Agricultural workers under the national federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) are not at all surprised that Aquino’s Kabarilan and well-known crony, ex-LTO chief Virginia Torres, would flaunt her links to the President at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to smuggle around Php 100 million worth of Thai sugar into the country.
“This dictatorship era-style of shameless influence peddling and cronyism, hitting headlines on the 43rd anniversary of the declaration of martial law is not plain coincidence,” according to John Milton Lozande, UMA Acting Chairperson.
Lozande is also Secretary-General of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW) based in Negros Island.
According to reports, Torres tried to negotiate with customs officials to allow entry of at least 64 containers of Thai sugar by emphasizing her economic activities with the President, particularly in the Aquino-Cojuangco’s controversial Hacienda Luisita sugar estate. Torres allegedly said “I lease land and we plant together.”
Torres’s intimations on her links with the President and Hacienda Luisita are all true. Since early last year, the media already ran reports from UMA and its local affiliate in Tarlac, the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA), exposing Torres’s hand in the Aquino administration’s fake land distribution in Hacienda Luisita.
Aside from being “Casino Queen,” Torres is also ‘aryendo queen’ in Hacienda Luisita. Aryendo is the practice of illicit lease agreements brokered by dummies like Torres for the Aquino-Cojuangcos to maintain control of sugarcane production despite supposed land reform.
Incidents of violent eviction and bulldozing of farmers’ food crops have also involved the ‘aryendo queen’ and her goons in Barangay Mapalacsiao, where Torres has gained control over at least 200 hectares of land, according to AMBALA.
“Impunity in Hacienda Luisita is so high, we are practically under Martial Law. These lease agreements are illegal even by the provisions of the pro-landlord CARP – but did we see the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) conduct any investigation on Torres? Farmworkers filed cases against Torres at the Department of Justice (DOJ) last year but the victims’complaints are now just gathering dust,” said Rudy Corpuz, vice chairperson of AMBALA-UMA.
“Will Aquino investigate and prosecute Torres this time? The people might as well arrest and try Aquino himself,” said Corpuz, also hinting at Aquino’s responsibility for the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre.
“Aquino is only interested in swindling and discrediting farmers, and regaining control of the hacienda where the political power of their landlord clan practically came from,” said Corpuz.
UMA also slammed Malacanang’s attempts to cover-up the whole BOC fiasco. Torres allegedly hinted to customs officials that the funds from smuggled sugar would be used for the coming elections. But BOC officials are now reportedly backtracking their earlier statements, on apparent orders from Malacanang.
“Malacanang seems torn between ensuring elections funds and building up the Liberal Party’s tainted image. No amount of spin and damage control can save the administration’s bet for the 2016 presidential elections, Mar Roxas, from this new scandal,” said Lozande.
According to the Department of Agriculture’s own figures, sugar smuggling amounts to a whopping $18,675,000 every year, affecting small sugar planters and the thousands of their sugar workers across the country.
UMA added that according to USDA estimates, 150,000 to 200,000 tons of smuggled sugar, mostly from Thailand, enter the country annually amounting to Php 3.3 to 4.4 billion pesos. When sold, however, smuggled sugar would cost around Php 7.05 to 9.4 billion.
“Aquino’s patriotic posturings in enacting the Sugar Industry Development Act (SIDA) of 2015 to supposedly protect the sugar industry is further exposed with this Torres sugar smuggling fiasco. SIDA’s Php 2 billion budget is another likely source of election funds for sugar baron-trapos.”
Lozande ended, “Aquino’s Daang Matuwid is all about corruption and cronysim to favor his imperialist masters and his cabal of Kaklase, Kabarilan, and Kamag-anak. The people are exhausted of this Daang Matuwid and would not want any more of this after 2016.”