#SONA2015 | Agriworkers slam gov’t solar projects in disputed lands in Luisita, Negros

PR SOLAR HL Negros

JULY 25, 2015  |  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
REFERENCE: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 0916.611.4181

“Kung solar, paano kung makulimlim?”

As peasants and agricultural workers recall this absurd remark made by President Benigno Aquino III in one State of the Nation Address (SONA), the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) questions government’s motives in its sudden drive to build solar power plant projects.

A number of the solar plants, incidentally, are to be constructed in highly-controversial areas mired in agrarian dispute.

UMA Deputy Secretary General Ranmil Echanis remarked that “Solar power is now suddenly in vogue for this foolish president, because landlords like Aquino has made this supposedly noble and environment-friendly cause a justification and facade for landgrabbing, (Biglang nauso para sa ignoranteng presidente ang solar power, dahil ang isang layunin na dapat sana’y marangal at para sa pangangalaga ng kalikasan ay ginawa pang dahilan at pagtatakip sa pangangamkam ng mga panginoong maylupa na gaya ni Aquino.)”  

According to reports received by UMA, agricultural workers and supposed land reform beneficiaries will be affected and displaced by solar power plants to be built in disputed areas in Hacienda Luisita and Victorias City, Negros Occidental. Another solar project in Capas, Tarlac will further affect indigenous peoples and peasants currently embroiled in struggle against the lavish “development project,” Clark Green City.

UMA has earlier exposed that a public-private partnership (PPP) project between the Department of Energy (DoE) and PetroGreen Energy Corporation (PGEC) reported to be implemented “near Hacienda Luisita” is to be located right smack in a 50-hectare disputed agricultural area in barangays Balete and Lourdes (Texas) inside Hacienda Luisita.

The area is part of the 500-hectare property ceded by Hacienda Luisita, Inc. (HLI) to Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), Luisita Realty Corporation (LRC) and Luisita Industrial Park, Co. (LIPCO) approved for land-use conversion by the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) way back in 1996.

The Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita or AMBALA, UMA’s local affiliate in Tarlac, has a pending petition to revoke DAR’s conversion order.

Echanis said that “The PPP deal is highly-questionable since PetroGreen and RCBC are both under the majority ownership of the Yuchengcos, who are known business partners of the Aquino-Cojuangco family (Ang PPP na ito ay napaka-kwestyonable dahil ang PetroGreen at RCBC ay parehong pag-aari ng mga Yuchengo, na kilalang kasosyo ng mga Aquino-Cojuangco.)”

AMBALA’s petition reads: “HLI and its successors-in-interest (RCBC, LRC, LIPCO) violated the terms and conditions of the order for conversion order and the rules and regulations on conversion. The land remained agricultural in use and therefore should be placed under the coverage of the agrarian reform program.” According to DAR rules, land conversion must transpire within 5 years of the order. Even with an extension of another five years, the area remained idle and fit for agricultural use almost two decades after the DAR issued the permit to HLI.

A second solar plant will be constructed by SunAsia Energy Inc. in a 51.5495 hectare sugarcane plantation in Barangay 12, Victorias, Negros Occidental, in landholdings of the Maria C. Benedicto Agricultural Corporation.  On April 2014, the DAR issued a notice of coverage (NOC), meaning that the said area must be distributed to farmworker-beneficiaries.

Last July 16, thirty-seven (37) farmworker-families and actual occupants of the said land filed an opposition paper against land use conversion before the DAR’s Regional VI office in Jaro, Iloilo. The farmworkers are members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros.

UMA Acting Chairperson John Milton Lozande added that the government’s plans to build solar power plants in supposed land reform areas further highlight the uselessness of extending the land acquisition and distribution component of the pro-landlord Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).

“The Victorias solar project shows that NOCs and other land reform documents are but mere pieces of paper that government, landlords and private businesses can ignore anytime they wish, (Pinapatunayan lang ng solar project sa Victorias na ang mga NOC at iba pang dokumento ng CARP ay mga piraso lang ng papel na pwedeng isantabi ng gubyerno, mga panginoong maylupa at pribadong negosyo kailanman nila gustuhin.)

Lozande added that “Under bogus land reform of this landlord president, traditional bastions of feudalism like Hacienda Luisita and Negros remain landlord strongholds where injustice and impunity reign, (Sa ilalim ng pekeng reporma sa lupa ng hacienderong pangulo, ang mga tradisyunal na balwarte ng pyudalismo gaya ng Hacienda Luisita at Negros ay kontrolado pa rin ng mga panginoong maylupa, at nangingibabaw pa rin dito ang kawalan ng katarungan at pananagutan.)” Lozande is also the secretary-general of NFSW.

UMA and its member-organizations fully support the call to immediately enact House Bill 252 or the Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) authored by Anakpawis Partylist.

Hacienda Luisita farmers led by AMBALA and other agriworkers groups under UMA will join nationwide protests on July 27, Aquino’s last State of the Nationa Address (SONA).

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