AUGUST 11, 2015 | FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Reference: Gi Estrada, UMA media officer, 0916.611.4181
Agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) warned that instead of bringing development and sustainable energy sources to the country, solar power plant projects involving certain German and French firms will technically “aid landgrabbing” in Hacienda Luisita and Victorias City, Negros Occidental.
“The solar plants will bring displacement and hunger to affected peasant communities. Sugar workers have tilled these areas for decades, but they are now being driven away to make way for these projects,” said John Milton Lozande, UMA Acting Chairperson.
According to reports, Germany’s Conergy will build the 50-megawatt (MW) Tarlac Solar Power Project (TSPP) in Hacienda Luisita for PetroSolar Corp., a subsidiary of PetroGreen Energy Corporation.
Meanwhile, France’s UrbaSolar has publicized that it will construct a 30-MW solar plant in Victorias City, Negros Occidental in collaboration with another French company, Green Lighthouse for SunAsia Energy. The signing of the contract with SunAsia Energy was in parallel with French President François Hollande’s state visit to the Philippines on February 26-27, 2015.
Both areas are embroiled in agrarian disputes.
The TSSP will be constructed in a disputed agricultural area located in barangays Balete and Lourdes (Texas) inside Hacienda Luisita. The area is part of the 500-hectare property ceded by the Cojuangco-Aquinos’ 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.
Petrogreen and RCBC are both under majority ownership of the Yuchengco family, who are known business partners of the Cojuangco-Aquinos in establishing the Luisita Industrial Park complex.
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.
According to Ranmil Echanis, deputy secretary general of UMA: “The Tarlac solar project will worsen displacement brought about by bogus land distribution implemented by the DAR under this Cojuangco-Aquino landlord president.”
Violent eviction of farmers and bulldozing of crops inside Hacienda Luisita coincided with DAR’s land distribution process from 2013 to 2014. More than a thousand hectares of disputed agricultural areas have been fenced off by Cojuangco-Aquino firms. These areas are supposedly reserved for “development projects.”
“Luisita farmers oppose the solar project because it will set a precedent that may lead to the complete wipe-out of Luisita’s farming community,” Echanis added.
Meanwhile, UrbaSolar and Green Lighthouse will construct the Negros solar plant in a 51.5495 hectare sugarcane plantation in Barangay 12, Victorias City, Negros Occidental, in landholdings of the Maria C. Benedicto Agricultural Corporation. On April 2014, the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) issued a notice of coverage (NOC) on said land, 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 affected farmworkers are members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), UMA’s local affiliate in Negros.
UMA already sent formal correspondence and inquiry to the DAR, Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) as to why the said landholdings were approved for solar power projects despite existing agrarian disputes.
According to the NFSW, the DAR’s Regional Center for Land Use Policy, Planning and Implementation (RCLUPPI) recently did an investigation in Victorias City.
Meanwhile in Hacienda Luisita, DAR national made an indorsement letter addressed to the Land Use Cases Division of the Bureau of Agrarian Legal Assistance on the disputed lands in Hacienda Luisita but has not yet made any decision on the petition of AMBALA.