand in hand with the implementation of Marcos’s Presidential Decree 27 or fake land reform and cronyism. PD 27 sought to justify Martial Law and only covered tenanted rice and corn lands. Needless to say, PD 27 was a total failure as land monopoly and control of the elite few remains the country’s fundamental problem to this day.

The phenomenon of the growing number of agricultural workers in the country is actually attributed to these neoliberal attacks and the country’s export-oriented, import-dependent economy which hit the pits of dire crisis during Marcos time. Marcos allowed the influx of multinational and transnational corporations in cahoots with his cronies that effected landgrabbing, aggressive expansion of agricultural plantations and monopoly control of the sugar industry.

Peasants and indigenous peoples driven away from their lands and ancestral domain had no choice but to became mere agricultural workers slaving away for foreign corporations, landlords and Marcos cronies.

Marcos cronies such as Antonio Floirendo who lorded over the banana industry in Mindanao, Danding Cojuangco, Roberto Benedicto and others who owned vast sugar haciendas, greatly benefited from their ties with the fallen tyrant. Aside from spawning scams like the coco levy, Masagana 99 and the Green Revolution, it was also during Marcos time that dire crisis shook the sugar industry, and caused untold famine among already impoverished sugar workers. The plight of malnourished children in Negros became the subject of national and international attention.

“The so-called ‘Marcos bonus’ for sugar workers, now known as the Social Amelioration Program or SAP, was nothing but a palliative measure which was also made a source of corruption for his cronies. We must never forget this despicable legacy of oppression, plunder and corruption,” said Ramos.

UMA also stressed that Marcos’s record of human rights violations under Martial Law must never be forgotten. “The Marcos burial opened wounds for the thousands of victims who still seek indemnification – the former political prisoners, and the kin of those who were killed and disappeared,” said Ramos.

“Instead of accomodating the Marcoses and promoting militarist tendencies, Duterte must work to grant justice to victims of past and present state atrocities and free all political prisoners,” stressed Ramos.

UMA said that Duterte’s moves and dangerous pronouncements further embolden state troopers to commit Martial Law-type atrocities in the countryside, even as peace talks are ongoing between his government and the National Democratic Front (NDF), and respective unilateral ceasefires are currently in place.

In Bacolod City, the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s affliate based in Negros, joins the National Day of Unity and Rage against the Marcos burial to seek justice for the victims of the Escalante massacre.

“The people of Escalante in Negros Occidental shall never forget the gruesome massacre of sugar workers in 1985. Marcos was never a hero for agricultural workers,” said Ramos.

“The farm workers of Escalante are our true heroes. Their spirit lives on as we continue the fight for national liberation and democracy.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 25, 2016
Reference: Danilo Ramos, UMA Secretary General, 09994363493

#RememberLuisita | Hacienda Luisita massacre reenacted 12 years after

 

TARLAC CITY, NOVEMBER 16 — The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), Alyansa ng Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Anakpawis Partylist led more than a thousand farm workers of Hacienda Luisita and their supporters from various sectoral groups from Central Luzon and Metro Manila in a mass action in front of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the infamous Hacienda Luisita massacre.

On November 16, 2004, ten days after the United Luisita Workers Union (ULWU) and the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Labor Union (CATLU) launched a massive strike, a bloody dispersal was carried out by the military and police, killing seven farm workers and injuring more than a hundred others.

The newly-formed Tanghalang Balen ning Luisita (Luisita People’s Theater) or TABLU, a group of young cultural activists from Hacienda Luisita and neighboring towns in Tarlac, led artists, cultural groups and activists in mounting a theatrical reenactment in front of the CAT sugar mill’s Gate 1, the actual site of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The reenactment paid tribute to the life and struggle of Jessie Valdez, Adriano Caballero Jr, Jaime Fastidio, Jesus Laza, Juancho Sanchez, Jhaivie Basilio and Jhune David – the seven martyrs of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The performance is inspired by the militant tradition of sugar workers in Escalante, Negros Occidental, where a reenactment of the Escalante Massacre is performed yearly by the community with the vow to carry on the struggle against state repression and fascism and for genuine land reform.

Cultural workers and prominent artists have been collaborating with TABLU in creative workshops and political discussions to prepare for this production. Among the artists involved in the Luisita massacre reenactment are choreographers Edwin Quinsayas and Joanna Lerio; visual artists Leeroy New and Antares Bartolome for production design; composer Edge Uyanguren, his band TUBAW and Tambol Bayan, a Tarlac City-based group of very young percussionists founded by Nick Sangil, for sound and music; and other artists from Sinagbayan, Sining Kadamay and the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). Theater veteran Katsch Catoy directs the production.

The activity was the culmination of a three-day people’s cultural caravan from Metro Manila to Tarlac which carried the theme “land, justice and peace,” highlighting the continuing demand of Luisita farm workers for genuine land reform in the vast Tarlac sugar estate, their call to finally bring to justice the perpetrators of the massacre, and their support for the ongoing peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).

“Twelve years have passed and the families of the victims continue to mourn and are still very much indignant as justice remains elusive. The perpetrators are not only left unpunished but are in fact being promoted to higher ranks,” UMA secretary general Danilo Ramos said, refering to, among others, current AFP Chief of Staff General Ricardo Visaya who was one of the field commanders during the massacre.

“Noynoy Aquino himself who at the time of the massacre was a Tarlac solon and was very much involved in the affairs of his family’s hacienda and sugar mill, got away with not having to face prosecution and even went on to become the highest official of the land,” Ramos said.

AMBALA Secretary General Renato Mendoza meanwhile said that the former chief executive’s clan is “answerable not only for the Hacienda Luisita massacre, but also for the rights abuses against Luisita farm workers and the bogus land distribution in Hacienda Luisita during the term of the last Cojuangco-Aquino president.”

According to AMBALA, Aquino, allegedly in cahoots with the previous Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) secretary Virgilio Delos Reyes, effectively ensured that Hacienda Luisita remained in the control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos while cleverly making it appear that the government was implementing the 2012 Supreme Court decision to distribute Hacienda Luisita to the farm workers.

Mendoza also said that while they welcome recent statements made by present DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano regarding his current efforts to rectify his predecessor’s actions or to invalidate the so-called “tambiolo land reform” in Hacienda Luisita, the farm workers will continue to hold mass mobilizations, physically assert their claim on the lands and persevere in their collective tillage campaign or bungkalan.

Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao, who joined Luisita farmers in a solidarity activity last night in Barangay Mabilog, for his part said that landlessness, feudal exploitation, wage slavery, and other social and economic conditions that invariably lead to tragic episodes like the Hacienda Lusita massacre are still pervasive and are also the main causes of the continuing armed conflict in the country.

“Hacienda Luisita is a classic, living case study to prove the need for genuine land reform and national industrialization, for thoroughgoing social and economic reforms which is in fact one of the main concerns of the ongoing peace talks between the government and the NDFP,” Casilao said.

UMA member unions and organizations mark November 16 as National Day of Protest of Farm and Agricultural Workers. The International League of People’s Struggle (ILPS) Workers Commission has also declared this day as International Day of Action Against Trade Union Repression. UMA is a member of the ILPS.

 

 

Hacienda Luisita “bungkalan” thrives despite attacks by previous BS Aquino admin

TARLAC CITY, NOVEMBER 15 — Large contingents of agrarian reform activists, human rights groups, church people, peace advocates, artists and cultural workers joined a caravan to different barangay of Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province today, to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

The caravan, dubbed #RememberLuisita, People’s Cultural Caravan for Land, Justice and Peace, is on its second day. Today, the supporters of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers will join the locals in the “bungkalan,” the land cultivation campaign initiated by the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) during the height of the Welgang Bayan (People’s Strike) in 2004.

The national agriworkers center, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), meanwhile condemned former President Benigno S. Aquino III for vicious attacks against the farmworkers’ bungkalan during his 6-year term. UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos stressed that the bungkalan still thrives despite relentless attacks unleashed by the Cojuangco-Aquinos.

“The fake land distribution scheme via tambiolo, bulldozing of farmers’crops and eviction of farmers through burning and demolition of huts almost eradicated the bungkalan. But Luisita farmworkers refused to give up. Today, AMBALA strives to expand the  bungkalan initiative through unity and cooperation among farmworkers,” added Ramos.

UMA and AMBALA is calling on the Duterte administration to bring justice to the victims of the massacre which occurred 12 years ago, on November 16, 2004.

Ramos also expressed alarm over the recent spate of killings and harassment of farmers perpetrated by private goons and state forces. Some incidents were reported to be under the guise of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.

 “Peasant killings must stop,” Ramos stressed.

The past week, farmworkers reported that an armored personnel carrier (APC) was seen roving around the bungkalan area in Barangay Balete, Hacienda Luisita. Ramos said that farmworkers have been clamoring for the complete pull-out of military and paramilitary troops in Hacienda Luisita.

The company headquarters of the 31st Infantry Battalion, 3rd Mechanized Division is located right smack in the land reform area in Barangay Balete.

BS Aquino killed the case

Ramos also scored BS Aquino for junking of charges against the perpetrators of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

A few months after former President BS Aquino assumed office, the Ombudsman silently junked the case against police and military respondents involved in the massacre, thereby closing all pending cases against alleged perpetrators. The Ombudsman ruling was released in December 2010.

The Ombudsman’s Military and Law Enforcement Offices (MOLEO) based its decision solely on NBI reports.  Ironically, the particular NBI report states that there is basis to file charges against erring officials and that the testimonies of the survivors and protesters were more credible than that of the involved government personnel. The farmers’ complaints were junked without any other effort to conduct hearings or a more thorough investigation.

One independent eyewitness cited in the report, made by Dr. Restituto Bauvacieda Jr., then a city health physician and member of the emergency response unit of Tarlac City, was quoted as having witnessed a man wearing civilian clothes firing at the direction of the protesters, while he was inside the fence under the control of the Central de Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT).

This is an indication that elements of the yellow army or even then Congressman BS Aquino were directly involved in carrying out the massacre.

In August 2014, still under the term of BS Aquino, survivors and relatives of the victims filed a motion to reopen the case. The motion was junked only a few months later in October.

The said NBI report on Hacienda Luisita only became public in November 2014, ten years after the massacre. By that time, the Ombudsman already junked the motion to reopen the case.

Farmers vow to revive their complaints as they hope that the Duterte administration would be keen in dispensing justice for the victims of the massacre and other crimes committed thereafter such as the string of extra-judicial killings and the recent atrocities by the BS Aquino regime, including bulldozing of crops, burning of huts, physical injuries and illegal arrests.

Another violent incident involving Cojuangco-Aquino goons occurred last July 1, during the very first day in office of President Duterte.

UMA has declared November 16 as a National Day of Protest of Farm and Agricultural Workers, while the Workers International Struggle Initiatives (WORKINS) has declared it as the International Day against Trade Union Repression. A theatrical reenactment of the Luisita massacre will be presented at the actual site of the carnage, in front of the Gate 1 of Central Azucarera de Tarlac tomorrow, November 16, the 12th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

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Farmworkers mark 12th year of Hacienda Luisita Massacre with Cultural Caravan

NOVEMBER 14 — Since last week, a group of young cultural activists have made Hacienda Luisita farmworkers go out of their way to watch performances mounted at busy side streets and basketball courts in different barangays within the sugar estate.

With familiar protest songs, some cardboard and bamboo props – and grit – members  of the newly-formed group who call themselves TABLU or Tanghalang Balen Ning Luisita (People’s Theater of Luisita), created a short street play depicting the life and death struggle of farmworkers in Hacienda Luisita.

Mothers and relatives of those who offered their lives to the struggle could not help but weep and rage after watching TABLU’s skit. “Tuloy ang laban! (Onward with the struggle!),” they declare. “Let us remember the sacrifice of our martyrs and carry on with the struggle,” another performer emphasizes. After all, the farmworkers’ quest for genuine land reform and justice is truly far from over.

This year, the commemoration of the Hacienda Luisita massacre will take the form of a 3-day “People’s Cultural Caravan for Land, Justice, and Peace.” National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), their local affiliate in Tarlac, Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), and the network of land reform advocates Luisita Watch, will lead the caravan in coordination with various artists, musicians and cultural groups.

Participants of the caravan assembles early this morning in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) in Quezon City where an opening program will be held. Street performances and short programs will also be held in brief stops in Balagtas and Malolos City in Bulacan and in Angeles City in Pampanga.

Sining Kadamay, Salinlahi Collective and the UP Repertory Company  will perform.  A group of visual artists led by the Ugatlahi Collective and painters from the UP College of Fine Arts will also join the caravan.

The caravan will then pass through Capas town and San Miguel, Tarlac City where peasants, indigenous peoples and the farmworkers’ contingent from Hacienda Luisita will meet the caravan participants. A “Konsyertong Bayan” or concert for Land, Justice and Peace will be held at the Maria Cristina Park, near the Provincial Capitol.

The concert will feature progressive musicians and bands such as the homegrown Tambol Bayan, a group of young percussionists from Tarlac City. Tambol Bayan has been “touring” Hacienda Luisita barangays along with TABLU. Manila-based groups such as Tubaw, Talahib, Gazera, Exsenadors and Karl Ramirez at ang Pordalab will also perform at the Konsyertong Bayan tonight.

Inspired by the militant tradition of sugar workers in Escalante, Negros Occidental, a theatrical reenactment will be mounted in front of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac Gate 1 on November 16, the actual anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre.

Cultural workers and artists have been collaborating with TABLU in creative workshops and political discussions to prepare for this production. Among the artists involved in the Luisita massacre reenactment are choreographers Edwin Quinsayas of Sining Kadamay, and Joanna Lerio; visual artists Leeroy New and Antares Bartolome; composer Edge Uyanguren and his band TUBAW, and other artists from the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP). Theater veteran Katsch Catoy directs the production.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos meanwhile stated that there has been no justice for those killed and wounded in the Luisita massacre and in subsequent incidents of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances after the massacre.

“Some of the massacre perpetrators were even promoted and held the highest positions in government” Ramos said. He cited former President Benigno S. Aquino III, whose clan controls the Hacienda, and two AFP Chiefs, namely Gen. Gregorio Catapang and incumbent chief Gen. Ricardo Visaya, who were both at the “ground command” when the massacre occurred 12 years ago.

“Implementation of land reform through the lottery or ‘tambiolo’ scheme victimized those who had been tilling the land since 2005. The scheme was designed to reconcente lands back to the control of the Cojuangco-Aquinos. It also excluded more than 1,000 hectares of land for distribution,” Ramos added.

The so-called land reform area in Hacienda Luisita is back in the hands of the Cojuangco-Aquinos through the illicit aryendo and sale of farmlots, complemented by forced and violent eviction of farmworkers in bungkalan areas and the destruction of their crops.

“To boast that they are still in control, Cojuangco-Aquino goons were again involved in one instance of destruction of crops in Brgy. Mapalacsiao which occurred on the very first day of the Duterte presidency on July 1,” said Ramos. He added that the saga of farmworkers offer firm lessons from a real-life drama which inspire people to work for a better country and society.

“Farmers are still clamoring for land, justice and peace. These can only be achieved in Hacienda Luisita and the rest of the country after genuine land reform and social justice is realized,” he ended.

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Portraits of the seven martyrs of the Hacienda Luisita massacre by Renan Ortiz.

Driven out of their ancestral lands, violently dispersed in the cities

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Before the brutal incident at the US Embassy yesterday, the Lakbayan contingent were hosed down with water cannons at the AFP headquarters on October 18. Photo by Efren Ricalde

Driven out of their ancestral lands, violently dispersed in the cities
State forces must pay for atrocities vs national minorities

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA), a national federation of agricultural workers, condemns the brutal dispersal of protesters composed of national minorities participating in the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya caravan.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that for two consecutive days, protests against militarization of peasant and indigenous peoples’ communities were met with brutal force by the same institutions perpetuating violence in the countryside.

On October 18,  Lakbayan delegates were hosed down with water cannons while protesting in front of the AFP Headquarters in Cubao, Quezon City. Yesterday, protesters were shot with teargas, mauled, and deliberately rammed and run over by a police vehicle in a demonstration in front of the US Embassy in Manila. According to a report, 42 protesters were arrested and more than 50 were injured, including minors, women and the elderly.

“The lumad, Moro and other national minority groups journeyed hundreds of kilometers from their mountain communities to the miserable evacuation centers in urban centers in their respective provinces. Now they are here in Manila for authorities and the general public to be aware of their plight.”

“They were violently driven out of their ancestral lands by police and military forces to make way for large-scale foreign mining and giant agricultural plantations. Here in the city, the same state institutions responsible for the bloodshed and violence in their communities want to silence them yet again,” said Ramos.

Ramos emphasized that national minority groups and their aspirations for self-determination have been brutally supressed throughout our history due to colonizaton and imperialist plunder.

“The human rights of the Filipino people will never be respected as long as the ranks of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Phillipine National Police (PNP) have butchers and mercenaries beholden to US imperialist interests,” said Ramos.

UMA said that PNP Col. Marcelino Pedrozo, commanding officer of the dispersal force and PO3 Franklin Kho, who was identified to have commandeered the errant police vehicle, must immediately be sacked. “Pedrozo acts like a modern-day Buencamino or Paterno – a traitor who is more concerned that we Filipinos might ‘lose face to the US government,’ because we dare speak against this foreign power,” said Ramos.

The Lakbayan contingent, composed of the newly-formed alliance Sandugo and militant people’s organizations, were in fact demonstrating in front of the US Embassy to support President Duterte’s call for an independent foreign policy. They also support Duterte’s stance to end  US military basing and joint military exercises in Mindanao and the rest of the country.

Florida Sibayan, leader of Hacienda Luisita farmworkers alliance AMBALA, said that the military and police hierarchy – including AFP Chief of Staff Ricardo Visayas – are heartless butchers. AMBALA was among those who welcomed and accompanied the contingent of Igorot and Aeta delegates from Northern and Central Luzon to Manila last week.

“We express our indignation over these brutal attacks,” said Sibayan, who held AFP Chief Visaya to account for the violent dispersal at Camp Aguinaldo. Visaya was ground commander during the Hacienda Luisita massacre, another violent dispersal involving peasants.

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Luisita farmers were among those who welcomed the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya protest-caravan contingent at UP Diliman, October 13.

Plantations encroaching on ancestral domain

Most of the victims are Lumad, or indigenous peoples groups from Mindanao. There are already about 500,000 hectares of land covered with agricultural plantation crops primarily for export market in the island, which is equivalent to 12% of Mindanao’s agricultural land.

According to data gathered by UMA, land areas covered by agri-plantations in Mindanao have increased by a total of 79% from 2004 – 2014.  Agri-plantation companies, industry groups and the Philippine government are directed toward aggressively expanding agricultural plantations in Mindanao in the coming years. For palm oil alone, the road map of the Philippines targets to expand another 300,000 hectares by 2023.

Other lumads are forced to lease out their land to said corporations for as low as P166 a month for a 25 year lease. Others are forced to become agricultural workers where minimum wages are hardly followed and benefits are not provided.  Most lands which used to be planted to food crops are converted to crops for export which threatens the food security and food sovereignty of the Filipino people.

The state through the military and other security forces have been violating rights of the Moro and indigenous peoples through continued harassment, vilification and even killings to protect the interests of these foreign corporate plantations.

“We urge the people to learn more about the issues faced by national minority groups, who are mostly also peasants and agricultural workers who feed our nation,” said Ramos.

The 3,000-strong contingent of the Lakbayan ng Pambansang Minorya is hosted by the University of the Philippines in Diliman where their “kampuhan” or camp-out is open to visitors for interaction and cultural exchange.

“Farmers are not criminals, release the Manapla 12!”

The Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura condemns the unlawful arrest of twelve (12) farmers affiliated with the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) in Manapla town, Negros Occidental.

“Farmers – especially supposed beneficiaries of government land reform – should not be treated like criminals,” said Ramos. “It is a shame that farmers are still harassed and targetted because of their affiliation with militant or Left-leaning organizations, even when the Duterte government is currently engaged in peace talks with Communists,” said Ramos.

The farmers were arrested by local police in their homes on October 7, coinciding with the second round of Peace Talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) held from October 6-9 in Oslo, Norway.

The farmers, now collectively called the “Manapla 12,” are currently detained at the Manapla PNP Station are all members of Sitio Magsico, Pinanongnan United People Association (SAMPUPA – NFSW), and were charged by despotic land claimant Gemma Dequito with several trumped-up cases at the municipal and regional trial courts.

UMA Secretary General Danilo “Ka Daning” Ramos said that Dequito’s complaints were earlier certified as agrarian in nature by no less than Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano, during a dialogue with Negros Occidental farmers last September. Provincial Agrarian Reform Officer (PARO) Teresita Mabunay issued a certificate that the accused and several others are land reform beneficiaries in the disputed land. Despite the DAR certification, the judge still issued warrants of arrest.

“The cases should have been referred to the DAR Adjudication Board (DARAB) for proper resolution,” added Ramos. The farmers were charged with three (3) counts of alleged theft; two (2) counts of qualified theft; grave oral defamation; unlawful detainer; contempt of court; and recovery of possession by Gemma Dequito, who claims to be the heir of the late Virgilio Gaylan, who used to own the disputed land.

Those arrested are Jerry Elarde, Manuel Batislaon, Rolando Palomo, Wooden Celes, Jr Dequito, Lavinia Belandres, Lydia Belandres, Girlie Esmedia, Marlyn Jordan, Nelly Gaylan, Verginsita Dosa, and Rodolfo Belandres. SAMPUPA has embarked on land cultivation for food crops in around 52 hectares since 2013, around the time when the DAR declared the area for land distribution.

Three of those arrested, namely Lydia Belandres, Nelly Gaylan, and Rodolfo Belandres, are senior citizens aged 67 to 72 years old. “It is inhumane to keep these elderly farmers in jail. They simply exercised their right to till,” added Ramos.

Farmers and land reform advocates comprise the majority of 400 plus political prisoners in the country. Even Ramos and many other farmers and leaders across the country are only out on bail and still charged with various trumped-up charges filed by despotic landlords such as the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Hacienda Luisita.

“Peace advocates must work for the release of all political prisoners and the junking of all trumped-up charges against farmers,” said Ramos. “There can be no peace without justice,” he added.

UMA also asked DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano to once again intercede to ensure the release of the Manapla 12, and prevent the arrest and detention of other farmers charged by Dequito.

Jubilant farmers welcome “Ka Paeng” in Luisita

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“TUNAY NA REPORMA SA LUPA, IPAGLABAN!” Dept. of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Sec. Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano with farmworkers in  Barangay Bantog, Hacienda Luisita

OCTOBER 1, 2016 —   In a moving testimony, Bernardina Bais recounted one misfortune after another since Hacienda Luisita was subjected to so-called “land distribution” under former President BS Aquino. A video of a distraught “Apong Dina” recently went viral online – she was crying her heart out as local policemen assisted in another attempt to drive them away from the land they have been tilling for more than a decade.

Her husband, Gerry Catalan, was among those unlawfully arrested, detained and charged by DAR personnel in 2014. Their crops were repeatedly destroyed by Cojuangco-Aquino goons since then. “In the latest incident, our hut was partially demolished, and our crops were sprayed with herbicide. But we refused to give up,” Apong Dina said.

During that time, “turn-over ceremonies” were ongoing at the DAR compound in Quezon City.

“Goons attacked our bungkalan (land cultivation) areas on Ka Paeng’s very first day as Secretary just to show us that they’re still ‘the boss.’ Pero matagal nang nawala ang takot sa amin (but they can no longer taunt us),” recalled Florida Sibayan, chairperson of the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang-Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA).

The new DAR Secretary, Rafael Mariano, immediately issued Memorandum No. 1 which in effect stopped the eviction of long-time tillers and destruction of their crops in disputed areas.

“Now we have a DAR Secretary from our own ranks – Ka Paeng knows how hard it is to toil in the fields,” Apong Dina said, referring to militant peasant leader Rafael Mariano, who is now at the helm of the DAR. “After Ka Paeng issued that memo, we started planting again. Now we are about to harvest palay,” said Apong Dina.

Sibayan agrees: “We are glad to have a Ka Paeng (at the DAR), but we know our struggle is not yet over,” she said.

Thousands of jubilant farmworkers prepared a warm welcome for Mariano, who returned to Hacienda Luisita today to personally talk with farmers regarding their current situation. Mariano’s visit is highly anticipated by the community since his team is expected to inspect the status of land reform areas – including still disputed landholdings owned by Cojuangco-Aquino affiliate companies in different Luisita barangays. These firms include the Luisita Land, Corp. (formerly Luisita Realty Corporation), Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT) and the controversial RCBC property.

Meanwhile, Mariano’s pro-peasant moves as DAR chief were lauded by Sibayan and farmworkers’ under AMBALA and the national agriworkers center, Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA).

“We have seen significant changes within Ka Paeng’s first 100 days at the DAR,” said Sibayan.

As peasant leader, Mariano fiercely criticized bogus land reform schemes pushed by the Cojuangco-Aquino family, such as Cory’s stock distribution option (SDO) and the “tambiolo land reform” implemented by former President BS Aquino through the previous DAR administration.

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that Luisita farmworkers are counting on Ka Paeng to conduct an exhaustive and truthful inventory of allocated lands to determine the actual status of beneficiaries in Luisita. “The aryendo system was unleashed by the Cojuangco-Aquinos in Luisita to dismantle the bungkalan areas and reconcentrate farmlots back to the landlords. Many beneficiaries fell victim to rampant leaseback and sale of farmlots brokered by Cojuangco dummies”

“Ka Paeng must go after these land reform saboteurs, especially since some of the brokers of this illicit leaseback scheme are reported to be lurking within the local DAR offices or have availed of government funds and projects because of their links to former President Aquino,” said Ramos.

Ramos also said that Luisita farmers should not let their guard down “even if we have staunch supporters like Ka Paeng in the Duterte administration.” Mariano recently junked a plea from Cojuangco-Aquino firm TADECO, upholding an earlier DAR decision to cover some 358 hectares of prime agricultural lots for land reform.

Luisita farmers continue to campaign for the enactment of  a new land reform law to effect their demand for free and distribution – a demand that can never be granted under onerous amortization requisites stipulated in the bogus CARP. Mariano, who authored the earlier version of the bill as Anakpawis representative, continues to be one with farmers in pushing for the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB), now filed as House Bill 555.

UMA also stressed that agriworkers in Luisita and the rest of the country strongly support the second round of peace talks between the Duterte administration and the National Democratic Front (NDF) scheduled next week. The negotiations will tackle socio-economic reforms including land reform.

“Now that peace talks are ongoing between the government and the NDF, paramilitary detachments and army headquarters in Hacienda Luisita must immediately be dismantled. We call for the immediate pull-out of these troops for our farmers to finally till their land in peace,” said Ramos.

Farmworkers and the whole community are also preparing for the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the Hacienda Luisita massacre on November 16.

 

“Cultural revolution” pursued in Escalante Massacre memorial

National agriworkers center Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) salutes the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), Northern Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA) and Teatro Obrero in its efforts to highlight the historical impact of the Escalante Massacre with a National Cultural Conference and Community Theatre Festival held in Escalante City, Negros Occidental from September 15-20.

The said activities, presented with support from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), will culminate today with the reenactment of the Escalante Massacre which happened exactly 31  years ago on September 20, 1985.

The cultural conference, co-presented by the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP), Sinagbayan, and other such groups brought together hundreds of cultural workers and activists from various national-democratic cultural organizations across the country to “strengthen the unity for a cultural revolution.”

UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that the Escalante Massacre  “is a stark reminder of the atrocities of the US-sponsored Marcos fascist dictatorship and the deep social inequalities in Negros and the rest of sugar-producing areas in the country still prevalent up to this day.”

The Escalante Massacre was the result of the violent assault against the 5,000-strong Welgang Bayan (People’s Strike) against Marcos held in Escalante on the 13th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law. The rally was composed mainly of hacienda or sugar workers and other progressive sectors such as fisherfolk, students, urban poor, professionals and church people. It is remembered as “one of the most heinous incidents during the Marcos dictatorship.”

In Escalante City, the NFSW, NNAHRA, Martyr and the cultural organization Teatro Obrero have made commemoration activities particularly momentous with a yearly reenactment that involves the whole community. This year, hundreds of artists and cultural workers will participate in the event.

Ramos said that Escalante is one of the strongest reasons against a Hero’s Burial for Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. “We must not forget history, and the sacrifices of our martyrs as we continue to struggle against the same injustice, violent repression and exploitation under a backward, semifeudal set-up,” emphasized Ramos.

A report released by UMA and NFSW from its recently-concluded National Sugar Workers Summit, states that sugar cane field workers still endure slave-like wages, earning a maximum of only P1,000 weekly or P4,000 a month.  The “pakyaw” (group rate) system is also institutionalized by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in Negros Occidental by incorporating this oppressive wage scheme into the rates approved by its Regional Wage Board.

Such low pay is further exacerbated by the tiempo muerto (dead season) or off-milling season when hunger and destitution is felt especially in Negros Island. More than half of sugarcane in the country is produced in Negros.

“Artists and cultural workers who joined the theatre festival and conference vow to advance a ‘cultural revolution’ and must therefore push for social justice and peace and support the call for genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization,” said Ramos.

“In Negros, where hacienderos have lorded over sugar workers since the Spanish era, unions and associations under the NFSW have embarked on land cultivation initiatives, tilling farmlots for food production as their militant assertion of land rights. The experience in Negros has empowered farmworkers to boost production, sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices through unity, cooperation and fierce struggle,” he added.

“The practice of land cultivation for food security in destitute sugar areas, especially during tiempo muerto, must be recognized, supported and replicated. The life-and-death struggle of sugar workers and our toiling masses – as in Escalante, Hacienda Luisita and many such realms of intense struggle  – must continue to become subjects of vivid cultural expression that should in turn resonate to serve the people, and strengthen the call to end exploitation, state violence and fascism, and imperialist domination,” ended Ramos.

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#Escam2016. Photos by Lisa Ito (CAP)

Genuine land reform must come next after SDO, AVA revocations

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DAR Secretary Rafael Mariano (right) led protests against the SDO in Hacienda Luisita. File photo from Anakpawis Partylist 

Agricultural workers under the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) laud the recent announcement of Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) Secretary Rafael Mariano on the revocation of the Stock Distribution Option (SDO) scheme in two Negros plantations and an Agribusiness Venture Arrangement (AVA) lease scheme at the Marsman Estate Plantations, Inc. (MEPI) in Southern Mindanao.

Mariano said that the Presidential Agrarian Reform Council (PARC) revoked the AVA lease scheme at the MEPI, and the SDO scheme implemented at the Wuthrich Hermanos, Inc. in Calatrava town and SVJ Farms, Inc., in Talisay City, Negros Occidental, during the meeting led by President Rodrigo Duterte last September 12.

The rulings, which are largely in favor of farmworkers, have been pending with PARC since former President BS Aquino failed to convene the said agrarian reform body during his 6-year term.

UMA described the SDO and AVAs as anomalous schemes implemented under the pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). UMA Secretary General Danilo Ramos said that these schemes were used by big landlords and foreign agricorporations to evade land distribution.

“We welcome the rulings as we urge the Duterte administration to completely junk these ‘non-land transfer schemes’ that continue to deprive peasants and agricultural workers of their land rights. The SDO and various AVAs run counter to the fundamental land reform principle which is to provide land to the tiller,” said Ramos.

One prominent case is the Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI), which was established by the Cojuangco-Aquino family to implement the oppressive SDO in 1989. Instead of receiving parcels of land, CARP beneficiaries in Luisita were made to believe that they have become “co-owners” or “stockholders” of HLI, even as they continued to slave away as underpaid farmworkers who received wages as low as Php 9.50 a week. The Supreme Court revoked the SDO in Hacienda Luisita in a landmark decision in 2012.

The SDO, however, is still in effect in 11 other landholdings while the DAR says that there are 433 existing AVA contracts covering some 57,000 hectares. AVAs are onerous contracts covering lease, leaseback, contract-growing, joint-venture, market-sharing and other schemes. The supposed beneficiaries, usually farmworkers, are reduced to their former status receiving low wages. Farmworkers usually lose any previous benefits because they are now considered “business partners” of their employers. According to a figure from the NEDA, there are as much 1.2 million hectares of land under various AVAs in 2013.

MEPI reportedly pushed for lease contracts among agrarian reform beneficiaries through bribery, coercion, and deception. A so-called “beneficiary trust fund” or BTF – the measly annual lease payment which was distributed to its workers as some kind of bonus – was deviously put in place by the MEPI in its banana plantations in Sto.Tomas, Davao del Norte.

“The CARP legalized and allowed multi-national and local corporations to maintain their control and operation of vast tracts of agricultural lands for as long as 50 years,” according to Ramos. “These AVAs legitimize the swindle of thousands of farmworkers.”

Meanwhile, agricultural workers in SDO areas still live in the feudal world of any typical hacienda. The only difference is that they receive measly dividends of P340 to P500 annually as their share as supposed co-owners of the corporation.

“The pro-peasant moves of the DAR and the Duterte government must be reinforced. The SDO and AVAs must be completely junked through the implementation of exhaustive socio-economic reforms and the enactment of a new land reform law that will replace the rotten legacy of the CARP,” said Ramos, referring to the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) filed as House Bill 555 by Anakpawis Partylist.