“Ang isda ay nahuhuli sa bibig” (Fish is caught through the mouth)
Hacienda Luisita farmworkers under the Alyansa ng mga Manggagawang Bukid sa Asyenda Luisita (AMBALA) and the national agriworkers federation Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) stressed that President BS Aquino’s involvement in the recent sugar smuggling fiasco has become even more apparent with his statements “unfriending” – but at the same time absolving – his Kabarilan and business partner Virginia Torres.
“Kunwari ay hindi na niya kaibigan, pero ipinagtatanggol pa rin nya ang aryendo queen, (Aquino pretends that they’re not friends anymore, but he still openly defends the aryendo queen),” said Rudy Corpuz, AMBALA vice-chairperson, referring to Torres who engages in aryendo or illicit lease agreements victimizing supposed land reform beneficiaries in Hacienda Luisita.
In a radio interview, Torres herself admitted that she is into leasing land in Hacienda Luisita but said that Aquino knew nothing about it, as she also denied using Aquino’s name to negotiate with customs officials to allow entry of P100 M worth of Thai sugar into the country.
In a special interview with ANC last night, however, Aquino admitted that he knew Torres is now a “sugar planter” and basically tried to clear Torres of sugar smuggling allegations.
“Does it make sense for her to facilitate sugar smugglers that will depress the prices of the product that she has invested in?” Aquino was quoted as saying.
“Even under the pro-landlord CARP, leasing and selling farmlots allocated through land reform is illegal. But influential persons like Torres, with hired goons and even armed state authorities at their disposal courtesy of the haciendero Commander-in Chief no less, can easily swindle and coerce unknowing farmers to enter into these aryendo arrangements,” said John Milton Lozande, UMA Acting Chairperson.
Sec. 27 of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms (CARPER) stipulates that “lands acquired by beneficiaries under this Act or other agrarian reform laws shall not be sold, transferred or conveyed except through hereditary succession, or to the government, or to the LBP, or to other qualified beneficiaries through the DAR for a period of ten (10) years.”
Torres is just one of a select few who act as dummies of the Hacienda Luisita Inc. (HLI), leasing lands from farmworker beneficiaries to ensure continued planting of cane sugar. HLI which was established to implement Cory Aquino’s oppressive Stock Distribution Option (SDO) land reform scheme in 1989 is still the official seller of cane sugar to the Central Azucarera de Tarlac (CAT). Both companies are still owned and controlled by the Aquino-Cojuangco family with other business partners such as the Lorenzos.
“Land distribution” in Hacienda Luisita commenced in 2013, a year after the Supreme Court revoked the SDO and ordered total land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmers. AMBALA, UMA, and other militant groups such as the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Anakpawis Partylist, have consistently criticized the Department of Agrarian Reform and the Aquino administration for the land distribution process in Luisita, which farmers describe as “a monumental failure” and a “complele sham.”
“Aquino cannot simply wash his hands of this case by ‘unfriending’ Torres. This is mere damage control. We have already filed cases against Torres before the Department of Justice (DOJ) last year for illegally evicting farmers and destroying their food crops in favor of sugar cane. Do we even see any investigation making progress? Aquino may have nominally divested his Hacienda Luisita shares, but it is now confirmed before the public that Torres leases the land and they plant sugarcane together,’” said Corpuz.
Lozande also noted that the Sugarcane Industry Development Act of 2015 (SIDA) which Aquino signed last April has also become a “smokescreen” for aryendo, benefitting dummies like Torres. The government through the Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), and the Sugar Regulatory Administration has recently allotted more than Php 2.1 billion to fund sugar block farms.
“These block farms are mostly controlled by financiers and dummies like Torres, as most cane sugar lands have already been leased to them through wholesale coercion and swindling of beneficiaries. Government boasts that there are 10 block farms in the Luisita alone,” said Lozande.
“Will these funds also pass through Torres to fuel the Daang Matuwid campaign of Roxas in the 2016 elections?”